Meta = beyond
Verse = universe
Among many things, the pandemic taught us that the internet’s ability to emulate social interaction is immensely invaluable. Whether it was businesses holding meetings through Zoom calls or schools delivering virtual lessons or even online quiz nights (yes, remember those?!), the internet retained enough elements of social fabric that kept us from going barmy.
However, what if I told you that we’ve only scraped the surface of the internet’s capacity to achieve full virtual social integration?
Welcome to the metaverse – a virtual network in which users can interact through an immersive digital shared space.
Just as Neo was sent to the Matrix’s virtual dimension in which he could seamlessly interact with the world, so too does the metaverse (with hopefully fewer Agent Smiths).
Through virtual reality or even just through the screens on your devices, users can be transported to a parallel universe.
To the traditionalist who enjoys the outdoors and remains fearful of the internet, the metaverse can be a daunting and terrifying concept. But, it’s a fantastic one.
Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?
Gaming is typically one’s first foray into the metaverse.
Fortnite – the world’s most loved and hated battle royale online multiplayer game – is one of the leading titles aiming to showcase the metaverse’s capabilities. “Fortnite is a game. But ask that question again in 12 months,” Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney cryptically tweeted back in 2019.
Sweeney has since made overt references to the metaverse and Fortnite’s role in it. “We are grateful to our new and existing investors who support our vision for Epic and the Metaverse,” he said in April after announcing a USD 1 billion funding round to support Epic’s metaverse vision.
Aside from allowing gamers to hunt and kill each other, Fortnite offers a digital landscape for users to build personas, relationships and effectively build a world contained within a virtual framework.
“Anything else can really happen, and hopefully everything does. People’s imaginations are going to be the only limit to what can actually take place inside Fortnite,” said Phil Rampulla, Head of Brand at Epic.
Roblox is another gaming title that has become synonymous with the metaverse. Offering gaming development tools to the layman, Roblox allows users to not only engage in their virtual space, but to also create new and innovative digital experiences.
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality
While the gaming community is strong in numbers and loyalty, the metaverse is far from restricted to the segment. Emulating real-world activities, the metaverse can function just as real life does.
Decentraland takes its inspiration from decentralised crypto exchanges and blockchain technology. Offering users the ability to enter their world and trade between themselves, Decentraland brings the digital marketplace into a new dimension.
This bodes well for companies too.
Sotheby’s hosted its first fully digital exhibition on Decentraland earlier this year. Emulating a virtual cutesy version of its iconic Bond Street gallery, the auction house opened its digital doors to bidders and enthusiasts to visit, view art work and participate in auctions.
Still in its infancy, the metaverse’s potential largely remains untapped. Entertainment possibilities extend far beyond gaming and galleries. During the lockdown, Netflix was kind enough to offer a shared viewing experience among subscribers.
While this was a sufficient substitute for group viewing, the metaverse is capable of offering a flushed-out cinema experience in which you can virtually congregate in the foyer, buy tickets from the virtual ticket booth and watch the latest blockbusters in the company of your virtual pals.
Look up to the social networks and see
Some of the biggest companies in the tech space are capitalising on the metaverse’s capabilities.
Love it or hate it, Facebook’s ubiquitous online presence is equally as unmatched as it is unavoidable. Now, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has his sights on the metaverse. In a remote address to his employees, Zuckerberg said bringing Facebook’s products surrounding communities, creators, commerce and VR together is the company’s next mission.
“What I think is most interesting is how these themes will come together into a bigger idea,” Zuckerberg said. “Our overarching goal across all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse to life.”
Speaking to the Vergecast, Zuckerberg explained how he viewed the metaverse’s capabilities beyond gaming.
“A lot of people also think about the metaverse as primarily something that’s about gaming,” he acknowledged.
“And I think entertainment is clearly going to be a big part of it, but I don’t think that this is just gaming. I think that this is a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together, which I think is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it.”
In July 2021, Facebook launched an open beta of Horizon Workrooms, which utilises the metaverse to bring immersive office meetings from the boardroom to the bedroom. Using an Oculus (also owned by Facebook) VR headset, users can attend meetings in a virtual office with virtual customisable personas. Offering presentations, work desks and typical boardroom features, Horizon Workrooms showcases the immersive capabilities of the metaverse.
Meanwhile, TikTok parent ByteDance has just acquired Pico – a start-up VR firm. “We are optimistic about the future of VR and its alignment with our mission,” said a ByteDance spokeswoman. With the success of TikTok as a social media platform, a VR component that would immerse users even further into ByteDance’s world would be ground-breaking.
In April 2021 ByteDance also invested CNY 100 million (USD 15.46 million) into Mycodeview – the company behind Roblox competitor Reworld.
Apple is also making steps towards accommodating the metaverse through VR. Last year, Apple bought VR company NextVR but has remained rather hush about its motives. However, recently, the American tech titan filed a new patent that involves using the iPhone as a gaming controller. The iPhone would be used as an interface to interact with a VR environment (AKA the metaverse).
Although it’s unclear exactly how Apple and ByteDance will utilise their VR acquisitions, their motives to venture into the space reaffirm the potential of the metaverse. Having tech giants such as Facebook, Apple and ByteDance not only acknowledges the power and potential of the metaverse, but cements it as an immensely reputable, lucrative and cutting-edge technology.
Meta, life has just begun
The metaverse is certainly attracting attention from the biggest names in the tech industry but its real strength lies in its social structure.
In a similar way to how social media provides the framework for social networking, relying on users to create content and to interact with each other, so too does the metaverse.
The likes of existing digital social platforms such as Discord already thrive off users building online communities which allow for social integration.
The metaverse takes this one step further and transforms online communities into digital neighbourhoods. Its open-source nature offers internet users the tools to build virtual societies that cater to their own interests. This allows for a more immersive, unique and tailored experience than your bog-standard chatroom.
At a time when cryptocurrency and community-driven markets such as NFTs are leading the conversation, the metaverse is a fitting extension of the decentralised narrative. Offering a digital playground that’s equally as accessible to users as it is for creators, the metaverse deserves its place on everyone’s radar.
Gaming, which has always served as digitally interactive escapism, is a gateway to the metaverse, taking immersion to a whole new level.
Tech giants are already capitalising on the space but the metaverse’s expansive open-source, community-led framework prevents oversaturisation from any entity.
We’ve barely scratched the surface and the metaverse’s possibilities are endless, bringing together crypto, NFTs, blockchain and all things decentralised. It might sound like a ruse but the metaverse is more genius than it is gimmicky.