Facebook made big headlines recently when it announced the company would be changing its name. Now called Meta, the social media giant is planning to set its sights on an even grander landscape for the future. This landscape has been labelled the metaverse, which on a superficial level simply represents virtual worlds beyond reality. In this regard, gamers have been exploring such environments for years. But a deeper look at its future reveals some interesting concepts that are worth examining further. There’s a reason that Facebook, now Meta, has chosen to move in this direction. Thus, assessing the potential of a metaverse for us all is certainly worthwhile.
When it comes to virtual worlds, many companies are already exploring products related to this market. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) interfaces and accessories are rather common. Naturally, these will play a significant role as the metaverse unfolds. But exactly how this will evolve and how rapidly are subjects up for debate. On the one hand, we may have opportunities to explore multiple metaverses at once. But there’s also the chance a single all-encompassing metaverse might emerge, similar to the world wide web. This and other considerations are why it’s important to have some basic understanding of what the future may hold.
“A metaverse is a more immersive and embodied internet [where] you’re gonna be able to do almost anything you can imagine—get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create—as well as entirely new categories that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta
Origins and Definition of the Term
The original use of the term metaverse was in 1992 in Neal Stephenson’s book, Snow Crash. In this cyber-pink novel, it represented an imaginary place accessible by fiberoptic networks and a pair of VR goggles. In essence, it represented a constellation of virtual worlds that existed beyond reality. Thus, at a very basic level, metaverse is simply a virtual environment where people interact via the Internet. But it’s more than a chat room or social media site. Metaverses are much more immersive and multisensory in nature. And therefore, the evolution of these virtual worlds has been dependent on the development of various VR and AR systems.
Understanding this, there are several aspects of a metaverse that might be considered. Various features are commonly present, but these virtual worlds are still in the process of being defined. Not every one of these virtual worlds have all the characteristics that might portray what future metaverses may reflect. But for now, the following components are things that many associated with the term today.
- Immersive User-Represented Avatars – There has been some significant advances in VR and AR technologies as of late. Some of these advances now allow individuals experience virtual worlds as immersive avatars. This includes having virtual eyesight through an avatar’s eyes and hand controllers that allow gestures. In addition, this immersion is 3-dimensional, aided by the use of VR and AR glasses. Among common features of a metaverse, this is one of the most consistent.
- Persistent Virtual Worlds – Naturally, a metaverse requires a place where avatars can interact. But unlike transient virtual worlds that may come and go when a user is engaged, a metaverse persists all the time. Some gaming and entertainment sites already provide this, such as Second Life and Fortnite. In other words, metaverses don’t simply appear and disappear based on user log-ins. (Read more about the collision of social and gaming virtual worlds in the COVID era in this Bold story.)
- Capacity to Own and Create Virtual Property – One of the important features many believe are essential to a metaverse is its capacity to provide property ownership. Games like World of Warcraft offer these features in their virtual worlds as avatars can acquire various gear. Likewise, some games also allow users to create property that they then own. Minecraft is a perfect example of this characteristic. Without question, this is a cool feature of a metaverse. But like the real world, the ability to own and create virtual property demands oversight and even requires copyright considerations.
- Virtual Exchange Systems – Lastly, a metaverse can also provide a marketplace and platform for the exchange of property. This is likely a big reason Meta is interested in advancing virtual worlds into the future. Such a marketplace could be huge in terms of transactions and profits. Just consider the increase in digital currency and non-fungible tokens lately. Metaverses offer an expansive and perhaps unlimited opportunity to explore these transactions in a major way.
“These are virtual worlds that, when you’re inside of them, feels like you’re inside a kind of a cool video game. But it’s so much more than a game because it’s like the internet, where you’re socially connected. So, you know, you can do just about anything in the metaverse.” – Jason Moore, Assistant Profession in Television and Virtual Reality, Brooklyn College
Metaverses or a Metaverse?
In the book Ready Player One, or in the movie, the fiction suspense story portrayed a single metaverse. This shared virtual universe was accessible to all, and it provided platforms for everything from education to finance. This perspective assumes that the future might treat a metaverse like the world wide web. Within that virtual universe, several virtual worlds might exist. But some overarching rules would govern it all, and everyone could participate within that environment. In contrast, others believe the level of coordination to attain a single metaverse is not likely. From their perspective, it’s much more probable that multiple metaverses will exist. Much like gaming sites today.
This debate is one worth having, and certainly one that Meta has contemplated. Major players first to the table within the scope of a single metaverse have much to gain. In fact, this might even allow unfair advantages for decades to come in terms of virtual and digital commerce. In addition, many are concerned about the addictive nature these virtual worlds may have, increasing luring people away from reality. And with any cyberspace environment, concerns about privacy and security are additional worries. Of course, all of these developments have yet to happen, and predictions range from one extreme to the other. But if companies like Facebook/Meta are targeting the virtual, it’s time to pay attention.