Forging New Worlds: What is the Metaverse?
In line with our recent crypto glossary article, we have kickstarted an initiative aimed at easing new users not only into our app but also the Web3 universe, breaking down complex concepts into easy-to-digest pieces. Next up is a series exploring a recent flavour of the year — Metaverse.
As the 1979 hit single Video Killed the Radio Star famously asserts, developments in technology define our culture and lifestyles. For example, back in 2005, social media was all about text — updating your personal status and declaring your thoughts to the world in 140 characters. Today, through the ease of video content creation, we tap into a shared network of vivid experiences through things like Instagram stories. We use Augmented Reality (AR) filters every day, as well as attend virtual concerts in Fortnite. The next logical step of Internet evolution is dawning upon us. Next stop — the metaverse.
What is the Metaverse?
The term metaverse was thrown into the spotlight in 2021 when Facebook announced its name change to Meta to reflect its vision of building an interconnected, virtual/augmented social reality. Strategically, this name change was successful in establishing the metaverse as a technology belonging to Meta.
Contrary to this public perception, however, the metaverse is not a singular technology — but a concept. It refers to the set of technologies that enable us to interact with each other within a shared, virtual and immersive experience. A more precise definition by NVIDIA would be “a shared virtual 3D world, or worlds, that are interactive, immersive, and collaborative.” This is commonly understood as interconnected VR/3D/AR worlds like the one in the science fiction film Ready Player One.
It is also understood that interoperability is a critical part of the metaverse. “Consumers are able to hop between different virtual experiences,” Grant Paterson, the head of gaming and e-sports at Wunderman Thompson says. “The idea is that the metaverse would eventually be the sort of place where, as your virtual avatar, you would be able to go into a Disney store, for example, and buy an outfit for your avatar to wear, then go to a Nike store and buy a pair of shoes to be delivered to you in the physical world, and then pop into to a Spotify virtual concert or Roblox virtual concert after that, and then go for a run with all your friends while listening to that concert — a run in the real world, but you’re connected through the metaverse.”
These are not abstract ideas, but experiences that have already been executed. 3D worlds have long been a thing.
Old Worlds, New Metaverse?
We cannot talk about virtual worlds without mentioning the iconic game Second Life, in which people live out a second life through customizable avatars. Launched in 2003, the game still boasts 64.8 million active users 19 years later, with a thriving game economy worth tens of millions of dollars in revenue each year.
Allowing users to represent themselves through highly customizable 3D avatars and partake in social activities, the game is designed so that people may immerse themselves in a reality where they are free to be themselves, no longer limited by the constraints of the real world. Disabilities, socio-economic statuses, and social anxiety are no more in this virtual world.
Newer technologies are determined not to be upstaged either. Arguably, two modern-day platforms, Fortnite and Roblox, may be early iterations of the metaverse.
Roblox describes itself as a platform where millions of users may “imagine, create, and share experiences with each other in immersive, user-generated 3D worlds.” People may create entire digital worlds where others may gather to play games or participate in shared experiences. Most interestingly, users can create their own items and easily bring them from one world to the next. This fulfils an essential criteria for being a metaverse — composability, or the ability to use assets across different platforms freely.
While Fortnite, being primarily a game, does not allow for such a high degree of user content creation nor composability, they stand out in terms of organising massively popular virtual experiences. From their rocket launch event, to Marshmello and Travis Scott concerts, Epic Games undeniably know how to create unique social events for their users.
But are they Metaverses, though…?
Jonathan Jaeig asserts that while “all of these games incorporate “metaversal” element”, but “all of them lack from the view of the metaverse as a connected network of online experiences is interoperability.” He also goes on to say that “if you insist that there is no metaverse until you can mine diamonds in Minecraft to sell in Roblox to buy a hammer that you can use in Fortnite, you’re missing the point. But, if you insist that Minecraft, Roblox or Fortnite is its own metaverse, you’re also missing the point.”
While there is no clear answer (trying to decide one is like nailing jelly to a wall), it is clear that a true metaverse and its potential is yet to be.
At the end of the day, however, by existing only in Web 2.0, these platforms limit themselves when it comes to true interconnectivity. Web3, on the other hand, emphasises things like composability, the importance of digital ownership of virtual assets, and decentralisation. Through smart contracts, it would be possible to enhance things like record storage, asset titles, and even insurance.
The relevance of this is how it would be able to integrate our real-life into future versions of metaverses. We will be able to move on from simpler social experiences like games or online concerts, into an entirely new realm. For example, virtual offices, art galleries, and shopping centres. The benefits of this are astronomical and allow us to venture into a new dimension that enables our further progress as one human race.
Like what you have read so far? Keep an eye out for our next article, where we discuss the benefits of blockchain-based metaverses.