What is The Metaverse:
All You Need to Know
The Metaverse is here, and it’s not anything to be afraid of. Once a fictional concept, the idea of a centralized virtual world has been hurled into the mainstream landscape this year. Let’s see what happens next.
Companies want to see virtual worlds in which all available technologies and devices come together. That sounds like something out of a science fiction book.
Over the past few years, the term “metaverse” has become super-popular – it’s mentioned in the context of Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, Animal Crossing, as well as AR and VR technologies, CNET writes. For example, in 2021, the heads of Microsoft, Epic Games, and Facebook simultaneously talked about the development of their metaverse. And each company in its own way sees the virtual universe of the future.
Briefly: what is a metaverse, how IT companies create it, and whether it can appear in the near future.
Where does the metaverse come from?
Here’s an exercise to help you understand how broad and vague and complex the term “metaverse” can be: In a sentence, mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” with “cyberspace.” Ninety percent of the time, the meaning will not change significantly. This is because the term refers to a broad shift in how we interact with technology rather than a single type of technology. Even as the specific technology it once described becomes commonplace, it’s entirely possible that the term will become obsolete as well.
Virtual reality, which is characterized by persistent virtual worlds that exist even when you’re not playing, and augmented reality, which combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds, are two technologies that make up the metaverse.
As science-fiction writers see it, a metaverse is a utopian virtual universe that is either “freed” from the cultural, social, economic, and political problems of reality or a virtual “asylum”.
The term “meta-universe” was coined by the science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. Stevenson’s meta-universe is the next stage in the development of the Internet: a shared digital world that combines “physical,” augmented, and virtual realities.
People can connect to it as avatars and do everything they do in the real world: search for information, communicate, store and work – but get away from reality and live in a virtual universe. A human avatar in the metavirtual universe can be anything he wants and own anything, and death does not mean death in the real world.
What needs to happen for a metaverse to emerge
Today’s digital worlds are independent and unconnected – the Internet is structured around individual servers. They interact with each other only as needed.
For example, the iPhone runs on a closed iOS, but apps can be accessed through a Facebook account, which in turn is registered through a Gmail account. But buying games and apps from the App Store does not entitle you to download them on Android from the Google Play Store.
According to the investor, virtual worlds, theme parks, games, VR projects, app stores, and UGC platforms cannot be called meta worlds. They only have some of their features and may form part of the meta consciousness in the future. Idealistic meta-universe according to Ball’s version will appear only decades later – it requires simultaneous development in many IT fields. It can be imagined as the “successor” of the mobile Internet: users will have devices and platforms through which they interact with the metaverse.
Back in mid-summer, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to create a metaverse, and just a few months after that the company was renamed Meta. The idea of creating a meta-universe has long been fascinating to more than just Zuckerberg. Epic Games is trying to create its prototype within the Fortnite game, some other games are turning into whole open worlds, and Microsoft is going to turn its corporate messenger Teams into a metaverse uniting work colleagues, partners and individual teams.
Metaverse is described in such iconic films as The Matrix, First Man Standby, and Oasis. And the game Fortnite is a full-fledged embodiment of the metaverse, its little prototype. It hosts “live” concerts, demonstrates movie trailers, and the game itself combines many game universes. There are rudiments of the metaverse in the game Minecraft as well – how not to remember the real schools in Minecraft, which allowed children to study during the pandemic.
The term already has many definitions, but the simplest was expressed by the founder of the freshly renamed Meta, who called it the volumetric Internet. The meta-universe is not just a single space for rest, work, and communication. It is a living three-dimensional world, a set of virtual spaces united into a single whole. It allows you to see not the usual set of letters, numbers and smiley faces but the full 3D models and avatars of the people you meet in the virtual space.
How does the metaverse work?
The metaverse does not stop: it cannot be paused, erased, or completed. All events within the universe take place in real time, and actions are independent of external factors. There is no limit to the number of those who inhabit the meta consciousness. The metaverse has its own economy: people get “money” for the “work” they do, own and dispose of the property. You can use elements of the real world in the meta-universe: for example, work on your laptop in virtual space. Data and digital assets from different platforms are combined: you can use things from Counter-Strike and Fortnite, buy a car from Need for Speed and sell it to your friends on Facebook.
The metaverse is filled with “content and experiences” created by its users, both individuals and organizations.
Designing a meta-universe is relevant in educational, corporate and communications environments.
The first steps to the metaverse
Facebook recently released a new app for the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality helmet. Horizon Workrooms is a virtual space for anyone who works remotely. You can connect to such a meeting without using VR glasses or a helmet, just a computer.
Each participant has their own avatar. So far, Horizon Workrooms doesn’t look like a meta-universe, so far it’s more like testing technology: the app supports hand tracking, streaming video from a remote desktop, spatial audio, and can sync with Outlook and Google calendars. There’s an eye, face, and body part tracker inside, which helps avatars move smoothly. The system can even monitor the wearer’s facial expressions. No more than 50 people can get together for a virtual meeting at a time.
In fact, the technology is not entirely new: Apple introduced memoji back in 2020: there emotions are copied not only by avatars that look like humans, but also those that depict animals, and even a unicorn.
Another Facebook project is Infinite Office, which is designed to work from home through the same Oculus Quest. The company has not yet ventured into something more technological.
Recently Facebook together with Ray-Ban released smart glasses, which originally were supposed to have facial recognition tools. But later they abandoned this idea, fearing that such technology could become a tool for invasion of privacy.
Microsoft was not left out either. The head of the company, Satya Nadella, believes that the Microsoft Azure suite of cloud services is, in a sense, a corporate metaverse. One rule of the matrix definitely works in it: it mixes the two worlds, creating digital copies of objects and allowing you to work remotely in a mixed reality.
In addition, Microsoft has the Mesh platform, which you can connect to with a VR headset, tablet, smartphone or PC. All the people inside Mesh exist as virtual avatars from the social network Altspace VR, but the company wants to move to “holoportation” – then people will appear in a virtual environment as themselves.
So far, Epic Games has gone the furthest in developing a meta-universe. In 2020, during the lockdown, about 12 million Fortnite users from around the world logged into the app to listen to rapper Travis Scott’s concert. The performer made $20 million from that digital performance, with the entire concert lasting only 12 minutes.
Now Epic Games has raised $1 billion for the development of the metaverse: first of all, this money will be spent on the Unreal Engine system development for new VR and AR projects.
Metaverse interested in and on television. Fox TV will produce a musical talent show “Alter Ego,” in which digital avatars with their “dream images” will perform on stage instead of the contestants, while the jury will be real people.
How to make money in the metaverse?
The meta-universe is quite capable of generating income.
For example, by advertising: inside Fortnite there are events combined with what happens in the real world. That is, advertisers can get a virtual world created specifically for them. And the creative mode gives almost limitless possibilities for customizing costumes, game plots and even individual in-game worlds. Blockchain technology will be a good help here. NFT can protect the rights to digital property, virtual real estate and land.
Nevertheless, no one is ready for a full transition to the metaverse. The World Wide Web infrastructure is not yet sufficient to fully move the user inside the platforms. No one can understand the mechanics of the metaverse alone, but the technological giants are not ready to share the exclusive content if someone succeeds.
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