The tech-heads in Silicon Valley have a new favourite buzzword which is smoking hot right now. Ever since Mark Zuckerberg rebranded earlier this year that Facebook would be Meta, everyone has been rushing towards “Metaverse” and figuring out what Metaverse even is because no one wants to be at last in the race. Microsoft didn’t sit idle and also jumped the Metaverse bandwagon. Seemingly overnight, numerous people became metaverse experts.
So, what exactly is the Metaverse? Why should you care? or rather should you care? Why does it matter? Is Metaverse truly the “next chapter for the internet”, as Zukerberg phrased it? It’s utterly important to understand and define it so as not to be caught off-guard when or if the metaverse wave catches on.
The ABC of Metaverse
The Metaverse, at its core, is an integrated and rather embraced internet: a social sphere where people will be able to interact with the help of personalized avatars that would feel vastly better than a traditional video call. It’s coincident, which is something it aces over today’s feed-based social media. Instead of accounting for what others have been doing by seeing the pictures or videos in the feed, you’ll engage with them in real-time.
The key feature to notice is that it will be persistent, as the real-time world. So when you return to a metaverse space, you won’t have to start over. And just like real life, it’s going to comprise all kinds of things that you may want to do with other people: go to concerts and other events, play games, hang out, date, and even work and shop.
But although all this seems so promising, The Metaverse does not exist – YET. What we have to master before that, are some of its pre-requisites.
Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms are an example of mixed reality. You use the Oculus Quest 2 to join a virtual office space, but you also can see your hands and your keyboard. Also, colleagues not joining the meeting via a VR headset can join via a video feed that shows up in the virtual world just as it would in a live conference room.
What do we need for the Metaverse?
- Virtual Reality: VR often is confused with Metaverse, which is quite understandable as they are similar in some ways but different in some. Having an embodied presence feels a lot more real if you wear a headset, as opposed to an avatar that you control with a keyboard or gamepad. Now, how is VR different from the Metaverse. Simply, VR would just be a component of the Metaverse, a building block. VR, with Augmented Reality (AR) and other forms of spatial computing, will comprise what we’re calling the “Metaverse”.
- Augmented Reality: AR is one of the biggest technology trends right now, and it’s only going to get bigger. It lets us see the real-life environment right in front of us -dogs catching balls, kids playing soccer- with a digital augmentation overlaid on it. For example, the dogs could be mingling with their cartoon counterparts, and the kids could be seen kicking past an alien spacecraft on their way to score a goal. AR is an essential part of the metaverse as it will be almost the foundation of what it will be based on. It will be useful in superimposing augmented reality on the basic layout of the metaverse.
- The Tech behind Games: Games like Fortnite and Roblox have been hailed as early incarnations of the metaverse, and they do check a bunch of boxes for the metaverse. Both the games are social spheres with avatars and in-world economies, and mass live events have demonstrated that they’re about more than just gaming. At the same time, both titles are effectively standalone properties. Players can’t take their Fortnite avatar to their Microsoft Teams meeting, and good luck finding a business outside of Roblox that accepts Robux for payments.
Why don’t we have Metaverse now?
The Metaverse is a network. It’s not one single service, but a collection of services loosely tied together, both by companies building dedicated roads between their services, as well as by people beating their own paths to get from one destination to another. That’s also why some of the first generations of avatar-based services, like Second Life, are not the Metaverse on their own. Just like the mobile internet isn’t just one single app, and none of the apps on your phone would have succeeded if it weren’t for the existence of many other apps and services, the Metaverse depends on a multitude of interconnected services to succeed.
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What the World is saying
Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg
What the internet is for information, the metaverse is going to do for social connections. I’m no longer bound by physical distance or all these constraints in terms of who I interact with or how I represent who I am. All these things are suddenly unleashed. It’s insanely disruptive.Roblox CBO Craig Donato
I would hope that the Metaverse as a future medium can be a much greater engine for economic efficiency than any of the closed systems that exist today. And that we’d ultimately get to a point where a much higher percentage of the profits go to creators than with any of these other platforms that currently exist.Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney
The Metaverse Surge
The rush to the Metaverse didn’t just start with Zuckerberg falling in love with VR. Instead, a plethora of other factors is in the driving seat. People are adopting avatar-based social gaming platforms by the millions; the pandemic has driven all of us to find new forms of real-time interaction; and companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Meta all are trying to figure out the next big thing after the smartphone. And while these trends play out in real-time, a few very important questions are still up in the air.
Who will hold the whip?
The companies responsible for the Research and Development of the future VR and AR headsets are in a strong position to financially benefit from and impose riles on the Metaverse. One big reason why Zuckerberg’s Meta is very much interested in the Metaverse is, as Mark admitted, that the company missed out on mobile hardware, and is now forced to play ball with the rules of Google’s and Apple’s app stores.
Privacy? Safety? and Mental Well-Being?
Many infamous companies like Facebook, Youtube have been rightfully scrutinized for their butterfingers regarding data privacy as well as users’ mental well-being. All of these concerns don’t just disappear in the Metaverse, but the outcome is likely to be different than that of the companies. Hiring tens of thousands of moderators may not be the right approach to prevent hate and harassment in real-time environments, and spatial data gathered by headsets surveying people’s living rooms raises all sorts of new privacy questions. Paying attention to these issues from the get-go will be important for both industry insiders and regulators alike.
Who is going to pay for it, and how?
Large parts of today’s consumer internet are based on advertising, with a healthy froth of subscription revenues on top. Some of those same models may work in the Metaverse. We might also see a return to transactional business models, perhaps even powered by decentralized finance. The business models for these services of the future will have a major impact on the companies eying to build the Metaverse, but they could ultimately also decide who gets to participate in these new worlds, from small businesses to everyday people.
The Big Players
Meta has so far spent $10 billion on metaverse technologies in 2021 alone. The company’s efforts include its VR hardware, social VR apps like Horizon, and its bet on AR wearables. The company also recently acquired Within – Makers of VR Workout app Supernatural.
Apple has stayed clear of the metaverse hype, but the company’s massive investments in AR hardware make it clear that it wants the App Store to be part of whatever the future will bring. Apple’s augmented reality team combines “the strengths of its hardware and software veterans,” and is led by Mike Rockwell, who came from Dolby.
Roblox’s proto-metaverse world generated revenue of $454 million in Q2 of 2021. The company also has more than 43 million daily active users, most of them are kids. Roblox founder and CEO David Baszucki told CNBC on Tuesday that the online-gaming platform’s business plan from nearly two decades ago foresaw the rise of the Metaverse.
Epic has made more than $9 billion with Fortnite in 2018 and 2019 alone, and the company’s Unreal Engine is fundamental to a lot of AR and VR experiences. Epic Games believes the Internet is broken and Metaverse is their blueprint to fix it. As Epic pursue their metaverse dream, it’s one shared by a number of massive, tech-centric companies.
No matter whether creating the Metaverse will take one or many decades, it’s clear that immersive hardware will play a major role in making it popular. That’s why the horse race between Meta, Apple, Snap, Microsoft, and others to create AR glasses is so important. Whoever wins the race, will or will not win the Metaverse, that’s to wait and see.
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