What is the Metaverse? Where does it take place? Is it a kind of computer game? What does it mean for the development in digitalization? Is it the future or even the successor to the Internet as we know it? Should I look forward to it, or worry about it? Oh and why Metaverse, I thought it was called Cyberspace, or is that something else?
I’m sure this is not the first time you’ve read these questions, regardless of whether or not you already belong to the circle of the more initiated. After more and more articles and speculations on social media channels and news platforms, these questions are more than justified.
If you like it short and simple, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about “What is the Metaverse?”:
“The Metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connectivity. In futurism and science fiction, the term is often described as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world facilitated by the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets.”
But isn’t the above description perhaps making it a bit too simple?
In fact, the answer to “What is the Metaverse?” is so multifaceted that one has to admit and accept that there is no one simple answer.
It’s like debating and forcing an answer in the early 80’s about what exactly the internet looks like and what you can do with it in detail. But the fact is, we don’t even know if the term Metaverse will still exist in 10 years or if it will be obsolete (example “Cyberspace” 10-15 years ago).
Also not to be underestimated are the current hypes and visions, which artificially fuel the Metaverse topic. The Metaverse is even so strongly “hyped” at the moment that it calls presenters on the plan who have never even used e.g. VR glasses or a wallet actively themselves.
Is there perhaps even a need for us to forget what we know in terms of technology, processes, security, ownership, and interactions and reassemble them if we want to define the Metaverse more specifically on a large scale?
By the way…
The guy below in the image, that’s my character in the Decentraland Metaverse fully running on a Chrome web browser visiting JPMorgans Onyx Lounge.
What could the Metaverse contain?
Virtual Reality is the keyword! Virtual augmented realities that persist even when we do not participate. The actions we perform there, depending on the application or environment, can have lasting impact on objects, surroundings, even characters and more much.
For example, in a virtual world, one could plant a digital tree in a meadow that grows over time, blossoms, bears fruits, whether I am online or not.
Let’s think about virtual real estate, land purchases, which are already happening and booming. If you own one of Facebook’s Oculus Quest, you already have a slight taste of what could be a part of the Metaverse or how it might feel like in the future.
Don’t just think of games, though, think of the “virtual living room” you can enter with a view on a fantasy landscape, for example, or how about a live virtual concert? A sightseeing flight around Mount Everest? No problem anymore!
By the way, did you know the trend in terms of VR headsets is increasing, considering the sales figures, which will exceed approximately 34 million units by 2024?
However, it is important to understand that the Metaverse is not defined limited to VR (Virtual Space/Virtual Reality), but can include all digital devices and applications. Think of AR (augmented reality) applications as well.
So is Facebook or its Oculus the Metaverse?
No, just as Google, Telekom or Swisscom are not the Internet, but only cover parts of it. Facebook covers a part of the Metaverse, it plays its own role in the Metaverse, but it will neither cover the complete Metaverse nor be THE Metaverse!
It is unfortunately still misunderstood today that Facebook is now Meta maybe because it has been renamed to Meta and Mark Zuckerberg announced his new focus on building the Metaverse to create a huge online empire that will affect the entire society and all industries.
This is correct, but does not confirm the assumption that Facebook/Meta, is the Metaverse. It is “merely” one aspect or participant of the big picture.
Let’s also think of the giant Microsoft which recently attracted a lot of attention with its Activision Blizzard deal of 68.7 billion US dollars, and rightly so. What could this have to do with the Metaverse? Well, quite a lot!
Blizzard is e.g. the cradle of the well-known online game “World of Warcraft”, which already carries potential elements of a coming Metaverse future and could attract much more attention than can be guessed at the moment.
So the Metaverse won’t be centralised as many still imagine, it is not one company that defines the Metaverse!
Cross-Platform-Capabilities: An important aspect of the Metaverse in its entirety is that platforms and applications can be connected with each other. This would mean that a player in a computer game could take his virtually configured appearance (avatar) including inventory items such as tools, weapons, clothing into other games of a similar type or environment in order to continue playing or acting there. This scheme can be transferred to many other areas in a versatile way, which we will get to later.
Is the Metaverse more entertainment?
Yes and No! If you ask a game manufacturer, he will most likely present his idea of the Metaverse in the context of gaming. The banker, however, will show you how a client advisor virtually discusses an investment via a VR/AR headset, projects videos, slides in the air or visits a new investment property on the other side of the world with his client.
Speaking of virtual homes and land. Did you ever ask yourself who actually regulates the ownerships? Where is this information stored? Could NFTs serve as a key solution?
In the movie “Ready Player One,” we might get a slight taste of what the Metaverse could one day be:
The metaverse depicted in the film is limited to a pure 3D world that can only be entered via a VR headset. The Metaverse there is administered and maintained on a single central platform called “Oasis“, which differs from our current idea of the Metaverse, which is neither completely centrally controlled nor limited to VR.
What does it mean that it is not limited to “VR” (virtual reality)? We have already mentioned in the article as an example the so-called “AR” (Augmented Reality). This means that virtual instances / information start to merge visually with the physical world.
So, with glasses like the ones we all know from everyday life, I could have information projected onto the lenses of my glasses while I move around in the physical world and interact with the environment.
For example, if I look at a product through my glasses that is in front of me on a store shelf, I could use the glasses to call up information about it or even display a commercial video.
On vacation, I would have the possibility to get all the information about a certain sight I just booked a tour to, while I am visiting it live. All projected on my glasses.
To get an idea of what Augmented Reality (AR) could look like in everyday use, take a look at the following sample video:
Banks in the Metaverse?
Absolutely! This is not a fantasy scenario, but is already starting with small steps. Currently the largest American bank JPMorgan, is looking into the Metaverse for new business opportunities, while many others have not even grasped what exactly the Bitcoin is.
According to recent information, the bank has secured a position in the so-called Decentraland, a virtual world based on blockchain technology. According to JPMorgan who of course are also dedicated to the topic of virtual land, real estate, etc., the virtual real estate market, could offer services like in the real world, including loans, mortgages, leases, etc.
Thus, average prices for a virtual property have doubled in the second half of 2021 and have increased by an average of 100% from June to December in the four main Metaverses.
It doesn’t stop there…
Fashion labels could show you their digital boutiques where you can try on digital clothing with your avatar, configure it and order it home, or use it online in the Metaverse while you are actually sitting on the sofa in your bathrobe.
Microsoft could introduce you to virtual meeting rooms for team meetings, with completely new interaction concepts, Mercedes could show you the interior during a virtual tour in the new E-Class, and Netflix could show you watching the latest blockbuster with your friends on a 20-meter screen in virtual space in the middle of the Brazilian jungle, while King Kong ensures your safety from virtual cheetahs.
Did you know that electronics giant Samsung opened a version of its New York store in Decentraland in January? That GUCCI is securing properties in the sandbox Metaverse? That Barbados has set up a Metaverse embassy, in Decentraland or that Adidas has launched an NFT collection?
All these are possibilities/parts and it is more than likely that this is only the “modest” beginning.
Innovation goes hand in hand with new challenges and it requires new ideas and skills. People will consume, celebrate, plan, enjoy and educate themselves in the Metaverse.
You think a wedding in the metaverse is unthinkable? A virtual party with friends and a star DJ unrealistic? A concert at the other end of the world? Or how about booking a round of fitness exercises with a celebrity athlete?
All this will demand completely new and already existing job fields. Who organizes the Metaverse party including DJ with the friends and provides a suitable environment? Who will design the office complex in which we will hold our virtual meetings for the next few years?
A few jobs to mention here are:
- 3D Artists / Modelers
- Meta Marketing Manager
- Meta World Builder
- Meta Business Development Manager
- Blockchain Developer
- Meta Event Manager
- Meta Fitness Coach
- Meta Real Estate/Art Dealer
- Hardware Specialists/Engineers
- Cybersecurity Specialists
Marketing will be a very strong segment within the Metaverse. The opportunities to create a wide variety of advertising experiences in the virtual world are unprecedented. Analysts at JPMorgan estimate that spendings on advertising (product placements) in games, for example, will reach $18.4 billion by 2027.
The challenges of the Metaverse visions have so far been discussed rather rarely. The Meta-technology that could most likely soon accompany us in our everyday lives also requires new approaches to solutions.
- VR/AR headsets/glasses are still very clunky for the user and sometimes uncomfortable/heavy to wear. Quite a few people complain of nausea, dizziness or headaches after wearing them for a long time. At the moment, the technology has not quite reached where it ideally should be.
- What could a cross-platform data standard look like to make avatars, inventories, etc. cross-platform capable?
- As mentioned earlier, NFTs currently represent objects and govern property rights for music, art, and more. The respective Metaverse applications will have to deal with creating unified or cross-enabled systems that allow owners to manage and verify ownership rights of digital assets.
- The issue of security, verification mechanisms will meet completely different levels of cybercrime. Who will ensure that the person in the meeting is the expected person and not someone else or even a bot that mimics that person? How will my digital assets be protected?
- Currencies will be a key topic. Cryptocurrencies as well as FIAT will play a clear role in the Metaverse and its monetary possibilities, and one will have to face the question of whether there will be a global digital currency standard or one will trade with many different currencies.
A multitude of usable currencies demand fast and effortless exchanges with maximum security standards.
Conclusion – What is the Metaverse?
It is fair to say that this article probably just scratches the surface of the Metaverse and merely provides a glimpse of any definition or helps the reader find some initial clues on the subject.
My findings so far lead me to the following conclusion:
“The Metaverse consists of partial aspects of a wide variety of applications. It is not fully definable in detail but creates a virtual world and community where we can play, work with, interact with and do business with among others.
There is not 1 or THE Metaverse, but many Metaverses that could evolve independently and interact with each other in a linked way in the future. The current top 4 Metaverses are (as of Feb 2022), Decentraland, The Sandbox, Cryptovoxels and Somnium Space.
We will be confronted with business models, services and industries in the Metaverse that are a reflection of the physical economy and at the same time discover completely new business fields, professions and more, created by the constant evolution of the Metaverse.
One thing I am quite sure of is what the Metaverse is not, a temporary trend that will soon be over.