On Tuesday, Microsoft touted the so-called metaverse as a basis for paying $68.7 billion for Activision Blizzard, claiming that the deal will supply "metaverse building pieces." Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has rebranded his social networking firm Meta after betting on the metaverse.
What is the metaverse, anyway?
The metaverse is the result of the fusion of two concepts that have existed for a long time: virtual reality and digital second life. Technologists have envisioned a time when our virtual lives are as important as our physical ones for decades. In theory, we'd spend a lot of time in virtual space interacting with our friends and colleagues. As a result, we'd spend money on outfits and objects for our digital avatars there as well. Virtual reality serves as a computing platform for living a second life online in what techies like Mr Zuckerberg refer to as the metaverse. In virtual reality, you wear a headset that immerses you in a 3-D environment. You carry motion-sensing controllers to interact with virtual objects and use a microphone to communicate with others. it’s about being within the computer rather than accessing the computer. It’s about being always online rather than always having access to an online world.
That’s it? It’s you and your avatar interacting with others in a digital environment?
To put it simply, yes.
What Is the Metaverse, and Why Does It Matter?
The word “metaverse” describes a fully-realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.” The metaverse appears to have gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic. The term today refers to a variety of experiences, environments and assets that exist in the virtual space. Video games in which players can build their own worlds have metaverse tendencies, as does most social media. If you own a non-fungible token, virtual-reality headset or some cryptocurrency, you’re also part of the metaverse experience.
When Facebook rebranded as Meta, the industry was eager to realign its investments and back whoever would build the future.
The metaverse will potentially alter these sectors further by introducing virtual reality (VR) based wearables. These wearables will introduce the users to an alternate virtual world from the confines of their homes. People will be able to interact without the need to undergo long commutes, breathe in polluted air or even dress up for different occasions. Children will be able to study various subjects and modules at their own pace and expand their horizons beyond what is currently possible with traditional syllabi.
Post-work routines like watching movies or social interactions with friends will have their alternatives in the virtual world without the hassles involved in the physical world. In short, the possibilities with the Metaverse are endless.
Does the metaverse already exist?
To some extent, there is already a metaverse in games. But — and it’s important but — it’s rudimentary. Some social elements of the metaverse can already be found in video games. Consider Fortnite, an online shooter game played on computers, game consoles and mobile devices. The average Fortnite player spends hundreds of hours in the game with a personal avatar, fighting with and interacting with the avatars of other players. Players also accrue virtual currency that unlocks outfits and other goodies to customize their avatars.
Virtual reality is also somewhat advanced in video games. In 2016, Sony released the $400 PlayStation VR, a virtual reality headset that plugged into its PlayStation 4 console to play virtual reality games. This month, Sony said a second-generation headset was coming for the PlayStation 5, though it did not share a release date. But those were just steppingstones toward the complete metaverse, which is still taking shape. Technologists say that thanks to a number of things — fast internet connections, powerful virtual reality headsets and a large audience of gamers — it is now more possible to live in a richly animated, lifelike 3-D simulation.
But the question is, who is building the metaverse?
How do you pin down ownership for what is essentially a decentralised and democratised concept? As Meta makes it clear in its statements, no single company will own the metaverse.
Multiple organisations, independent developers, and grassroots creators – along with the final piece of the puzzle that we will discuss later – will build the metaverse.
That said, there are a few companies already beginning to invest in this direction.
Epic Games, the company behind the popular immersive game Fortnite, was always perfectly poised to build the metaverse. It formalised its intentions this year, announcing a $1 billion funding round to fuel growth opportunities for the metaverse.
Facebook has most of the seven infrastructural elements we discussed that go into building the metaverse. Thanks to its Oculus range of headsets, massive social media ad engine, and a thriving creator economy, it could manage to launch a working prototype in 2-5 years.
Niantic’s Pokémon Go was among the first immersive experiences to blur the lines between real and virtual. Now, the company has raised $300 million to build its own metaverse, one that will be an alternative to the original notion of the metaverse as a “dystopian nightmare”.
While Nvidia isn’t directly building a metaverse of its own, it will be a key enabler. In 2021, it announced Omniverse Enterprise where creators can collaborate on 3D modelling, design, and simulation. Omniverse combines 3D graphics with AI and supercomputing, laying the foundations of the metaverse.
Microsoft, meanwhile, is looking to build a work-focused metaverse that connects its hugely popular offerings in a digital environment called Mesh. Inside Mesh, you’d be able to use Microsoft Teams, Windows, and other services in VR.
Decentraland was among the early movers who explicitly mentioned the metaverse as their core product.Since its inception in 2017, Decentraland has steadily gained momentum – a piece of real estate inside its VR world recently sold for a record $2.4 million.
Apple could be a surprising dark horse in the race towards the metaverse. It is currently working on advanced VR gear that could revolutionise the metaverse experience.
In order to explain more, here are five movies whose plots revolve around the metaverse world.
The American science fiction action film stars Gerard Butler as a participant in an online game in which participants can control human beings as players, and Logan Lerman as the player who controls him.
Summer Wars (2009)
The Japanese animated movie features a student who tries to fix a problem he accidentally caused in OZ, a digital world while pretending to be the fiancé of his friend at her grandmother’s 90th birthday.
Wreck-it Ralph (2012)
“Wreck-it Ralph” is an American computer-animated comedy film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The movie features various video game characters leaving their in-game roles and socializing via a power strip. It tells the story of the eponymous arcade game villain who rebels against his “bad-guy” role and dreams of becoming a hero.
Ready Player One (2018)
The science-fiction adventure film is based on Ernest Cline’s novel of the same name. The story takes place in 2045, when much of humanity uses the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation, to escape the real world.
Free Guy (2021)
The American science fiction action comedy film stars Ryan Reynolds as Guy, a bank teller who discovers he is actually a non-player character in an open-world video game and becomes the hero of the story, trying to save his friends from deletion by the game’s creator.