Ready for the Metaverse?

While crypto companies have been talking about Web 3.0 and the Metaverse for some time, it took Facebook rebranding to Meta to trigger broader interest.

Since then, other Big Tech companies like Microsoft have jumped onto the trend to establish themselves as cool companies. Others, like the sneaker company Nike, seem to prepare for selling digital wearable sneakers. So maybe, you’ll soon be able to dress your Avatar in Jordan’s. 👟

While it might seem like Metaverse is a new, trendy buzzword, the term goes back nearly 30 years. Neil Stephenson, author of the science fiction novel “Snow Crash,” was the first to mention it.

Meta = Beyond

Universe = everything that exists, in particular physical matter

In his book published in 1992, the author describes a dystopian future in which those who’re privileged enough spend their time in the Metaverse — a virtual reality where they interact as avatars. When a new drug emerges in the Metaverse and starts infecting users’ computers, the virtual world finds its way into reality.

Another book commonly associated with the Metaverse is “Ready Player One.” In it, the Metaverse is called Oasis (Short for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation).

Oasis was also the largest public library in the world, where even a miserable child like me had access to all the books written on the planet, all the recorded songs, and all the movies, television series, video games, and works of art created. A place where the knowledge, art, and entertainment of human civilization were gathered. And it was there, waiting for me.

While the above sounds pretty harmonious, and for those of us who love libraries, maybe even like a digital wonderland. Yet, just like the Internet, it’s not without its disadvantages. At its core, the OASIS in Ready Player one is corrupted by corporate greed. The Metaverse we envision is a different one.

But what is the Metaverse anyway?

From Online Worlds to Metaverses

The Metaverse has a lot of references in Pop Culture, yet there is no agreed-upon definition for it. Silicon Valley Investor Matthew Bell believes it to be “ a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.

Game developer Raph Kosterstakes a different stance by distinguishing between Online Worlds, multiverses, and metaverses. According to him, Online worlds have existed since 1978, even though they were just text-only back then. Later games that added social features also fall under this category.

Online worlds can be of social and creative nature. Social online worlds allow users to interact with each other, whereas creative online worlds enable users to create and share their creations. In today’s Social Media networks, these worlds are blurred, as TikTok users are certainly also creators, similarly Instagrammers who spend hours taking the perfect picture.

A multiverse is a place that connects multiple online worlds into a network. The connected worlds don’t have a shared ruleset or theme, and users can quickly move between them. The multiverse, as he describes it, is similar to Roblox.

A Metaverse for Raph Koster isn’t a purely digital affair. For him, a Metaverse is a multiverse that interoperates with the natural world through technologies like Augmented Reality. One example would be going into an actual physical store and using AR to try things out without actually ever-changing your wardrobe. Some hair salons already use AI to show customers how various haircuts would look on you in the mirror — so you have less room to complain afterward.

Let’s not forget that we’re already running around town hunting virtual monsters with our phones (Pokemon Go), and players of Axie Infinity are bridging their virtual currencies to genuine income.

Victoria Petrock, an analyst following emerging Tech, adds that she believes the Metaverse to be about connectivity.

“It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life.” (Source)

How’s this different from games already connecting both worlds?

To answer that question, we’ll go back to Matthew Bell, who defined the seven pillars of the Metaverse in a blog post.

  • Persistency — the Metaverse will never pause, resist or stop. Unlike a game where you go directly back to where you stopped, things in the Metaverse continue moving on.
  • Live — the Metaverse will be more similar to real-life in that things happen to live; everyone will be experiencing it as it happens, in real-time. Of course, just like real life, we will have scheduled events in it as well.
  • Anyone can be part of it — there is no limit to who can join; everyone can be in the Metaverse at the same time while it still provides people with a personal sense of presence.
  • It’ll be a full-fledged economy, just like the one we have in the offline world.
  • An experience that spans across the digital and physical world, combining private and public networks and experiences. Both open and closed platforms will be part of the Metaverse.

  • Levels of interoperability we haven’t seen yet. Users can use their digital items, assets, and content across different games, events, and experiences.
  • Rich in content— The Metaverse will be complete with content and experiences created by individuals and businesses — a massive range of different contributors. We’ll see new levels of diversity.

While we have seen the emergence of games like Roblox and Fortnite that have certain Metaverse features already and blockchain games like Decentraland, and Upland, so far, there is no one game/company with a real metaverse.

Blockchain-based games with their innovative play-to-earn model enable players to turn their earned virtual currencies into fiat currencies; however, that often entails many steps and intermediaries, ironically. We’re still far from a more interoperable approach.

So what do people mean when they talk about the Metaverse?

That’s really up to the individual and their understanding of the existing Web. However, most frequently, they seem to refer to platforms with one or several of the following components:

  • Features overlapping with older web services & real-world activities (Walking and catching Pokemon, for example — hosted on a cloud provider)
  • Real-time 3D computer graphics and personalized avatars
  • Various person-to-person interactions that tend to be less competitive, and less goal-oriented than stereotypical games
  • Providing users with the tools to create their virtual items, up to entire worlds
  • Links to the outside economic system — just like the existing play-to-earn games.
  • Designs suited for VR and AR headsets.

This last point brings us to something that you might have expected first in a post on the Metaverse: Technology.

Technologies underpinning the Metaverse

While most will associate the year 2008 with the financial crisis, it was also the year in which IBM completed a $100 Million investment to explore business models in a virtual world called Second Life. What happened to these $100 Million is anyone’s guess, because not long after the company holding up Second Life went bankrupt, and with it its mission of providing a digital world.

What’s different this time?

It’s not our first Metaverse hype cycle, but we’ve considerable advantages in rendering technology this time around, and VR and AR are getting closer to consumer applications. Facebook/Meta is estimated to have sold more than 8 million Oculus Quest headsets. The increased interest in digital worlds might well be connected to the ongoing pandemic. If you can’t physically go to a concert, attending one virtually becomes more and more attractive.

A recent concert in Fortnite by rapper Travis Scott attracted 12.3 million attendees. There is a significant interest in virtual experiences — so much so that PWC forecasts the market to grow beyond $1,500 trillion by 2030.

In addition to advances on the AR & VR front, Non-Fungible-Tokens have gained traction this year, with Open Sea trading Volumes surpassing 100 Million again in October.

Non-fungible tokens provide a reliable track record of ownership of digital items, and have since crypto-kitties gained broader adoption. While still early days, even renowned auction houses like Sotheby's now auction NFTs.

NFTs will be a crucial part of enabling creators to monetize the content they create in the Metaverse and can be seen as a fundamental part of the financial infrastructure.

Bringing it all together

Overall, the Metaverse is yet to be defined. Regardless, we’re pretty sure that it will be an experience that combines the digital with the real world, contain its economy that connects to broader economies, spans different worlds together, leverages VR & AR, and provides a level of interoperability we’ve not seen so far.

For how exciting the idea of a Metaverse is, we should make sure that it does not turn into a Metaverse as described in Snow Crash or Ready Player One. Instead of bringing the same inequalities we see in real-life into the Metaverse, it could be a chance to create something more equal. There shouldn’t be one company (especially not with such a privacy-infringing track record like Facebook) controlling the Metaverse.

I think that the prospect of having a Facebook-owned metaverse is a really scary one. If you think we are going to be spending more time in the digital universe, imagine having that universe controlled by Facebook, extracting and controlling the actual world that we live in. Boson Protocol

Instead, at Minima, we advocate for an open metaverse.

A Metaverse connects virtual worlds and therefore requires openness to enable people to move across systems at ease. As part of the broader shift to Web 3.0, the Metaverse could help create more fair business models that don’t require people to sacrifice their privacy and provide creators with their fair share for all the content they create.

In such a Metaverse, the people who create would make money, and not the ones who own the platform. For a Metaverse like that to become reality, we need a truly decentralized platform it runs on. A platform that doesn’t need to exploit information by people to finance itself through ads, but a platform that is run by the community for the community.