The Metaverse Explained
Media is abuzz about the metaverse. Big technology companies like Meta and Microsoft are investing heavily on it. Companies like Nike, Disney and Exxon are trying to capitalize on the frenzy. Chances are you are either looking to cash in on the metaverse boom or trying to figure out how metaverse can benefit your business?
But what is the metaverse? Is it a sensational new technology that Facebook introduced with their rebranding as Meta? Is it meant to be a digital twin of our universe, but without any boundaries or limitations? Or is it a rebranding of Extended Reality (XR) – an umbrella term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality? More importantly, does the metaverse have potential to reinvent or transform your business?
The verdict’s not in if the metaverse will be the next big thing, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. First, understand that the metaverse is a work in progress and, second, learn to distinguish the hype from the real. If fully realized, the metaverse could become as important to companies as the Industrial Revolution. It would enable them to engage with their customers as well as their employees, partners and vendors in new, immersive ways.
But what is the Metaverse, really?
The metaverse is not a new concept. The metaverse proposes a connected digital environment where users can interact with others, have a digital twin of themselves through an avatar / character and transfer their belongings across multiple digital locations or ‘verses. Think about the metaverse as a digital universe with an infinite number of virtual worlds where you can roam freely from one world to another.
The metaverse, a blend of the words “meta” and “universe,” first came to attention in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. Since then the concept of the metaverse has been developed in virtual world platform games, such as Second Life and Minecraft. Metaverses (at this point there’s multiple ‘verses, not just Facebook’s) are designed to integrate virtual and physical spaces, even virtual money.
A metaverse is a network that allows users to place themselves in what appears to be a 3D virtual world with a focus on social interaction. In science fiction, it’s frequently used to describe a hypothetical iteration of the internet as a single, universal virtual world, entered through virtual reality or augmented reality devices. The metaverse won’t compete with the internet or replace it – it will extend it further. The internet is mainly a 2D medium for allowing users to communicate with each other, interact with websites and apps, and buy and sell goods and services. In the metaverse, users explore a 3D virtual world that mimics most aspects of the physical world.
The metaverse has many different features that will make it an exciting technology, including:
Endless – As an immersive virtual space, the metaverse is endless with no limits on users, activities, platforms and interactions.
Persistent – The metaverse cannot be paused or switched off. This will offer users continuity in their experience.
Immersive – Whether you’re using a VR headset, AR glasses, or a mobile device, you’ll receive an immersive and interactive experience.
Economies – Metaverse offers decentralized virtual economies powered by cryptocurrency for procuring digital products including merchandise, real estate, art and more.
Seamless – Metaverse will be seamless in user experience having connected platforms allowing users to move freely between ‘verses.
With current technologies, this connected experience across different metaverse platforms doesn’t exist and users remain confined within a ‘verse offered by the provider. Until these individual ‘verses become fully integrated, the metaverse will remain a concept.
For the metaverse to become reality, numerous improvements must be made across many connected systems. This doesn’t mean just how to get into the metaverse. It’s the technology that supports the metaverse. This includes advances in hardware, 5G network, cloud, mobility, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain.
Moreover, any risks associated with the metaverse for business must be mitigated to build trust and reduce the possibility of fraud and other issues. That includes how the digital economy and cryptocurrencies work. And regulations and laws governing the metaverse must be universally accepted by all who use it.
For now we recommend business leaders learn about the metaverse, while selecting related technologies they can successfully adopt. This includes immersive technologies, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Businesses can start experimenting with these technologies now as a way to make inroads into their metaverse journey – without going all in.
What makes the metaverse possible?
To start, a combination of several new technologies are needed. They include AR and VR headsets, which in recent iterations have come down in cost while providing more power and GPUs (graphics processing units). Other elements of the metaverse include blockchains, which offer smart contract functionality on a decentralized, open-source public ledger using a peer-to-peer network of computers and cryptocurrencies.
A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that is in principle impossible to counterfeit or spend more than once. The accounting takes place on a blockchain and cryptocurrencies are generally not issued by a central authority, which makes them theoretically free from government manipulation or interference.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) digitally represent digital assets such as digital artwork, digital real estate and other digital properties. They are trackable using a blockchain. What NFTs provide are new methods to purchase and, in a sense, to own digital goods, enabling creators to monetize their work.
Each NFT is unique and not divisible, while cryptocurrencies offer economic value and are fungible. In other words, one cryptocurrency token is worth the same value as another of the same currency.
Theoretically, token-holders can vote on how the platform is governed. This could foster economic opportunities, with digital goods and services untethered to a singular gaming platform or brand. Yet governments are likely to insist that their local laws and regulations are respected and that taxes are paid.
Moreover, the building of a metaverse requires a tremendous amount of resources and technology. The high-tech aspect of the metaverse has made it a buzzword that some brands use to exaggerate their progress in the sector and generate public relations stories.
Issues related to information privacy, user addiction and the safety of the metaverse have risen. These are similar to what the social media and video game industries faced. However, the intense immersiveness of the metaverse may make these issues that much more complex.
How does the metaverse work?
The idea that hundreds, if not thousands or millions, of people can take part in a shared, synchronous event is what’s promised in the metaverse. Currently, the technology to enable that level of experience does not exist. Participants in the metaverse are separated into shards, or sections, that cap how many avatars can fit in a server-defined area.
An avatar is a computer representation of a user in a computer-generated 3D world. You likely have seen avatars on social media, or websites and even on business websites to make customer support chatbots seem more human-like.
Reportedly, Fortnite’s 2019 Marshmello concert drew 10.7 million people (or avatars). But not all of them experienced it together. To accommodate that many people, the company created more than 100,000 instances – limited to 100 visitors per instance – of the concert. An “instance” is a concrete occurrence of an object existing at a specific time on a computer program. The technology has improved since and it’s likely a similar event could hold more today, but not 11 million at once.
There are companies attempting to develop shardless technology that can synchronously connect hundreds of millions of users to one another in a real-time, persistent virtual world. Some are promising that their code is 500 times more efficient than existing technologies, which if true may require 500 times fewer servers taking up resources. And if they’re successful, it still may not be enough.
An enormous reason is that the infrastructure requirements for the metaverse and internet are worlds apart. The internet was not designed for persistent communication, synchronized in precise real time, to countless others experiencing the same thing.
The metaverse is nothing like a large group of people simultaneously visiting a website. The metaverse is more similar to video conferencing and online games, where persistent connections update each other in real time and with a high degree of accuracy. But most video conferencing and games can’t accommodate such large numbers using existing internet technology.
Until there’s enough bandwidth to support the metaverse, enormous groups of people can’t experience a metaverse concert or other event in the same way that more than 70,000 people crowded into Levi’s Stadium IRL (In Real Life) to watch the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl L (Super Bowl 50).
While the metaverse concept has existed since 1992, the technology to deliver a true metaverse experience is still in development. But that hasn’t stopped investment. The CEO of venture capital company Epyllion, Matthew Ball, said, “Even if you have more modest expectations, precedent from the digital economy, the internet (and) the mobile internet, suggests that this is a $10 (trillion) to $30 trillion opportunity that will manifest in a decade or decade and a half.” Mark Zuckerberg has mentioned that Meta is in for the long haul with their metaverse expedition, and he believes that the company’s investment in metaverse will flourish after 2030.
The metaverse is a journey that is worth exploring. At Invonto, we assist companies looking to venture into the metaverse or pre-metaverse-like applications, establish metaverse strategies for their business and get started with use cases that are feasible with current technologies. Many of these use cases leverage mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality for business collaboration, training, product support and virtual shopping. Interested in exploring metaverse strategies for your business? Contact us today to get started on your metaverse journey.