The term “metaverse” is currently on everyone’s minds in the world of technology. It is no longer the prerogative of data analysts and tech visionaries, but an expanding domain soon to include everyone. Its impact is more than clear and responsible for certain developments, such as the increasing popularity of Roblox or Facebook’s brand change into “Meta”.
Over the past couple of months, tech gurus like Facebook and Microsoft have boasted the wonders of this new virtual world and its high potential for a wide range of businesses, from divertissement to commerce.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg made public that Facebook would be rebranded to Meta and spend a minimum of $10 billion on the metaverse, general interest escalated. More and more companies invested in what they believe to be the future of trading and they even set up fresh ventures in this virtual space.
Whether the metaverse truly becomes the next digital era or it proves to be another trend of the year is yet to be decided.
In spite of all the fuss around it, there are still questions to be answered, beginning with “What is the metaverse and how exactly does it work?”. The simplest metaverse definition describes it as an online environment where users can interact in a manner similar to the real world, through available AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) technologies. They use virtual projections of themselves to simulate human interaction and to engage in various activities in specially engineered worlds.
Another way to define metaverse is as a combination between three realities, the physical, the augmented and the virtual one. It basically consists of a few platforms where users can play games and connect to one another.
The way the metaverse works is quite simple, especially for game fans. The first step is to create your virtual persona, which is called an avatar. The platform usually provides plenty of options to customize the avatars. Next, you start exploring the location of your choice, inside the virtual universe. The avatars can either walk from one place to the other or teleport themselves. One advantage of the metaverse is that users are able to create their own spaces and share them with everyone who accesses the platform or game.
Within the metaverse, people can experience a social life very close to the one they have in the real world. Through avatars, they can interact with other players in so many ways. They can play games, hang out inside homes they built themselves, go for walks or have dinner and drinks in a restaurant. You can make friends easier and faster than in real life. What most users appreciate greatly is the freedom the metaverse offers, the chance to be whoever you want to be.
In order to fully enjoy the metaverse experience, participants need to resort to the proper equipment, as regular laptops may n0t be always enough. The latest computers and smartphones can handle multiplayer games, still, they don’t come with the processing power required by a realm with millions of users. Which is why the version developed by Facebook includes Oculus VR headsets or augmented reality glasses.
A universally accepted concept of metaverse is hard to achieve. While for some the metaverse meaning is a domain designed for virtual interactions, others believe it is closer to a video game. The truth is that the metaverse is a fascinating, complex medium that is far from being fully discovered and understood.
The metaverse is evolving in an incredible rhythm due to the high-speed technological advancements. Because of the pandemic, people have been forced to replace the restrictive physical connections with virtual interactions. Thus, the opportunities supplied by the metaverse makes it a major player in the digital landscape.
The present metaverse focuses on universality and user management. It depicts a world where participants have easier access to digital platforms and a higher level of control over their experiences. Although it is the “new internet” and there is still room for it to grow, the metaverse is a reality and incorporates several existing innovations. The most important three developments associated with the metaverse, usually referred to as the “core technologies” are extended reality (XR), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain. The first entails the use of headsets and other devices to create a merger between the physical and digital worlds. XR is what allows 3D avatars to interact with each other. AI is responsible for the smart machines that make virtual experiences possible. It supports programs like computer vision and Simultaneous Location and Mapping. Finally, blockchain is a key component of decentralization, shifting control from organizations to users.
In the last two years, the Covid epidemic has significantly reduced the frequency and length of human interactions. People started to physically isolate and do everything from their homes. They worked, shopped and even dated remotely. This uncommon situation lead to endless possibilities and unique virtual experiences, particularly in the social and dating sphere.
The investment in the digital environment was the push that set the metaverse on its ascending trajectory. Furthermore, games are an amazing launch pad for the metaverse, as they already offer a realistic scale and immersive experiences. Fortnite, created by Epic Games and Roblox are perfect examples of games that integrate features of the metaverse. They both hosted virtual concerts of famous artists such as Travis Scott, Ariana Grande and J Balvin - Fortnite and Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots - Roblox. In addition, Epic Games is working on an upgrade for photorealistic avatars, while Roblox introduced numerous user-generated games. The latter has virtual skateboarding parks and open gardens where players can try on exclusive Gucci designs.
Studies show that participation in the metaverse is already growing at a remarkable pace within the gaming universe. Games fans are willing to test new virtual activities within the games, because they are by now familiar with the landscape. Almost 70% of players have participated in an in-game event, from movies and social events to travelling or economic ventures. The gaming platforms are also ideal to try out new AR and VR technologies that blur the line between the physical and digital.
Mark Zuckerberg, one of the market leaders in the field, described the metaverse as a “embodied internet”. It’s a domain you can either leap into, through VR, or assimilate to your reality, through AR. The bottom line is that the metaverse allows a definite overlap between physical and digital presence.
Experts consider that the future metaverse stores endless possibilities for all sort of actions, social interactions, communications, work collaborations, not to mention financial endeavours.
Social experiences have always been important to mankind, as they are the very essence of society and therefore became a notable pillar of the metaverse. Ever since the beginning of the internet, people have used online forums, social media platforms or simply video games to keep in touch and connect with one another. During the harsh times of social distancing and isolation, many turned to the online world in an attempt to recreate human connections, to feel close to their loved ones, to be a part of a community. Both personal and professional communications began to take place online, over different platforms, from games to virtual reality hubs. Long distance relationships and online dating became the mainstream, rather than a last resort. Recently, companies have developed digital spaces where users can just hang out with friends and attend significant events, such as graduations or weddings. As technology advances, social experiences in the metaverse will certainly involve complex configurations of simulated presence and human interactions.
However, it’s worth mentioning that encounters in the metaverse can go beyond leisure purposes and social events. The upcoming workplace will also be reshaped by the tools of the metaverse. For instance, companies can build virtual environments to manufacture products, test ideas or set up brainstorming sessions. More and more businesses, including Microsoft and Accenture, already employ extended reality and metaverse concepts to gather industry experts and employees in a hybrid setting, like VR conference rooms. The metaverse will provide great opportunities for online learning and training, as well.
Considering that gaming is a starting point for the metaverse, it is reasonable to think that the entertainment and media fields would also benefit from this technology. Shared virtual events like concerts and parties are by now popular in platforms such as Minecraft and Roblox. In the world of event planning, the metaverse was essential to keeping people connected when in-person attendance wasn’t feasible anymore. Future metaverse gatherings will allow people who can’t travel to participate remotely to conferences, to interact with other participants and to secure purchases or exchange information in real-time.
One of the biggest selling points of the metaverse is the formation of improved, new economies. At this time there are a few marketplaces where both digital and traditional brands relate to clients through virtual and augmented reality. DressX revolutionized the concept of shopping by enabling customers to try on and buy digital clothing for their avatars. In the metaverse, users will be able to develop and distribute their own valuable tools by themselves, without sharing their revenues with a middle-man.