What is the Metaverse and Where is It Heading?
Discussions of the metaverse are everywhere in today’s technology landscape. Once the realm of technology pioneers and data scientists, the metaverse is expanding to affect everyone. The impact of this environment is evident in everything from the rising demand for Roblox, to the transformation of Facebook into the new “Meta” brand.
But what exactly is the metaverse? Where did it come from? Where is it headed? What does it really mean for the future of the way we live and work?
Despite the growing popularity of the metaverse, the concept is still shrouded by mystery for many. Some define the metaverse as an environment for virtual reality interactions, while others describe it as similar to a video game. The reality is something far more interesting, and complex.
Let’s dive into the metaverse and explore the emerging marketplace.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is an increasingly complex concept in the digital landscape, promising exceptional opportunities for billions of people. A complete definition of the metaverse is currently still being outlined by modern pioneers. However, most people refer to the “metaverse” as a new kind of internet experience, one built around a number of unique technologies.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, one of the market leaders currently investing in the idea of the metaverse, the metaverse is a kind of “embodied internet”. It’s something you can jump into (through VR) or bring to your reality (through AR).
To go a little deeper, the metaverse offers a future where we can enjoy a stronger overlap between our physical and digital lives. Think about how the LiDAR scanner on the new iPhone can scan your surroundings and bring new content into them through your camera. Or consider how you can now invest in digital forms of art using NFTs. These are examples of the metaverse.
According to Unity’s Tony Parisi, there are various “rules” to the metaverse:
- There is only one metaverse
- The metaverse should be for everyone
- Nobody controls the metaverse
- The metaverse must always remain open
- The metaverse is hardware agnostic/independent
- The metaverse is a network
- The metaverse is the internet
What are the Core Technologies of the Metaverse?
The promise of the Metaverse today focuses on universality and decentralization. It invites us to imagine a world where we can control our digital experiences and access them in a more flexible environment. As the “new internet” the metaverse is still in the early stages of evolution, with new technologies enhancing the environment all the time. The three most common forms of technology associated with the metaverse (outside of the internet itself), are XR, blockchain, and AI.
No longer just a concept associated with Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, the blockchain is a critical component of decentralization.
In the metaverse, blockchain promises a way to give users more control over their online experience, taking us away from Web 2.0 and into Web 3.0, where larger organizations like Google and Amazon don’t have as much control over what we do and see online. Blockchain is already making waves in the metaverse with things like Non-Fungible Tokens as a way of investing in and supporting artists, smart contracts, and decentralized finance.
Improving the link between the physical world and the digital world requires a certain level of intelligence from machines. Artificial Intelligence is essential for a number of metaverse experiences. It can help with natural language processing, to ensure our machines and robotics can understand us.
AI also supports things like computer vision and Simultaneous Location and Mapping technologies, which help machines to understand our physical surroundings.
Perhaps the most often-mentioned form of metaverse technology mentioned today, extended reality, or XR involves merging the physical and digital worlds through the use of headsets and devices. With extended reality, we can step into virtual worlds and interact with 3D avatars in communities.
We can use mixed and augmented reality to bring digital content into the real world too, changing the way we interact with everything from maps to retail experiences.
Where is the Metaverse Today?
Currently, the gaming environment is still considered the “starting point” of the metaverse by most experts. There are already a number of games with phenomenal scale, and gaming is becoming a mainstream consumer behaviour, with around 59% of US adults identifying as gamers.
Games are a fantastic environment for the metaverse because they already encourage us to immerse ourselves in digital worlds and join communities unrestricted by geographic location. Games are already providing unique experiences for consumers to experience and participate in. This has become increasingly common during the last couple of years when the pandemic has reduced the number of interactions and unique experiences we can have in person.
For instance, CEO of Epic Games says his company is investing in building the Metaverse, with concerts held in their gaming landscapes by names like Travis Scott and Ariana Grande, as well as an immersive re-imagining of the Martin Luther King Jr iconic “I have a dream” speech. Epic Games is also developing photorealistic digital humans with the Metahuman creator, which highlights how people can create avatars of themselves to dive deeper into the digital world.
Roblox is another example of the metaverse built within a gaming environment. The platform, launched in 2004, houses countless user-generated games, where users can build homes, play out unique scenarios, and build homes. After its IPO, the Roblox CEO David Baszucki tweeted to thank everyone who helped the platform get one step closer to a vision of the #Metaverse.
Since then, Roblox has teamed up with companies to create virtual skateboarding parks, and open gardens where you can try on clothing by Gucci.
Rising Participation in Virtual Experiences
The gaming landscape is already home to tons of user-generated content, virtual goods and environments, and it offers an easy entry point for those who might otherwise by nervous about exploring the metaverse. People already familiar with Minecraft, for instance, are happy to try new virtual experiences within the games, like concerts and events, because they’re already familiar with the landscape.
The gaming environment also has the added advantage of being an excellent landscape for the development and testing of new technology, like AR and VR mechanics and content moderation, cryptocurrency and so on. According to studies, participation in the metaverse is already growing at a phenomenal pace within the gaming landscape.
- 65% of people have engaged in a media experience like watching an in-game TV show, movie, or premier on a gaming platform or participating in a live concert.
- 69% of people have taken part in social activities, like socializing, meeting new people, or travelling to digital environments in a gaming environment.
- 72% of people have taken part in metaverse economic activity, like purchasing in-game items, investing in in-game currency, shopping at virtual marketplaces, or trading with other players in the gaming landscape.
The gaming environment provides an easy entryway to a host of social, media, economic, and even enterprise-level experiences in the digital world. We already have endless examples of the overlap between the physical and digital environment with gaming. This overlap is becoming even more evident as we invest in a wider number of “digital” events following the pandemic and implement new technology like extended reality into the experience.
Where is the Metaverse Heading?
The gaming landscape is the foundation of the metaverse in many ways, paving the way to a future where social experiences, communications, enterprise collaboration, and even financial activities can all take place in a metaverse platform. Let’s look at some examples.
Social experiences in the metaverse
Digital communities have existed for a number of years beyond the Metaverse – practically since the dawn of the internet. We’ve used everything from online forums and social media platforms to video games to connect with other human beings. Social experiences are some of the most recognisable pillars of the metaverse, particularly since the pandemic.
During times of social distancing and lockdowns, many of us turned to the digital world to recreate human connections. Communications with both loved ones and colleagues began to take place online, over a host of platforms, from gaming environments to virtual reality hubs.
In the last couple of years, companies like Epic Games have introduced environments where people can simply spend time with their friends hanging out in “Party Royale” mode. Animal Crossing started launching virtual graduations and even wedding ceremonies for its players. Even things like “Roblox birthday parties” became a significant trend, allowing people to connect with others, even if they weren’t’ doing so physically.
As we head into the future, we could see a number of celebrations and events happening in the metaverse, from concerts to weddings. As technology evolves, experts predict social experiences in the metaverse will include additional forms of simulated presence and human connection.
Imagine, for instance, being able to holographically transport yourself to a birthday party you were unable to attend. To create a greater sense of “presence” new technology will emerge to boost the quality of spontaneous social interactions with ambient communications and realistic human avatars.
Enterprise activities in the metaverse
The immersive, fully-accessible, and open nature of the metaverse makes it perfect for recreating critical human interactions. However, it’s worth noting these interactions can go beyond recreation and social events. Companies beginning to look towards a new future for the workplace are also considering how the metaverse might influence the enterprise.
Many enterprise applications for the metaverse will likely start life as enhanced versions of tools for consumers. For instance, companies can create incredible virtual environments to build products, test ideas, and innovate with colleagues. Virtual reality meeting rooms and interactions enhanced by MR and AR in the workplace are already growing increasingly common.
We’re seeing a rising number of companies in various industries already using extended reality and metaverse concepts to bring specialists and employees together in a hybrid environment.
The metaverse will also create more incredible opportunities for online learning and training in the workplace, allowing people to step into unique experiences where they can build muscle memories and new skills. We could even see the creation of virtual landscapes where people can more easily access tools for improving their workflow whether they’re inside or outside of the office.
Microsoft and Accenture have already experimented with building virtual workspaces for collaboration, while Facebook (Meta) Horizon offer ways to work virtually through headsets.
Media and entertainment in the Metaverse
Since gaming is the ground floor of the metaverse, it only makes sense the entertainment and media landscape would also benefit from this environment. Entertainment in the metaverse is already becoming a common concept, with many shared virtual events like concerts and celebrations happening in environments like Minecraft, Roblox, and similar spaces.
For many event organizers, the metaverse was a crucial tool for keeping people connected in a world where in-person events were no longer possible. Customers were able to view NFL games from the sidelines in VR or explore virtual exhibits in the Museum of National History. We’ve seen concerts and even world Premiers in Fortnight too.
Virtual events in the metaverse won’t just be for the consumer landscape going forward. We’re likely to see a number of professional groups leveraging the technology too. Future metaverse media experiences will combine in-person interactions with digital-twin events in the virtual world, to create more hybrid experiences for people who can’t travel to conference spaces.
The future of metaverse events will allow us to participate fully in event experiences from a distance, interacting with other eventgoers, purchasing items in real-time and even sharing information with the people you want to connect with in future.
The evolution of tools like 5G will be particularly important in ensuring real-time interactions between in-person and online event-goers.
The Metaverse Economy
One of the biggest opportunities in the future of the metaverse is the creation of new and improved economies. We’re already seeing evidence of these new marketplaces where digital-native and traditional brands alike are interacting with clients through everything from virtual and augmented reality, to the delivery of new digital assets.
Fashion retailers have taken a flying leap into the Metaverse in the last couple of years. Burberry collaborated with Elle Digital in Japan to allow customers to browse and shop in a digital version of one of their stores. DressX transformed the concept of shopping for clothes by allowing customers to try on and purchase digital clothing for their online avatars.
There are even instances of companies creating “digital twins” of products for the online world. For instance, players in games can redeem virtual versions of items from real life, like a digital twin of a Nerf gun in Roblox.
Perhaps the simplest example of a kind of metaverse economy, comes in the use of real money for purchasing digital goods and services. For instance, there are endless examples of gaming communities where people can purchase “loot crates,” skins for avatars, and virtual products. Fortnite is one particularly popular instance of this. Some people even offer their services for the creation of virtual art or allow people to buy their expertise in a game for an hour or two.
Increasingly, the interaction of digital and physical economies is growing even more significant. eCommerce experiences allow people to shop for physical goods in a virtual environment (like the example with Burberry). Companies in real-estate can use virtual reality to show people around a house before they buy it, while travel agents offer an insight into a vacation experience for shoppers.
The digital real-estate market is widely regarded to be an exciting solution or expanding the metaverse economy. Already, customers are getting involved with purchasing and selling real-estate in the metaverse. An AR game from 2020 even allows people to buy and sell homes to make money. Digital spaces can even be bought, developed, and enjoyed by their owners in the virtual landscape.
Early brand participation in the form of collaborations and sponsorships demonstrates just how significant this metaverse economy can be. For instance, the North Face has versions of its clothing for customers to buy in Pokémon Go, and Wendy’s has its own branding in Fortnite.
The Evolution of Digital Economies
As our virtual and physical worlds become more aggressively intertwined, there are plenty of opportunities for the digital economies of the metaverse to evolve. For instance, as we move into a future where more people are joining communities with virtual or digital avatars of themselves, there’s a good chance we’ll see more “virtual products” gaining attention.
Purchasing an expensive designer dress could come with a digital twin for you to wear with your virtual avatar. In the opposite direction, purchases in the digital world can also have an impact on our belongings in the physical world. For instance, a person might purchase a handbag when shopping in a virtual store, and simultaneously have that item delivered to their avatar, and their real-world home.
While there are many ways we can see the evolution of the metaverse economy, perhaps the most exciting example right now is in the development of NFTs.
A major component of the Metaverse is the ability for everyone to have more control over their digital landscape, through a decentralized and open environment. In this environment, creative professionals are fighting for more opportunities to monetize their creations, rather than allowing those creations to fall into the hands of larger organizations. NFTs are an important part of this battle.
Non-Fungible Tokens are a concept of the “blockchain” pillar within the metaverse. With an NFT, customers can authenticate their ownership of digital goods, and support digital artists and creators like never before. In the past, artists have often struggled to monetize their creations due to the structure of Web 2.0 (our existing internet environment), and the majority of any money and benefits being distributed among a few major actors, like Google, or Amazon.
In the metaverse, creators will once again have more of an opportunity to own and distribute their own valuable tools without a middle-man taking a piece of the pie.
User creation and agency make up vital parts of the metaverse, and the creativity of individual people has already ramped up engagement in various environments. For instance, Roblox revolves around the ability for everyday users to program and share games.
There are more than 9.5 million developers on the platform, and over half of the in-game currency spent in the world goes towards user-generated content. This is an excellent insight into how the metaverse and Web 3.0’s emerging economies can give more power and earning opportunities back to everyday people.
Lynchpins Driving Metaverse Evolution
The metaverse is accelerating at an incredible pace because our technological innovation is happening faster than ever before. Thanks in large part to the pandemic, we’ve been forced to invest heavily in our digital lives to supplement and augment restrictive physical worlds.
As we head forward into the metaverse, the development of various technology lynchpins will help to make the metaverse more accessible to everyone, such as:
Extended reality technology:
Virtual reality allows users to enter the metaverse, closing the perceived gaps between digital and physical realities. Virtual versions of people, objects, and landscapes will allow us to explore brand-new environments and make experiences more accessible to everyone.
People can step into events, visit stores, and explore learning opportunities in virtual reality. Alternatively, augmented, and mixed reality will allow us to enhance our real world like never before. Even accessories in the XR landscape, like haptic feedback tools will allow us to bridge the gaps in relationships and feel the handshakes and hugs of our contacts wherever they are.
Building an immersive metaverse experience means being able to eliminate the lag between our digital and physical worlds. Solutions like 5G, which allow for more immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences will be extremely important going forward.
Improved connections and the more efficient use of digital bandwidth will be essential to the metaverse. We’ll also need to discover environmentally friendly and efficient ways of managing the huge amounts of data that needs to be processed every day in this new environment.
Companies are already looking into new methods of generating sustainable energy to power the metaverse and the experiences coming with it.
Enhanced developmental landscapes
The metaverse is a human-first environment intended to be open, interoperable, and universal. This will require easy access to development opportunities for all kinds of creatives and builders. Low code and no-code technology options are allowing more access to potential opportunities in the metaverse already.
Additionally, companies are rapidly rolling out open and accessible environments for the creation of extended reality landscapes.
In an ideal future, these open environments will also be standardized and interoperable, so any part of the metaverse will be able to connect with any other part, without the risk of clashing functionality. However, experts predict it will take some time before true standardization and interoperability is possible.
Is the Metaverse Sustainable?
The metaverse is already an incredible, and exciting opportunity for many. Various analysts believe it will create a host of new opportunities in the form of new economies, new working environments, and new chances to connect with other people. However, like any technology, the metaverse requires careful consideration and implementation to be truly sustainable.
The metaverse is built on concepts like:
- Data sovereignty, privacy, and governance
- Honesty and openness (in a world not reliant on trust)
- Diversity and respect for everyone
- Universal, open, and interoperable environments
- Decentralization and global governance
- Accountability and transparency
- The fair exchange of value
To stay true to those values and ensure long-term benefits, anyone working on the future of the metaverse will need to ensure they’re following certain guidelines. For instance, the future of the metaverse must be:
- Environmentally conscious: The technology we build ion the metaverse can help with the creation of positive changes and opportunities to protect the planet. However, we need to ensure any investments made into this technology are considering the needs of the environment. For instance, companies may need to consider how they’re going to power the data centers responsible for metaverse environments.
- Socially ethical: A central concept of the metaverse is that the digital world should be accessible and open to everyone. No single person should have more control over the metaverse than anyone else. We should all have a voice and equal respect in the metaverse.
- Economically sound: As the world continues to grow and evolve, the metaverse needs to support the development of new economies, and the continued success of existing environments. A strong metaverse landscape shouldn’t just benefit one section of the community economically but provide equal opportunities for everyone.
How Do We Build an Ethical Metaverse?
An ethical and sustainable metaverse will be built on transparent foundations. Already, a large part of what makes the metaverse and the Web 3.0 concept underneath it so appealing, is the idea of complete transparency and decentralization. The metaverse will be based on decentralized and distributed ledgers which allow transactions to be verified and improves our sense of global trust.
Outside of being transparent and honest, the metaverse of the future will need to be:
- Inclusive: A defining factor of the metaverse is it should always be human-centered and diverse. The technologies created in this new landscape need to be approachable and easy to understand. It’s through a diverse selection of creators and developers that the metaverse will thrive. Everyone should have a chance to participate in this new world.
- Safe: Naturally, the metaverse is already gaining attention as a secure, private, and safe environment for the digital future. The use of blockchain and decentralized concepts means it’s much harder for fraud and other issues to take place. However, it’s still up to us as members of the future metaverse to keep the environment secure and safe for everyone.
- Innovative: Like any technology, the metaverse should have endless room to grow and develop as we learn more as a species. Already, we’re seeing endless new opportunities for the metaverse emerging in the development of new XR tools and NFTs. In the future, a strong metaverse will be one defined by constant learning and growth.
Building a strong metaverse for the future of technology isn’t just about creating the most immersive VR experiences or making the web more decentralized. There are various components involved in making the metaverse a success, and many of them rely on the ability to use technology and innovations ethically and sustainably.
Is the Metaverse a Good Thing?
Hopefully, this insight into the metaverse today and where it’s headed has given you a better understanding of what this environment could really mean to human beings and our future.
The metaverse is a place where we can effectively learn, build, play, communicate, and collaborate with anyone on earth. Simultaneously, it makes the world smaller by connecting us regardless of geographical location and more significant by allowing more opportunities.
Used correctly, the metaverse could bring human beings together like never before, giving us new opportunities to connect regardless of language differences or location. It could be the start of new environments, where we can build brand-new economies based on the shared distribution of value. Fans of the metaverse describe it as the beginning of a new era, where experiences are built by the people, for the people, in an ever-more accessible landscape.
However, there are potential issues to address with the metaverse, too, like the risk that we may struggle to track down and prevent crime in a decentralized world. It’s up to us as a species and global community to use the possibilities of the metaverse for good.
Ultimately, if we focus on building a metaverse that’s for everyone, and accessible to anyone, the environment can definitely be a good thing. This new technology innovation is just another tool for a brighter future – it’s up to us how we use it.