What Is the Metaverse?
Updated · May 10, 2022
Even if you live under a rock, chances are that you have heard of the metaverse.
Or you’ve at least heard that Facebook changed its name to Meta.
So, what actually is the metaverse? Where does it come from and how does it work? Is it really the future of the internet?
Here’s everything you need to know:
What Is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a shared, 3D digital environment that combines aspects of virtual and augmented reality, online gaming, and blockchain technology. It is a network of digital spaces where representations of people and objects can exist and interact with each other.
For now, the idea is still quite fuzzy, so there is no one size fits all metaverse definition. For instance, some people believe there will be one encompassing metaverse. Others disagree and expect that there will be several options. We still don’t have a clear answer.
Some things are more certain, however: the metaverse will be synchronous and persistent. This means that there will be real-time experiences that continue even when a user isn’t present.
The idea of the metaverse may seem gimmicky and far off. Nonetheless, imagine going back 100 years ago to tell people about 3D printing or remote work.
Right now, you can think of the internet as something that you look at via a screen. The metaverse, on the other hand, is a version of the internet that we would be “inside of”.
In stark contrast with what exists today, humans will have deeper, more immersive experiences online. With virtual humanoid representations of themselves called avatars, people will be able to interact with the virtual space.
If you are an internet user or gamer, you are no stranger to avatars.
But the metaverse aims to take this several notches higher.
As on some familiar platforms, metaverse avatars will be highly customizable. The difference lies in flexibility. Avatars these days are usually restricted to one space or different platforms on the same ecosystem.
However, in the future, full-body 3D avatars and their digital assets will be able to move seamlessly between virtual environments.
In other words, interoperability will be a driving force of the metaverse.
This means, for example, that you could migrate your avatar between Meta’s version and the Microsoft metaverse.
But don’t be too fast to imagine the movie version.
Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained to the Verge: “I think a lot of people, when they think about the metaverse, they think about just virtual reality — which I think is going to to be an important part of that. But the metaverse isn’t just virtual reality. It is going to be accessible across all our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles.”
What does this mean?
In plain terms, the metaverse is not restricted to virtual reality.
When the metaverse comes to actuality, you could attend a boardroom meeting or go shopping while wearing your VR headsets. But you could also do the same simply using your laptop or smartphone. And then there’s augmented reality, which will overlay aspects of the metaverse onto the real world.
Zuckerberg went on to add that there’s a whole lot more than just gaming on the metaverse.
The key to the metaverse is building simulated worlds that model as much of actual reality as possible. In a VR gaming environment today, you could walk up to a basketball court, grab a ball with your buddy, and enjoy a game together.
But what if you don’t want to play basketball?
Just like in real life, in a metaverse platform, that won’t matter. Instead, both you and your friend could have fun chasing each other around the court. You could sit down and discuss a book or politics. And then you could head over to a bar together.
In other words, the metaverse should cater for emergent behavior, rather than being restrained to specific functionality, as with most existing VR tech.
Why does the metaverse matter?
Meta has made it clear that the metaverse is what it considers a priority going forward. Apart from changing its name from Facebook, it has now rebranded its VR headset line from Oculus to Meta Quest.
From Microsoft to Nvidia, several other large tech companies are making scrambling moves to grab their stakes in the metaverse.
But why does it matter?
Skeptics believe that the metaverse is overhyped. Some insist that in the rush, tech companies are slapping metaverse labels on just about any product. An example is Microsoft framing its record $68.7 billion purchase of game publisher Activision Blizzard as a metaverse move.
Even so, there are suggestive signs that the concept will have a significant role to play in the future.
The global pandemic has fueled advancements in AR, VR, artificial intelligence, and online gaming. The market for the latter alone is expected to be worth $256.97 billion by 2025. It is clear that human interactions are increasingly moving to virtual spaces.
As more funds and research are dedicated to these areas, the lines between the real and digital worlds will continue to blur.
The metaverse will ease and enhance human connections. It will remove physical barriers to meeting and bonding with other people. The metaverse will also facilitate new opportunities for businesses and smoothen remote work challenges.
Here’s a fun fact - the metaverse is not a new concept.
The term itself can be traced to a cyberpunk novel by Neil Stephenson called Snow Crash. The author combined universe and meta, a Greek word meaning “beyond”.
Stephenson’s book drew a dystopian picture of the metaverse and did not depict it in a positive light. However, it showed a virtual world that users could access through virtual reality goggles and wearable personal terminals.
A year earlier, the very first website went live. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much going on. It did not have the graphics and animations that we have come to take for granted today. But it was a manifestation of the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Since then, there have been several mileposts lining the path to the metaverse. Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One released in 2011 is a critically acclaimed example. Again, this book depicted a dystopian world with an escape option that humans could access with VR headsets and wired gloves.
On the other hand, Roblox and Epic created metaverse-based games that became immensely popular. Other developers like Electronic Arts and Linden Life have made strides in terms of metaverse games.
There have been several advancements since Snow Crash. Take a look:
Currently, we have some clues as to what it may look like, thanks to games, simulations, and social channels.
Meta was still Facebook when it set off on a course heading towards the metaverse. It bought Oculus, a VR company, in 2014 for $2.3 billion and soon released the Gear and Rift lines of headsets. The company has increasingly integrated the headsets with its social media platforms and products.
In 2019, Meta launched Horizon Workrooms, a VR app that brings remote workers together virtually. With the Oculus Quest 2 headset, staff working from home can hold in-person meetings where they interact with avatar representations of themselves. Horizon Workrooms offers a glimpse into Meta’s idea of a future workspace.
Horizon Home, on the other hand, is Meta’s vision for a metaverse home space. It is a social world-building app that lets users hang out, play games, and attend events. There are company as well as community-created spaces to experience within the app.
Meta’s AR/VR efforts do not yet have the adoption rates it hopes for, but that will likely change in the future.
Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney is bullish on his company’s participation, saying, “It’s no secret that Epic is invested in building the metaverse.” A $1 billion funding round to support its vision and a trademark for “Epic Games Megaverse” has shown that he wasn’t bluffing.
The company is behind Fortnite, a wildly popular game, and many believe it is leading the metaverse charge.
With the multiplayer game, Epic is looking to lay the groundwork for the metaverse. It even included Immersive virtual reality concerts featuring singers Travis Scott and Ariana Grande. These events offered insights into how the metaverse could unite audiences virtually, allowing them to enjoy shared experiences. Fortnite currently has more than 80 million monthly active users.
According to CEO Satya Nadelia, the metaverse is “not only transforming how we see the world but how we participate in it — from the factory floor to the meeting room.”
Microsoft’s acquisition Activision Blizzard does not have any metaverse technology. But don’t count the software giant out. In 2021, it introduced Mesh, a platform for virtual collaborations that works with Microsoft Teams.
With Mesh, users will work and collaborate in a mixed reality digital environment. MR is a step ahead of augmented reality. As with the metaverse, it will feature customizable 3D avatars. Mesh will be accessible through AR glasses and VR headsets.
Founded in 2004, Roblox is one of the major players in the metaverse space. With more than nine million developers, the online gaming platform attracts upwards of 150 million players every month.
Roblox is especially popular among children and teens, with 67% of players under the age of 16. It ticks off many metaverse boxes: it is immersive and persistent. Players have avatar identities that can move seamlessly across apps, and it offers seemingly unlimited experiences.
It simulates a buzzy, virtual world where players can seek out and interact with each other. Unlike other gaming platforms, users are offered tools with which to build their own games.
“Some people refer to what we are building as the metaverse,” says David Baszucki, CEO of Roblox. “We are shepherds of the metaverse,” he added, confident of the platform’s position as a front bearer of the next iteration of the internet.
When Can We Expect the Metaverse?
The idea and implementation of online virtual spaces have been around for a while now. That said, the metaverse doesn’t exist. Yet.
How far off is it? Nobody knows for sure.
Zuckerberg figures that the metaverse is about a decade or less away. Some industry experts think it may take decades before the metaverse is all built up and begins to gain adoption. The competition among major players may bring that time closer, but that is left to be seen.
The metaverse is a buzzword that is lighting up the tech space. It is a term used to describe a virtual space that will incorporate several emerging technologies, including extended reality (XR), online gaming, and blockchain technology.
People will be able to work, shop, and interact with others - the possibilities are endless.
Thirty years since Stephenson coined the word, the metaverse is not yet fully formed. However, it is certainly on its way, with many metaverse companies making headway in that direction.
When will we adopt the metaverse?
We’ll just have to wait and see. One thing’s for sure: we’re in for a ride.
What does metaverse mean?
The metaverse is a network of virtual environments where people can perform activities and interact with each other and other virtual objects. The metaverse will utilize a host of emerging technologies, such as VR, AR, MR, blockchain aspects, and machine learning.
Is metaverse real?
The short answer: not yet.
Several companies have leveraged technology to make build limited versions of the metaverse. However, its full form is still a concept. A shared, persistent metaverse is what tech giants like Meta and Microsoft hope to build in the future.
What is Microsoft metaverse?
Microsoft is introducing a virtual environment called Mesh for Teams that will incorporate some elements of the metaverse. With personalized 3D avatars and immersive spaces, Mesh users will be able to collaborate and work with each other.
Daniel is an Economics grad who fell in love with tech. His love for books and reading pushed him into picking up the pen - and keyboard. Also a data analyst, he's taking that leap into data science and machine learning. When not writing or studying, chances are that you'll catch him watching football or face-deep in an epic fantasy novel.
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