A Beginner-Friendly Guide to the Metaverse
Neal Stephenson first used the term "metaverse" in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” where he described realistic simulations interacting in lifelike structures and other virtual landscapes. Since then, many innovations have helped pave the way for a true metaverse—a virtual universe that mirrors our own.
To realize the metaverse’s potential, we must understand what it is, how it works, and how it affects the future of human society.
What is the metaverse?
The term "metaverse" refers to an amalgamation of virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) environments that users can access via a webpage or headset to enable real-time interactions and experiences among individuals who are physically distant from each other. The phrase isn’t new; in fact, it’s been extensively utilized and explored in films, comics, video games, and other media.
The metaverse, as we know it today, is a collection of multiple, disjointed metaverses. Once these metaverses come together as one cohesive unit, users can experience one true metaverse. Depending on the source, it embodies several interpretations of the same idea, i.e., bringing together and facilitating interaction between individuals from various locations, distinct worlds, or realms of existence.
It encompasses various objects and innovations, including NFTs (non-fungible tokens), cryptocurrencies, 3D avatars and skins, dApps (decentralized apps), and virtual worlds and environments. It also provides an opportunity to earn prizes, participate in airdrops, carry out transactions via smart contracts, run enterprises in a digital world, and more.
It’s a virtual environment with working ecosystems where technology is more than a mere tool. The metaverse is a "reality" that exists independently of the real universe we live in.
Facebook, formerly the world's largest social media company, was the first mega organization to make the foray into the expanding metaverse. Founder Mark Zuckerberg declared the company would be changing its name and rebranded to Meta in 2021, aiming to make the metaverse the foundation of its company's future.
Several of Meta's platforms and apps––including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp––seem to have kept their present identity under the Meta banner. While all these apps now exist under one umbrella, the metaverse itself goes beyond Meta’s intellectual property. Remember, the metaverse is currently a disconnected collection of virtual spaces that’ll come together one day!
Meta aspires to be the leader in this space and has already pledged to spend $50 million over two years on collaborations, research, and development. The tech giant plans to employ 10,000 people across Europe by 2027 to help with the initiative.
How we interact with the metaverse today
The metaverse is estimated to unleash a wealth of new ways to interact with the internet. However, it’s still in its nascent stage presently. Here are a few ways users can interact with spaces connected to the metaverse:
Virtual reality (VR)
The common understanding of the metaverse among the masses is a VR-based society separate from the real one where individuals can interact and participate in an infinite number of virtual activities, all facilitated by an independent digital economy.
While this is partially true, it doesn’t tell the whole story. VR is an essential component of the metaverse, but it’s not the sole one. It’s also not confined to users with VR headsets. Instead, anyone with an internet connection should be able to access a metaverse space like Second Life. VR’s still struggling to find a foothold with customers, so providing widespread accessibility is essential to make the metaverse function.
Augmented reality (AR)
AR’s a phenomenon where developers expand on a user's real-world surroundings through computer-generated content. Developers provide input for digital materials that react in real time to a user's physical movement and interaction. The cornerstone to the metaverse's full potential could lie in AR.
With AR, users may connect to digital spaces while remaining present in the real world. They can achieve this through devices capable of augmenting digital content to enhance the physical world in real time.
In short, a metaverse built around AR would interact with our physical world rather than being an entirely separate virtual universe.
Open-world games and spaces
The metaverse is the next step in the evolution of gaming. It provides a platform for users to interact with each other through virtual worlds where they can play online games, partake in activities, unlock new experiences, and eventually emulate all real-world activities through digital avatars in the metaverse.
Various game developers are designing games with an eye to the future. The metaverse is crucial, enabling developers to offer their players a more immersive experience. Some metaverse games currently available include Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, Horizon Worlds, and The Sandbox. However, it’s not just limited to video games. The gaming industry appears to have adopted the metaverse in its most basic form, although the metaverse is a concept that aims to go far beyond gaming.
NFTs (non-fungible tokens)
You may have heard of NFTs. These are unique digital assets that represent real-world items. NFTs contain metadata that provides proof of ownership, making them impossible to replicate. As far as how NFTs are relevant in the metaverse is concerned, NFT creators can display their work in the “verse” and sell it to turn a profit. Additionally, the metaverse provides many opportunities for users to make passive income. For example, users with digital real estate can rent out their property, host social gatherings, create stores, or sell the land itself. The opportunities are endless!
Not just one metaverse
Remember, the metaverse is still not a singular, whole entity. Instead, it’s currently a concept that constitutes several smaller metaverse spaces that are all disconnected and independent of each other. Many developers offer apps, games, and programs that provide digital spaces. However, these smaller metaverses don’t interact with each other; instead, they serve their own purpose based on the type of product or service the developer wishes to offer.
Today, each program is known as its own metaverse. The “future” metaverse aims to integrate all these individual programs into a single, cohesive virtual world that mirrors and enhances the real world we live in.
Open vs. closed metaverse
The metaverse may serve as a gateway to everything online and act as a hub for all metaverses, connecting them in a way the internet does today. If a single body were to create and rule the metaverse, the amount of power and control would be significantly more than what large tech corporations have today. Such a body may form an arbitrary, almost dictator-like virtual society. Therefore, one of the main concerns of those who support a free internet is to ascertain whether the metaverse is constructed using Web3 protocols in a transparent and decentralized way.
An open metaverse, based on blockchain technology, can guarantee its users unrestricted access where the users own their data. Such a version of the metaverse would enable people to maintain ownership of their digital creations rather than give them to large, power-hungry corporations.
However, the metaverse doesn't solely lie in the hands of crypto and Web3 enthusiasts. These multinational corporations are mindful of the metaverse’s potential and have the means to shape its future. Numerous corporations have made it known that they’re creating their own metaverses. This generally entails a promise to contribute significant financial resources and research and development, as we are already experiencing today.
For example, in the case of Meta, we can see a shift in the company’s philosophy through rebranding. Additionally, Meta has acquired Oculus, a manufacturer and seller of VR headsets. Microsoft, another tech giant, bought game developer Activision Blizzard for a whopping $70 billion. Other conglomerates like Google and Amazon are also stepping into the metaverse space.
If any—or a few—of these tech companies end up seizing control of large chunks of the metaverse, they may manipulate average citizens for profits and keep users trapped in a closed metaverse.
The metaverse today
The metaverse has already made a splash in the current digital climate. These experiences range from music and gaming to sports and cryptocurrency. Let’s look at a few ways one can interact with the metaverse today:
The COVID-19 pandemic compelled most of us to stay at home. As physical venues and stadiums ceased operations temporarily, many artists began to explore new methods to connect with and entertain their audiences, giving rise to virtual concerts in video games.
To transition from a pure video game to a larger metaverse that encompasses gaming with other activities, Fortnite has extensively embraced music and virtual concerts.
These concerts are likely to continue despite in-person concerts making a comeback. Major labels and recording companies will want to establish a presence in the gaming sector to support their marketing initiatives and attract new consumers.
Manchester City’s stadium
Manchester City, a football club in the English Premier League, is collaborating with Sony to create the world’s first metaversal stadium. Sony has already mapped Manchester City’s stadium—the Etihad Stadium—to recreate every inch of it as a virtual replica.
The objective is to allow fans globally to experience Manchester City’s matches without physically visiting the England stadium. The club is also looking to offer perks like player meet and greets and fan interactions, all of which supporters can enjoy from the comfort of their homes.
Decentraland is a decentralized VR platform that exists on Ethereum's blockchain. Ethereum powers Decentraland, allowing users to create, consume, and monetize digital content and apps on the platform. Decentraland houses a navigable space called LAND, which is an NFT stored in a smart contract (a digital contract that activates when a predetermined set of conditions are met). LAND is separated into parcels, which are further divided into districts based on different themes and interests.
Users can buy parcels using Decentraland's in-house cryptocurrency, known as MANA. MANA and the built-in smart contracts provide users complete control over their surroundings, enabling them to develop apps and programs they can sell or use for other monetary purposes.
The metaverse is yet to fulfill its potential
The metaverse is still a relatively new concept that’s yet to be fully defined. The crypto and tech communities haven’t agreed on a universal term that encompasses its true meaning and potential. Once the metaverse reaches that stage, its definition will change.
For now, the world of crypto is a growing digital economy that hosts various appealing digital assets for users of all kinds.
One such asset is Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency that safeguards its users' privacy and anonymity while receiving a share of it for free. Worldcoin’s initiative aims to empower individuals through the potential of crypto and guide them to the future of the internet. Subscribe to Worldcoin’s blog to know more.