Technical terms relating to the topic of metaverse
3D Engines are software that enable real-time generation of 3-dimensional graphics (in contrast to pre-rendered animation that appears in movies). Real-time 3D makes it possible to interact with a game, virtual world or other graphically immersive application.
This software is an important subset of the spatial computing domain; it maps the geometric representation of objects in 3D space into the methods used by a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) to deliver the visual output that can be displayed on screens.
3D engines are one of the fundamental elements of the GameTech stack.
The leading vendors of 3D Engine technology include Unity and Epic Games (Unreal Engine).
The fifth generation of wireless networks. 5G technology is an order-of-magnitude improvement in latency, number of concurrent connection, and overall speed. 5G generally improves performance in congested networks (such as in urban centers) and for applications like real-time gaming, video telephony or other applications that utilize significant edge-computing.
5G will be succeeded by 6G networks.
The practice of distributing free cryptocurrency tokens in order to kickstart the launch of a new currency
Augmented Reality (AR) is technology that allows you to be add information to the visual environment around you. Examples would include recognizing and adding information to objects or generating digital holograms in physical space. This is in contrast to virtual reality which is a completely immersed experience.
Avatars are a graphical representation of a person’s digital identity.
An avatar may be a simple 2D representation (e.g., as is used in social media to identify the user) or a 3D representation (such as used in many games and metaverse experiences). In games and the metaverse, avatars are frequently modifiable with customized physical traits and virtual items such as clothing and accessories.
blockchain is a distributed ledger that uses cryptography to validate transactions. The advantage of blockchain is that financial transactions can be recorded in a decentralized, trustless and permissionless manner, without requiring any central authority that controls it.
The first major blockchain application was the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, invented by pseudonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009.
In 2015, the Ethereum blockchain introduced the concept of smart contracts, which allows programmatic exchanges of value: for the first time, code could exchange value (currencies, assets) with other code (much as the World Wide Web allows code to exchange information). This has enabled new forms of decentralized software to be created including decentralized finance (DeFi), decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and non fungible tokens (NFTs).
The first blockchains including Bitcoin and Ethereum use proof-of-work algorithms that require substantial energy and computing power to complete the cryptographic algorithms that allow for secure transactions. Proof-of-stake blockchains (including Ethereum 2.0 and other next-generation blockchains) require comparatively trivial amounts of computation or energy.
Money, Blockchains and Social Scalability (Nick Szabo)
Smart Contracts: the Ultimate Guide for Beginners (Hasib Anwar)
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), from Stanford
A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a form of interface that allows users to go directly from thought to a computer system.
In 2021, a BCI system that was designed for individuals with medical conditions that prevent use of their hands surpassed 18 words per minute.
BCI systems may be invasive (e.g., requiring electrodes or chips to be installed into the brain) or noninvasive (using external sensors located on the head or other part of the body).
BCI may someday enhance the use of various interfaces (and could supplement or enhance the prediction of things like gesture recognition systems). It may one day provide input back to the user.
The creator economy is the combination of software and marketplaces that make it possible for creative people and teams to add content to the metaverse. This ranges from individual assets (e.g., a piece of artwork) up to an entire system (e.g., a game, virtual world, mod, or crafted experience).
Virtual economies within virtual worlds may allow participants to craft individual virtual items, customize avatars, or even make entirely new mods or terrain.
One of the enablers of the creator economy is Low-Code Platforms.
Evolution of the Creator Economy. How creative platforms are disrupted over time.
Legitimacy Lost, Li Jin and Katie Parrott: agency and autonomy for creators in the metaverse.
Thoughts at the Intersection of Web3 and Creative Culture by Richard Kim, intersection of community, culture and creators.
The Virtual Economy, discusses differences between closed economies (Fortnite), open centralized (Minecraft) and open decentralized (Decentraland).
A cryptocurrency is a form of virtual currency that uses cryptographic algorithms and blockchain to implement the classic functions of money: a store of value, unit of account and a medium of exchange. Popular examples include Bitcoin and Ethereum. Typically, cryptocurrencies are not backed by a centralized institution government authority.
Money, Blockchains and Social Scalability, by Nick Szabo. Explains how the trustless nature of blockchain enhances and enables more widespread participation.
The practice of securing information during transmission. The communication is first encrypted to prevent third party interference, before being decrypted on the other end with the help of a key – ensuring only the sender and receiver can access the information within.
Cybernetics is technology for bridging the gap between machines and the human sensorimotor systems.
A game controller is a basic form of cybernetics. So are virtual reality headsets, wearables, and smartglasses. It will someday include brain computer interfaces (BCI).
Cybernetics benefits from innovation in machine intelligence, as we’ve gone from specific inputs (e.g., typing a string of characters) towards more interpretive interfaces (speech and gestures).
Decentralization is the set of technologies, design patterns and practices that shift power and control away from centralized authorities (such as walled gardens and financial institutions).
The internet was originally designed as a highly decentralized network. For some technologies, such as the domain name system (DNS) or the World Wide Web—it still is. But over time, the need for simplicity and access to audiences eventually favored a number of powerful, centralized platforms. However, as new technologies built on open source, open standards and blockchain emerge, this power dynamic may shift back towards individual creators and projects, potentially increasing disruptive innovation.
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) are a form of on-chain governance. Members who hold tokens in the DAO are able to vote on proposals that guide the direction of the organization. Use cases include virtually anything that requires governance: software projects, protocols, gaming guilds, homeowners associations, companies, NGOs, etc.
An advantage of a DAO is that it can bring software-driven governance systems to organizations that either lacked transparent, consistent or easy-to-implement governance before.
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), a video from Stanford.
Decentralized apps are pieces of software built and hosted on blockchain technology. Examples include cryptocurrency wallets, games and financial services applications.
Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is a class of applications on the blockchain that use smart contracts to enable software to cooperate in a trustless, permissionless manner to implement new types of financial applications including decentralized exchanges, lending protocols, fractionalized ownership (such as for real estate or digital assets like NFTs). These applications do not depend on centralized authorities like banks or brokerages.
A hologram is the projection of a coherent image into physical space. At current technology levels, this is only possible within fixed hardware displays (for applications such as holographic sculptures).
A Digital Holograms is the simulation of a hologram within virtual space. This could include the project of objects (e.g., adding an object mapped into the space within an augmented reality experience) or could be user interfaces (such as the projection of screens into virtual reality or AR space that may replace the need for separate screens as we have with phones and computers).
Digital Identity encompasses all the means through which you can identify yourself in online applications and express yourself within them.
This includes software that lets you authenticate your identity to a piece of software (e.g., when you login to an online bank, game or social network) as well as software that projects your identity into the environment, such as an avatar. It also encompasses the virtual items associated with a game or avatar.
Technology called self-sovereign identity is under development that allows you to you identify yourself independent of any centralized provider, and zero-knowledge proofs may allow you to disclose only the information to applications that you desire.
A digital object in the metaverse that mirrors the real-time properties of a physical object. It may include its visual properties (e.g., a 3D representation of the current state of the source) and/or include data feeds based on sensors from the source object. For example, a digital twin of a refrigerator might include a 3D image of the refrigerator, along with information about the current internal temperature, humidity and whether the door is open or closed.
Discovery is how people learn about the things they can do in the metaverse.
This includes traditional marketing channels (advertising networks, sponsorships, curated app stores) as well as newer, more community-centered channels (decentralized marketplaces, messaging platforms).
The internet was designed as a distributed, decentralized network intended to survive natural disasters and nuclear strikes.
Over time, many applications came to depend on cloud computing—servers running at remote facilities—to deliver their capabilities. Think of cloud computing as “computing on tap,” not unlike a water or electric utility.
Today, the speed of the internet is growing both faster (due to 5G and 6G) as well as more distributed than the current cloud computing infrastructure; edge computing is moving more of the cloud-based infrastructure closer to the end user, to allow for much faster coordination needed by applications such as gaming and artificial intelligence.
Experiences are what people do in the metaverse.
Future of Work
Free-to-play (F2P) is a monetization model used by a large number of online games.
F2P virtual economies allow participants to begin playing for free. They may then earn certain types of virtual items or virtual currency. Some items and currency may only be available through a real-money purchase, which is how many games in F2P generate their revenue. Many games also generate revenue from displaying advertising.
Free-to-play is over half the game industry’s revenue as of 2021.
The Future of Work includes increasing the ability for a workforce to collaborate with each other without needing to be physically present. Early versions of this include applications like video teleconferencing or work hangouts like Gather.town—but may expand to more embodied experiences via virtual reality or augmented reality.
Game Technology (or “GameTech”) is the set of technologies that have made modern video gaming possible.
It is the GameTech stack that will largely enable the experiences of the metaverse, and game-oriented designs informed by emotion and storytelling that will shape the way these experiences are structured.
GameTech software includes 3D engines to enable the rendering of immersive graphics, as well as the live services infrastructure that enables persistent virtual worlds and games with sophisticated communities and economies. GameTech hardware includes the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).
Games are one of the oldest social technologies known to humankind: board games and gaming tokens have been discovered that are over 5,000 years old.
For as long as there have been games on computers, they’ve moved technology forward in innovative and sometimes unexpected ways. Games are one of the drivers between real-time networking as well as graphics processing units. These enabling hardware and software technologies—GameTech—will be what the metaverse is built upon.
Games have given rise to several adjacent categories of experience including immersive social and esports.
Game Development Trends in 2021: solo-to-social; technologists-to-artists; games-to-economies.
A Closer Look into the 12 Gamer Motivations by Nick Yee, an analysis of game playing psychology.
How Virtual Worlds Work, series by Raph Koster, MMO visionary
Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) are chips that are specialized for highly parallel tasks including rendering 3D graphics and artificial intelligence. Since the rendering of spatial environments as and various forms of machine intelligence are key parts of the metaverse, GPUs are a fundamental enabler.
Human Interfaces Hardware includes traditional screens (on computers, phones, etc.) as well as emergent technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality—as well as futuristic technologies like brain-computer interfaces.
Immersive Social is a category of experiences in the metaverse that are geared towards social interaction; they may be thought of as an embodied, real-time evolution of social networks and chat.
Examples include VRchat, Rec Room and many of the experiences people enjoy in Roblox.
Infrastructure is the set of fundamental technologies that the rest of the metaverse is built upon.
This includes semiconductors (especially Graphics Processing Units), networks, cloud-based services, data centers, edge computing, batteries and material science.
A non-fungible token that represents ownership of virtual land in the Decentraland platform.
Live Services are the internet-based software platforms—typically cloud-based—that enable virtual worlds and online games with sophisticated economies and communities. This includes software for managing the inventory of virtual economies, social features, online events and tournaments, regular updates and other features that are necessary to the operation of games and other metaverse experiences.
Low code platforms allow creators to craft applications with little (or in the case of a no-code platforms, no) computer coding.
Low code and no-code platforms result in an exponential increase in the number of people who are able to create applications and experiences.
Machine intelligence (also referred to as “artificial intelligence” or “AI”) is the domain of computer science that involves programming computers to operate in ways we perceive as intelligent.
Is the intelligence truly “artificial” or is it simply a new form of intelligence?
For many years, although chess programs could be taught to play—few people believed a computer could beat a chess grandmaster—until Gary Kasparov was defeated by Deep Blue. And then few believed a computer could beat a master at Go, a far more complex game—until AlphaGo did so.
Today, machines are using deep learning to acquire more of the capabilities that were once exclusively human: autonomous driving, recognizing images, and interpreting natural language (such as with GPT-3).
Machines are even beginning to supplement human creativity, by providing automatically-generated code, or generating scenes and character animations.
In the metaverse, machine intelligence supports advanced interfaces that interpret our evolved expressions through speech, gesture, and even emotion; they’ll be used to simulate various aspects of the physical world; and they’ll play the role of characters and virtual beings.
The metaverse is the next generation of the internet. It is better understood as a set of convergent trends than a “product.” The key trends in this generation of the internet are:
Real-time activity (vs. more informational or transactional applications)
More playful and immersive—indeed, largely enabled by GameTech
Powered by a creator economy
Linking, embedding and loose coupling via (re)decentralization
The process by which new cryptocurrency units are created and transactions confirmed. Computers solve complex mathematical problems to verify transactions and add them to the blockchain network as a new block, with the first miner to solve the problem rewarded with new items of cryptocurrency.
Mods are “modifications” to a game or virtual world.
Modding is the creative act of making mods.
Sometimes mods are made for free as a creative project; at other times, mods are sold as enhancements to a game. In the latter case, modding may be part of a creator economy around the game in question.
Some of the largest games in the world today began as mods: Counterstrike, PUBG and DOTA are three examples.
Network Effects are various theories about how networks gain in value.
Metcalfe’s Law theorizes that the vale of a network increases proportional to the square of its users.
Reed’s Law theorizes that large networks (including software applications, such as social networks) increase in value exponentially when their subgroups have reduced adoption friction.
Network Effects in the Metaverse. Centralized platforms vs. those that allow for open, emergent innovation; scale-free networks; Metcalfe’s and Reed’s Law.
The Moat Map, by Ben Thompson. Internalized vs. externalized (e.g., Facebook vs. Microsoft) network effects.
The Blockchain Effect: Network Effects without Market Power Costs by Cathy Barrera.
Emergence an NPR Radiolab special that explains how complexity can arise in leaderless systems (such as scale-free networks that enable creativity).
A non-fungible token (NFT) is a way to assign ownership to asset on the blockchain. It is implemented using a smart contract; on Ethereum the standard is defined by ERC-721 and ERC-1155.
An easy way to think about the distinction between NFTs and a cryptocurrency is that currency is fungible, i.e., you don’t care about one unit or another. For example, if you have a dollar bill you’re normally willing to exchange it for any other, regardless of the serial number on the bill; this is what makes it fungible. A non-fungible asset would be a house you live in—it has unique properties that make it distinct from all others. Similarly, the title system for real estate is a non-digital means of tracking ownership that is a helpful metaphor for NFTs.
Unlike virtual items that existed before NFTs, the blockchain enables several capabilities that didn’t exist previously: permanence; decentralization; trustless programmability; provable provenance; provable scarcity. The result is a new class of disruptive applications, artwork and gaming—as well as new business models including play-to-earn and others built around decentralized marketplaces.
An open platform is a permissionless technology that allows creators to make content and applications that are not tied to a particular walled garden.
The advantage of an open platform is the ability to create something that has decentralized dependencies and is owned by the creator. The disadvantage is that tools are frequently harder to use, requiring additional systems integration or more technical work. Creators are also frequently left to find audiences on their own.
Open platforms exist in a continuum between entirely decentralized, public domain projects (e.g., the GNU Open Source software projects) to those which may be owned by a company yet do not require specific permission or distribution systems to utilize (e.g., creating PC software based on Microsoft’s Windows operating system). It also includes decentralized software based on smart contracts, as well as open standards such as OpenXR and WASM, and Web3 wallets.
So You Want to Compete With Roblox by Lars Ducet
WebAssembly (WASM) is an application programming interface (API) specification for the delivery of 3D, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality software.
Khronos.org OpenXR Specification
A permissionless technology is one that does not require permission to use. Most permissionless technologies are decentralized. For example, you don’t need permission to create software based on open source and open platforms, as well as open ecosystems such as PC software development. Many blockchains are permissionless.
In contrast, permissioned environments (such as the App Store, Steam, etc.) and traditional financial networks are gate-keepers that decide who is able to participate. They typically extract higher take rates for the privilege.
Play-to-Earn (P2E) is an economic model used by some blockchain-based games.
In the virtual economy of a P2E game, players may earn virtual items or virtual currency by playing the game. These items and currency may be sold to others via decentralized marketplaces.
P2E games frequently make use of NFTs.
The game developer that creates a P2E game typically generates its revenue through the sale of items or currency to players. The game developer may also take a revenue share from secondary-market sales that players make.
Proof-of-stake is a method for blockchains to process transactions on their network without the computationally-expensive (and energy-intensive) cryptographic algorithms typical of Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Rather than having “miners” that work through cryptographic puzzles, nodes in proof-of-stake networks typically have validators who stake a cryptocurrency which they lose in the event they attempt to hack the network.
One of two popular approaches to validating transactions on the blockchain, proof-of-work relies on the efforts of miners solving complex mathematical problems in order to add new blocks onto the chain.
Self-Sovereign Identity is a form of digital identity that grants the individual user full control and ownership over the identity. It is not beholden to any centralized authority. Many implementations are being built on blockchain technology.
Using zero knowledge proofs, the owner of a self-sovereign identity may choose to selectively disclose information to third-party applications that they wish to share.
Simulating Reality is a technological megatrend involving the ability to accurately simulate or mirror the “real world” within computers. It is the result of convergence of a wide variety of technologies including 3D Engines, physics-based modeling such as ray tracing, machine intelligence and access to digital twins containing information about people, processes and things from physical reality.
A smart contract is a means of programmatically exchanging value (currency and assets) on the Internet using blockchain.
Prior to smart contracts, the ways to exchange value were either:
Meeting in person and exchanging actual cash (e.g., trading dollars in your pocket for the item you want to purchase)
Using a trusted, centralized authority. For example, a bank, brokerage or escrow company would be trusted to finalize a transaction for you.
In contrast, smart contracts allow you to write code that exchanges value without any parties needing to trust each other, meet each other and without the intervention of third-party authorities. This can be compared to how the Internet and World Wide Web enabled new classes of information via decentralized information exchange, enabling disruptive applications that required no permission to publish—as well as the “small pieces loosely joined” ability to create cooperative networks of code.
Smart contracts have the potential to be as disruptive to finance, art, collecting, real estate, gaming and other industries in the same way that decentralized Web publishing disrupted many other information-intensive industries. Some of the key applications of smart contracts include decentralized finance (DeFi) and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Smart Contracts: the Ultimate Guide for Beginners (Hasib Anwar)
Smartglasses are augmented reality headsets that combine speakers for audio, microphones for recording and responding to voice commands, cameras for observing and recording the environment, along with the ability to project digital holograms into your view of physical space.
Current smartglasses are generally considered to be too heavy, lacking in ergonomics and battery life for mass-market adoption. Some versions are available with short battery life and/or industrial applications. The semiconductors, material science, edge computing and batteries required to perfect smartglasses is a major area of infrastructure investment.
Spatial computing is the technology that immerses humans into the computing environment, and adds computing to objects in the spatial environment around us.
This includes technology for generating output (such as 3D graphics or spatial audio); technology like image recognition and gesture recognition for facilitating interacting in these environments; advanced user interfaces for synthesizing the data from digital twins; and geospatial information to merge local-scale information with the rest of the world.
The software within spatial computing enables a large range of human interface hardware including traditional screens, as well as augmented reality, virtual reality and extended reality.
Spatial Computing by Simon Greenwold—the original paper on this topic
Telepresence is digital teleportation: the ability to travel to a remote physical location (or a simulated virtual location) via augmented reality or virtual reality.
Some of the near-term applications include attending live music concerts, esports events and work collaboration (the “future of work”). Longer term, it could include applications like virtual travel where you visit remote locations with the help of drones or human guides.
A slightly nebulous term for cryptocurrencies in general, token is also frequently used to describe crypto assets that piggyback on another, more popular cryptocurrency’s blockchain.
A virtual being is a character or other entity within a game or other metaverse experience.
Virtual beings encompasses characters and avatars who are controlled by a human being (such as the “vtubers” and livestreamers like Code Miko) who use a combination of mocap and 3D models to present themselves, as well as characters controlled by machine intelligence. The latter are an evolution of the concept of a non-player character (NPC)—characters in a story directed by the creators of a game or self-directed by AI.
A virtual currency is a unit of account for some aspect of a virtual economy. For example, the gold you can earn within World of Warcraft is a currency that may be used to purchase other virtual items within the closed economy of the game.
Typically, you do not actually “own” virtual currency: you are granted a license to make use of the currency in whatever way the game or experience has decided. Some blockchain-based experiences that use cryptocurrency which may be used within the experience, as well as traded through decentralized exchanges.
Virtual Economies are systems that enable users to control virtual currency and virtual items within a virtual world or other metaverse experience.
Many free-to-play games have economies that allow players to earn some items and pay with actual money for others.
Economies may be characterized as:
Closed (e.g., as one finds in World of Warcraft or Fortnite). If there are third-party marketplaces for exchanging items or currency in these games, it is usually prohibited by the world’s terms of service.
Open and centralized (such as usually found in a game like Minecraft), where participants can contribute to a creator economy within certain constraints.
Open and decentralized (such as found in some blockchain games such as Decentraland or play-to-earn games). In contrast to closed economies, these games are typically compatible with decentralized marketplaces that allow players to exchange items and currency with each other—and their systems are designed with this openness in mind
A virtual item is an object possessed by a player in a game or other metaverse experience.
Typically, you do not actually “own” virtual items: you are granted a license to make use of them in whatever way the game or experience has decided. Some blockchain-based experiences that use NFTs are built to allow ownership of the item, including transferring the objects to other people. This may or may not grant additional rights, which are still determined by the creator (such as the use of the content linked to the NFT, or for use in other commercial applications).
Created by the developers of a given metaverse platform, land is parcelled off to users who are free to utilise it within the limits of that platform’s features. Owning virtual land involves buying an NFT that confers ownership of a digital space.
Consider how much more of your identity today is defined by who you are online, compared to earlier times in the past; and consider that we now have at least a couple generations of humans who have grown up in a world with online games, virtual items, cryptocurrency, esports and other forms of digital existence.
Virtual Mainstreaming is the trend towards acceptance of digital identity and virtual property as equal—or even more important than—physical identity and property.
Virtual Reality (VR) is technology that allows you to be fully immersed into a virtual world. Screens are attached directly to one’s head, so that head and eye-tracking makes it possible to look around at the virtual environment. This is in contrast to Augmented Reality, which layers the spatial computing environment on top of the physical world around you.
Virtual Worlds are persistent environments that enable interaction and persistence between multiple people.
This includes non-graphical environments dating back to multiuser dungeons (MUDs) and bulletin board games—and since around the late 1990’s, more graphical massively multiplayer online games (MMOs and MMORPGs).
Virtual Worlds frequently have virtual economies with currencies and virtual items as well as opportunities for creators to contribute and customize.
How Virtual Worlds Work, series by Raph Koster, leading innovators of MMOs.
The Virtual Economy, compare/contrast of closed centralized economies (Fortnite), open centralized (Minecraft) and open decentralized (Decentraland).
WebAssembly (WASM) is an open standard for delivering binary executable code to web browsers. It would allow for an open application environment that parallels the App Store environments on mobile phones—but built around standards and without a centralized walled garden.
WebAssembly (WASM) from webassembly.org
A walled garden is a domain within the metaverse that allows people to create content according to a specific set of rules, permissions and tools.
Walled gardens often have significant advantages: their tools are often easy to use—and they can offer access to substantial audiences. In exchange, they typically take a large portion of the revenue generated by creators.
Most of the powerful platforms that were created during the Web 2.0 era are walled gardens. In the Metaverse era, many of these platforms will continue to grow in power. Their rivals are the open platforms.
Web3 is a collection of design patterns and methods in which Web-based applications use peer-to-peer or blockchain-based platforms for storing data rather than centralized servers and walled-garden platforms.
Zero Knowledge Proofs are algorithms that allow two parties to confirm a specific piece of information but without the grantor in the process disclosing any additional information.
For example, when you visit a bar in the United States, you need to be 21 to order a drink. When you show your driver’s license to the bartender, he can see not only whether you’re of legal age—but your actual age, name, home address and other information. If this process used a zero knowledge proof, you’d be able to prove that you’re over 21 but not share any other information.