The word ‘metaverse’ seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. But what exactly is the metaverse, what helped create the concept, which technological advancements are helping it come to life and how did we all get here, anyways? Today we’re doing a deep dive into all of these aspects and picking apart the key ideas you should know about the meaning behind the metaverse.
What Is The Metaverse?
In 1992, a dystopian novel titled “Snow Crash” featured for the first time the term ‘metaverse’. In it, author Neal Stephenson conceptualized the metaverse as an immersive online world which people could explore and interact with as avatars. To access the metaverse, characters would use headphones and goggles and, quite prophetically, the novel also features electronic currencies. It’s perhaps most notable that while written when the internet was still taking its first steps, Snow Crash turned out to be a rather accurate glimpse into a future of digitalization that we are now seeing come to life.
The word itself is a combination of ‘Meta’, the Greek prefix for beyond, across or after, and universe. In this sense, we can simply understand the metaverse as the evolution of the internet where there won't be much separation between digital and physical.
Imagine the things you already do today online, from playing and socializing to working and learning, in the metaverse all of it will be even more immersive, dynamic and meaningful. This will be made possible thanks to the convergence of key emerging technologies.
Over the last two decades, the building blocks of what was once a fictional world in a sci-fi book have slowly materialized thanks to advancements in virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence. Much like in Snow Crash, users have many ways of entering the metaverse, including VR and AR headsets, smartphones and personal computers. Using one such interface, we will be able to access metaverse experiences across a vast array of interests, like gaming, real estate, fashion, among other areas. The popularity of virtual reality gaming in particular is helping bring the concept of the metaverse to the mainstream, alongside growing interest for adjacent technology like blockchain and crypto.
By overlapping all of these digital evolutions, we’re seeing the rise of the first iterations of the metaverse. Eventually, the metaverse will become a full-on evolution of the internet which we have now - Web 2.0 - into Web 3.0, completed with several highly functioning, interconnected and decentralized virtual spaces. Each will have their own economies, communities, infrastructures and areas of interest.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, it’s worth noting that the metaverse, as the overlap of digital and physical worlds, is still an evolving concept that depends not just on underlying technology like VR and AR, but also on the creative and content offerings it can bring forward. Shared virtual worlds are meant to be explored in many ways, and the higher the number of utility cases they can feature, the more users will want to be a part of it.
We’ve mentioned that a set definition of the metaverse is yet to be agreed on, but there are a few characteristics that will be common to all virtual worlds. Famed venture capitalist Matthew Ball, who was among the first to predict the rise of the metaverse, defines it as a “massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments." Here’s a closer look at some of those metaverse characteristics:
Persistent and synchronous - Much like “real life,” the metaverse will be a synchronous living experience for its users. All activities you have inside a virtual world will exist and change in real-time. There’s also no way to ‘pause’, ‘unplug’ or ‘reset’ a virtual world, making it a continuous experience.
Immersive - Whether you're using a virtual reality headset, AR glasses or just your smartphone, you'll be able to enter a new level of immersion and interactivity in the metaverse, where users can feel both an individual and social sense of presence. Thanks to AI, a virtual world will also feature adaptive capabilities letting environments be shaped by interactions with its users.
Decentralized - The metaverse won’t be owned by a single individual or entity but by all of its users. This is made possible in part due to the contribution of blockchain technology.
Interoperable - Ideally, one day users will be able to navigate across different virtual worlds, experiences and transactions as if they were all part of a single platform. For that, metaverse users will only have to have a single digital wallet or avatar, for example, which can be used for all activities inside the metaverse.
Functional economy - Users can enter a free and secure metaverse marketplace where digital assets can be exchanged for fair value. Usually, assets in the metaverse are NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that can be traded in return for a cryptocurrency. This allows users to have full ownership of their digital assets, trace their provenance and transaction history, as well as certifying the authenticity and uniqueness of such items.
Accessible - Shared virtual worlds bring the promise of democratizing access to digital goods and experiences from anywhere and to anyone in the world. All you need is an interface, like a smartphone or a virtual reality headset.
The vision of the metaverse is slowly taking off, paving the way for profound changes across various experiences and environments - some of them already available and others yet to emerge.
What Metaverses Are There
There are several main themes arising for the early days of metaverse-like environments. Before we get to it, we’ll look at a few of the current projects that live up to the concept of the metaverse. Some gaming platforms like Fortnite and Animal Crossing, for example, have taken the lead, allowing players to build their own worlds, exchange assets through crypto and expand their social life digitally with the help of emerging technologies. We have previously delved into the top virtual worlds so far in 2022, but here are a few that you might consider exploring:
This virtual world is best known for its partnerships with high-profile brands and celebrities, as well as the coveted plots of lands, many of which worth millions. Within this metaverse, users can enter a number of experiences, from starting a business to building new infrastructures, advertising services, attending events and even gambling.
Taking inspiration from the likes of Minecraft and Roblox, the Sandbox metaverse uses a 3D voxel approach to let its players make use of their imagination and create worlds in whatever way they want. It’s particularly popular for its content creation tools and gaming experiences.
This Ethereum blockchain metaverse project lets users breed adorable digital creatures, known as Axies, which can be used across an ever expanding universe of games. Some of the rarest Axie have become highly prized in the crypto community. Roblox: If you’re more into gaming experiences in an ever-expanding virtual world, Roblox is the right platform for you. Users can develop their own games and let the community play them. In addition to being a great gaming and socializing outlet, Roblox has also ventured into musical concerts, much like Fortnite.
This digital metaverse is being developed in collaboration with some of the world’s top artists, producers, and media companies. Currently in beta, Sensorium consists of several worlds, each acting as a hub dedicated to a specific set of experiences like music, dancing, and meditation.
Looking at this list of metaverse projects, it’s easier to start understanding the major themes already playing out in virtual environments. That’s where we’re heading next.
What Can You Do In The Metaverse
By moving day to day activities to a more immersive and dynamic 3D environment, we can expect the metaverse to greatly expand the opportunities we have with the current internet. Here’s a look at the major areas and industries that are embracing a presence in virtual worlds:
Gaming: Games are already playing a central role in shaping the metaverse. They are already being used across many platforms to build better experiences as a result of better graphics, virtual reality features, tools for user-generated content and community engagement outlets. One of the reasons gaming in the metaverse is gaining popularity is tied to the rise of a new blockchain-based model known as play-to-earn. Feel free to check our guide on this topic. Gaming developers are seizing on VR, AI and motion capture technology to create multi-layers experiences that far surpass current offerings.
Entertainment: The metaverse is fueling not only new types of entertainment but the way in which such content can be consumed. Soon, users will simply pick their avatar and enter a metaverse to meet their favorite celebrities, attend music festivals, watch generative TV shows and movies, and more. The Covid-19 pandemic has helped us realize many of the benefits of sitting comfortably at home and accessing some of our favorite forms of entertainment, of which the metaverse will be an extension of. Social: Leveraging virtual and augmented reality for enhanced presence, the metaverse will be a place for connectivity and networking as an extension of current social networks. In a metaverse like Sensorium Galaxy, users not only get the chance to meet other users, but they’re also able to communicate and build friendships with AI driven virtual beings.
Commerce: An early adopter of the metaverse has been the fashion industry with a range of brands opening up stores in virtual spaces there. The trend is quickly being followed up by other sectors. But thanks to blockchain technology, anyone can open their business in the metaverse, create digital assets or services, and sell them to other users.
Working environments: The Covid-19 pandemic helped accelerate workplace trends, pushing a great part of the global workforce into a remote mode. The metaverse can be the answer to this office evolution, allowing people to have a higher sense of presence and access more productive tools that could enhance creativity, collaboration, meeting opportunities, etc.
Education: Online learning was also a big shift brought by the pandemic. However, it became clear that educational institutions and teachers struggled with finding interactive tools that would retain student engagement. 3D tools have the potential to create learning environments that can better meet the needs of students, allowing them to have a more interactive exploration of themes and areas of study.
Fitness: Similarly to some resources we already have nowadays, VR can allow users of the metaverse to enter a wide range of sports and fitness games where they can play against other users or AI-based avatars.
The Metaverse: A Few Questions Answered
Who can enter the metaverse?
Anyone can enter a virtual world. Grab your interface of choice (VR headset, AR goggles or a smartphone), pick your metaverse of choice and take your first steps. The metaverse is meant to be a shared experience, accessible to anyone regardless of their gender, background, religion, etc. If you want to dive deeper, here's a great starter.
How can you enter the metaverse?
You will need a piece of hardware (like a headset or a smartphone), and a point of entry, which can be a desktop or app platform. Each will give you different levels of immersion and a range of experiences accessible.
Are there any regulations in place for the metaverse?
Not yet. As a full-fledged metaverse is yet to exist, it isn't clear how virtual worlds can be policed. However, regulatory frameworks are likely to be based on what’s currently in place for tech giants like Meta and Google, focusing on privacy, user data, cyber security, IP rights, and more.
Do you need to own cryptocurrency to participate in the metaverse?
No. Not all metaverses will require that you own crypto in order to enter a virtual environment. However, if you wish to make purchases or engage in transactions, you will likely need some cryptocurrency. In Sensorium Galaxy’s case, our native currency is SENSO.
How will the metaverse look like?
With different companies and developers locked in the race to create the metaverse, each digital world will have a different look and feel depending on the platform behind it. As for Sensorium, you can have a look at our sneak peeks for an early look at how our metaverse is being conceptualized.
What are the technologies behind the metaverse?
Besides the ones we already mentioned like VR, AR and AI, developing the metaverse requires the help of 3D creation tools. Game engines, including Unity and Unreal, are currently the most popular platforms to create assets and infrastructures. Cloud computing, blockchain, semiconductors and data centers, are some of the other technological tools that are crucial in bringing virtual worlds to life.
Who will run the metaverse?
Decentralization is at the core of the notion of the metaverse, meaning that users will be managing and controlling virtual spaces, rather than a single entity.
When Will The Metaverse Be Ready?
Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that we might still be a decade away from seeing a full-on metaverse. But we’re well on our way. The first metaverse-like virtual experiences and infrastructures are appearing and supporting tech like virtual reality is now maturing. Crypto and NFTs have also seen a massive boom as of late, adding another layer of metaverse utility that users are slowly becoming familiar with. Among the first metaverses to emerge will be Sensorium Galaxy, whose first world - Prism - is slated for public release in the coming months. Over the next few years, we’re likely to see greater progress in overall technology and the consolidation of some metaverse trends that have proven to be a success so far.