August 31, 2021 |James Messi
Imagine a reality where you can fully immerse in a videogame that you like. Not just immerse in the sense that you enjoy the game to the point that you forget the passage of time and other distractions. But immerse in a way that you can actually interact with all the elements within the game; a reality where the confines not just of videogames but the entire cyberspace become connected with the physical world. This is an overview of what the metaverse could potentially be.
The concept of a metaverse is not a novel one. In fact, the term “metaverse” has been coined as early as 1992 in Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel “Snow Crash.” In Stephenson’s novel, the metaverse has been painted as an immensely popular virtual world accessed by users by using augmented reality technology.
This fictional vision of a metaverse does not fall far from the version foreseen in the coming years. Many tech titans, including Facebook and Google, have already voiced an interest and began staking their claims in this new virtual frontier.
In June, Facebook’s chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg announced to his employees that they would be working “to help bring the metaverse to life.” The social media giant company has since put together a team of its executives to lead the project, including Facebook Gaming’s Vivek Sharma and Jason Rubin and Instagram’s product head Vishal Shah.
In Zuckerberg’s concept of a metaverse, he detailed his idea of virtual workspaces, calling them “infinity offices.” The CEO argued that working in virtual reality, or VR, would allow a greater level of multitasking. He further added that meeting in a virtual, metaverse type environment could prove to be more collaborative and productive.
Another point that Zuckerberg brought up for the metaverse is its potential to social inequities. Using Raj Chetty’s research as a basis, he stated that an individual’s geographic location has a high correlation with their financial opportunities. Hence, with a popularized metaverse, a person’s geographic location would no longer have any bearing on their financial opportunities as the metaverse would not be located anywhere in the world and yet could be accessed in the comforts of one’s own home.
With the world currently struggling against the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual work spaces and virtual meetings that the metaverse could potentially offer would be a welcomed and useful development.
But there are already some ventures that are ahead of Facebook and other tech giants in exploring the possibilities of the metaverse.
One of these ventures is Decentraland, an Ethereum-based virtual reality blockchain platform that allows its users to buy, build, and make money on the platform. In Decentraland, users make use of the platform’s virtual currency or token, called MANA. This “in-world” currency can be used to purchase lands, goods, and services within Decentraland.
Developers and companies working on it see the metaverse not as an extension of the internet, but as its successor. Built using blockchains and decentralized applications, any changes made by users in the metaverse would be permanent.
With this setup, it would be inevitable that cryptocurrencies and the technology employed in the crypto sector would cross over into the metaverse. As mentioned earlier, Decentraland, one of the early ventures into metaverse exploration, uses its own virtual currency within its platform and purchasing system. This paves the way for the usage of NFTs or non-fungible tokens in the metaverse to ensure that users would have complete ownership of their digital assets.
Who Will Lead the Charge?
The metaverse, like the internet that it is envisioned to replace, will not be owned by any single person or institution. However, it would still fall prey to the same tech giants that have dominated the internet in recent years. As the realization of the metaverse comes closer to reality, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Sony have banded together with Facebook in the XR Association, a group of tech companies with a vision of molding the future of “experiential reality.”
Among the tech fields, the gaming industry remains ahead of other technologies in various aspects. The gaming industry has been exploring the concept of in-game economies for years. As such, it has a good grasp of the concept of having players buy, sell, or trade goods that hold no real value outside of the game the items are in. An example of this in-game economy is the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V. Despite the game’s release over seven years ago, it still managed to have over a billion dollars profit in 2020.
Despite using the framework of video games in its aspect of interoperability and in-world economy, the metaverse will not be for gamers only. As mentioned earlier, other well-known companies such as Facebook have already laid bare their plans to use the metaverse as a platform for their own agendas.
In much the same way that the internet has become a common platform for most people, it can be assumed that the metaverse would also be catering to the vast numbers of users that the internet now enjoys.
When Can You Enter the Metaverse?
As of today, the metaverse as visualized by tech companies is yet to exist. The closest that we have to an actual metaverse is in video games, and as mentioned earlier, projects like Decentraland and The Sandbox which have developed their own virtual worlds on their platforms.
Another development worth mentioning is Facebook-owned Oculus, maker of the popular Quest VR headset. Facebook has been investing in virtual reality, and while there still remains a long way to go for VR technology, Zuckerberberg insists that it will be ready for metaverse capabilities “by the end of the decade.”
Why Aren’t We There Yet?
Regardless of the apparent advances in technology that we have seen in the past decade, it seems that we still have a long road to cover before we can actualize the concept of a metaverse. Aside from a long journey ahead, there also remain hurdles that must be conquered if the metaverse were to become more than a vision.
Foremost among these obstacles is the unavailability of hardware capable of supporting a metaverse. At present, the existing networks and computing capabilities are simply not enough to maintain a sustained digital world that can be interacted with in real-time by millions or even billions of users simultaneously.
Supposing, however, that this hardware does exist, it would then bring us to the next dilemma: energy consumption. The energy needed to sustain hardware capable of supporting a metaverse would present a problem to national power grids, not to mention the environment.
Looking at these problems that must be overcome to bring the metaverse to life, it is safe to assume that this arduous endeavor might take a while to come into fruition. However, we must not forget that the technology needed is almost already here, and is being refined on by tech giants. Bearing this in mind, it would be well worth remembering Zuckerberg’s prediction “by the end of the decade.”