The word “Metaverse” was coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson, a science fiction writer of the novel Snow Crash. The idea behind it isn’t new, it has been around for several decades, but the word itself started before the internet. Wait, that just got confusing, right?
How come the concept of a Metaverse has been around for much much longer than the internet? That doesn’t make sense at all.
The thing is, throughout human history, people have thought of a concept of an alternate reality, a different universe on top of ours, an intangible place that can or cannot be seen. It sounds like mysticism, now that I think of it, but think of it that way…only with technology.
Okay, okay. The short answer is, it’s like the book/movie Ready Player One. I mean, it is one version of a Metaverse. It’s basically an alternate reality where people can be “in”, experience a new reality through it, and at the same time it is where companies, individual creations, games, products, and whatever you can think of, are all connected.
Still confusing, I know, so let’s go back to the basics. As an example, think of hundreds of thousands of services that are all connected into one alternate reality – which is the Metaverse. Unlike the current internet where you have to login to Facebook, login separately to Twitter, login separately to Minecraft just to access their own “space”, within the Metaverse, everything is connected through a global and alternate network.
Examples of “a” Metaverse in Pop Culture
To make things easier to understand, let’s look at some theoretical and actual examples that would help build up to the Metaverse.
The Movie Ready Player One
If you’ve seen Ready Player One, it’s exactly like that. But if you haven’t yet, think of a virtual reality where the Iron Giant, Gundams, Mortal Kombat characters, Lara Croft, Pokemons, and other characters from different worlds are in one place, connected, and are free to interact with each other. That’s the basic premise of Ready Player One.
And within the world of Ready Player One, people can build, destroy, transact, and live an alternate life, away from actual reality.
In 2019, Fortnite launched a live concert within the game’s virtual space. Players were able to attend Marshmello’s live concert within the game. It’s a prime example of a virtual space, players, celebrities, music, are all interconnected in one place.
But that is basically nothing, not a Metaverse or anything close to it. However, one step closer to it is another concert by Fortnite, which will be available globally through the game’s virtual space. It will be attended by several big names in the music industry like Mohamed Hamaki, Tones And I, Aya Nakamura, Emicida, and Gen Hoshino. And players, or in this case, the audience, can interact with the artists too.
One supporting evidence here is back in 2019 when Will Hershey, CEO and co-founder of the investment firm Roundhill asked Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, if Fortnite is a game or a platform. Tim Sweeney answered:
“Fortnite is a game. But please ask that question again in 12 months.”
Imagine, in just a couple of years, Fortnite’s virtual world will be connected with Epic Games’ other virtual worlds. In which case, it will be one step closer to integrating into the Metaverse.
Augmented Reality (AR)
I am sure you’ve heard of AR before, but for the sake of explaining things, basically AR is a world on top of our own that can be seen through a device like an AR glasses or through your phone’s camera.
A perfect example would be the popular AR game Pokemon Go. When you use your phone’s camera, you can see Pokemon around you which you can fight against and capture. But this is just limited to the Pokemon Go universe…for now. In fact, Niantic, the creators of Pokemon Go, are already preparing to dip themselves into the Metaverse too.
However, instead of “abandoning” reality and immersing oneself into the digital world, what they are planning for the long-term is to fully integrate augmented reality into the Metaverse, which is to say, integrate it to our daily lives. Much like how Pokemon Go works, it doesn’t work on your screen, but on the real world.
On a similar note, Google’s AR and VR is a perfect example of how it could work on the outside world. But take note that as of writing this, Google or it’s parent company ABC are yet to announce any interest in building with the Metaverse.
In any case, imagine if these AR companies all connect to the Metaverse? That would mean that you, as a user, will be able to utilize all their features within the Metaverse by just using one device. Unlike now, if you wish to use Google’s features, you’ll have to use Google Lens.
If you want to use other AR technologies, you’ll have to make use of their respective devices too. Quite the hassle, right? But with the dawn of the Metaverse, this will probably not be the case.
Games like Axie Infinity, Sipher, and Illuvium
These games are already confirmed to be in the Metaverse, and are actively building towards it.
As an example, if you have Axies, you can probably use it in a mini-game within a different game that is hosted in the Metaverse. Who knows, maybe your Axie can one day battle with Illuvials? Not just that, if you have a rare NFT weapon on one game, it is 100% possible that you can use it on another game within the Metaverse.
Another exciting thing here is, for in-game celebrities, they can tour around the new world without boundaries!
How Can The Metaverse Come to Life?
There are three main things needed in order to breathe life into the Metaverse, and it’s not exactly that far-fetched from what we have now. If you think about it, most of the pieces are already there, it’s just that no one is there yet to put the Lego blocks together.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the hardware that will house the Metaverse, as well as the hardware that will be used to access it. How much data will there be to create an alternate reality that is much much bigger and dynamic than our own?
At the moment, we have powerful servers and supercomputers all over the globe, but these are mostly used by businesses to deliver or house large amounts of data, with just a fraction of it available to the public. So, just imagine an entire world…where can we store it?
The answer is: the Blockchain. The examples I said above are centralized data storages, but for the blockchain, it is a decentralized computing system that is run by millions of machines around the world. No one exactly owns it, but everyone can use it to run transactions.
The details of how this will work? I’ll leave that to the engineers who are pioneering the creation of the Metaverse.
The software is already here. Rather, they are already here…and the number is still growing. But wait, which ones exactly?
Aside from the games I mentioned above, Axie Infinity, Sipher, Illuvium, practically everything that has a user-base like online marketplaces, games, social networks, and the like, can connect to the Metaverse. It’s just a matter of them making the connection and building their presence in this alternate world.
Like with every other pioneering technology, the amount of interest and actual users, evangelists, and creators will determine the success of the Metaverse. If no one will use it or build worlds inside it, then it will definitely fail.
But my guess? And I’m confident about it…it’s going to take off and the Internet as we know it will become a thing of the past.
Who is Building The Metaverse?
It would be incorrect to assume that one single company will build the Metaverse, especially because of its decentralized nature (hopefully!). But one thing is for sure, leading tech companies will help build it. At first, there could be multiple instances of a Metaverse developed by different organizations, but it will eventually coalesce into one.
As a prime example, Facebook has pledged $50 million for the research and development of the Metaverse, and of course they will be collaborating with industry-leaders, policymakers, and experts worldwide.
In fact, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook will be transitioning from a social media company into a Metaverse company.
Even Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, has big plans for Microsoft and the Metaverse.
Epic Games is also another sure-ball collaborator to this. A lot of the things that they are doing, especially within Fortnite, gears towards the future of the Metaverse.
Another example is Enjin, a distributed organization that builds interconnected tools with the purpose of building the first Metaverse. They provide a platform by which individuals and groups can build virtual worlds, and of course these worlds are connected, in which their NFTs can be transferred or be used between worlds. That’s the basics of it at least. But one thing to know is it’s an established company, since 2009, and has since created 1.16 billion digital assets.
Challenges of Building The Metaverse
There are a couple of things that need to be addressed in order to responsibly build the Metaverse. It’s not just something that people who can build it should build it just because they can. Like when the Internet was first created, the core tenet was to provide accessible information to everyone, the builders of the Metaverse should also think about the societal, philosophical, and economical impact too.
For example, within the Internet, privacy and security are always a topic of discussion. This will be the case for the Metaverse too.
This could be an essay of its own so I will not delve in deeper, but who will govern the Metaverse? Who will set the rules? Will there be a government? Or will corporations run it like they are, on their own within the Metaverse, a nation?
The list for discussion goes on and on for engineers and thinkers.
How Will It Change The Internet?
Not to be dramatic, but as I can see it, the dawn of the Metaverse will change the entire face of the Internet. Slowly at first, then all at once.
And I say this with reason, not just feeling.
Think about when there was a revolution when it comes to instant communication. Before, people were tethered to their landlines, then came the pager which was a game-changer.
But shortly after that, mobile phones were invented…and it totally displaced pagers. When the internet was adopted worldwide, print publications and traditional media’s presence started to dwindle. And when instant messaging applications like ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, and AIM were created, people just started talking through them instead of sending letters to each other.
But let me go back a little bit. Wired phones, pagers, mobile phones, and then came smartphones. For each of these technologies, their predecessor has, if not completely, disappeared. It took a long time, sure, and the process is still ongoing, but can you imagine how it will change things?
Another example will be…the first video games. They first started as just black and white dots on the screen, then came colors, and with more resolution. From 2D to 3D, and now we’re already enjoying Virtual and Augmented Reality games. While the adoption is not yet full, there is a growing interest in these…and the Metaverse will just boost it.
On another note, online shopping will take a different turn. Instead of looking at images or videos, you get to see the actual items. If it’s clothes, you can try them on. You can even change your hair color, or zoom in to look at more details before purchasing…and purchasing can simply be done within the Metaverse, without the need to login to a different website. Cool? I think so.
The Metaverse is coming, and it is going to arrive sooner than you expect. It is already being built. The race is on on who can do it first, and I am certain that the first to do it and launch it for everyone will change the entire landscape of the internet, the global economy, technology, and basically the entire flow of information.
Are you ready, player?