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What is Metaverse | Metaverse explained
The whole concept of the metaverse was first introduced by a sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson. Back in 1992 he published a novel called Snow Crash. In the book, Stephenson established the Metaverse as a virtual three-dimensional world where users from the actual physical world could act via avatars.
Within the metaverse of Stephenson’s novel, characters had the opportunity to add to the virtual world by building establishments and acquiring digital assets for themselves.
At the same time, these characters’ avatars could interact with the virtual environment and with other users who happened to be online at the same time.
It was pure science fiction at the time the book came out. The technology of the time was not sophisticated enough to be able to materialize an actual metaverse that people could freely interact in. In 1992 there was no internet as we know it now.
In 2021 Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook announced something he called The Metaverse as the new iteration of Facebook itself. He promised that hundreds of millions would be able to interact in the virtual world very soon. Though his demos contained only primitive environments with legless avatars, the concept itself seemed quite viable. Especially if you consider how many devices of augmented and virtual reality are out there now.
In a nutshell, Metaverse can be described as a three-dimensional Internet that is populated with live people.
What is the Metaverse Exactly?
As the concept is still quite vague and Mark Zuckerberg’s description is more about marketing than about technology, many users still ask what should be called Metaverse?
Well, the majority of analysts say, we won’t find out what Metaverse is until it becomes real.
At the moment, some general features of the Metaverse can be specified:
- An intersection of the real and virtual worlds in terms of possible user interactions
- Ability to work, spend leisure time, and communicate with other users who are now online
- Using money and other assets just like in real world
How Does Metaverse Work?
Metaverse looks like a cool idea but are there any real ways to implement it?
Well, there are some.
Access points for metaverses include general-purpose computers and smartphones, in addition to augmented reality (AR), mixed reality, virtual reality (VR), and virtual world technologies.
Of course, everybody thinks Metaverse should look something like Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerberg has shown. So to get to the virtual world you will need a device for virtual reality.
Dependence on VR technology has limited metaverse development and wide-scale adoption. Limitations of portable hardware and the need to balance cost and design have caused a lack of high-quality graphics and mobility.
Lightweight wireless headsets have struggled to achieve retina display pixel density needed for visual immersion, while higher-performance models are wired and often bulky.
It’s hard to imagine a wide-scale adaptation of this kind of device.
Another issue for wide-scale adoption of the technology is cost, with consumer VR headsets anging in price from $300 to $3500 as of 2022.
There are no standardised technical specification for metaverse implementations.
Existing implementations rely primarily on proprietary technology.
So there is a major concern about future metaverse software development. Mostly about transparency and privacy.
At the moment no one can be sure that Facebook (aka Meta) will not collect every possible piece of your private data while you are using the Metaverse.
A group of companies have announced they will create a Universal Scene Description. It’s a specification for 3D computer graphics interchange created by Pixar and supported by Blender, Apple’s Scenekit and Autodesk 3ds Max. NVIDIA has recently announced they will adopt Universal Scene Description for their metaverse development tools.
There is another standard in development. It is called OpenXR and it is now being adopted by Microsoft for HoloLens 2, by Meta (Facebook) for the Oculus Quest and by Valve for SteamVR.
The Metaverse Implementations
Several components of metaverse technologies have already been developed within modern internet-enabled video games. And some components are slowly arriving thanks to efforts by companies developing AR and VR gadgets.
Virtual world platform Second Life is often described as the first metaverse, being launched in 2003. Second Life incorporated many aspects of social media into a persistent three-dimensional world with the user represented as an avatar. Social functions are often an integral feature in many massively multiplayer online games.
Some analysts say social-based gameplay of Minecraft represents an advanced analog of a Metaverse.
Similar statements were made for the game Roblox, which has since employed significant usage of the term in marketing. Other claims of developing a metaverse include the games Active Worlds and Fortnite.
Facebook itself might be considered as something slowly transforming into a Metaverse, all it lacks now is a virtual environment and pseudo physical interaction between the users.
AR and VR
There is a growing list of the companies trying to develop technologies for the future Metaverse:
- Facebook is no rookie when it comes to virtual worlds. Back in 2019 Facebook scratched the surface of the future Metaverse with its social VR world called Facebook Horizon. Facebook was renamed “Meta Platforms” in 2021 and its chairman Mark Zuckerberg declared a company commitment to developing a Metaverse.
- Microsoft acquired the VR company AltspaceVR in 2017, and has since implemented metaverse features such as virtual avatars and meetings held in virtual reality into its popular business product Microsoft Teams.
- In the beginning of 2022 HTC announced its launch of a cross-platform metaverse ecosystem called VIVERSE, which would allow connections between virtual worlds accessible by both VR and non-VR devices. HTC also claimed strong support of parental controls for children.
How to access the Metaverse
There is no Metaverse at the moment, so there is no way to access it right away.
It is possible to take part in some beta testing programs. Also you could already start using some of the Facebook (Meta) VR hardware and software. This is as close as you can get to the Metaverse right now.
What is Metaverse Land Rush?
Real estate in virtual worlds of the Metaverse is going for millions of dollars in some cases. Investors are mostly interested in Decentraland and Sandbox. But other virtual worlds are already emerging with big investors eyeing on a metaverse land rush there.
The most expensive spots are near where lots of users congregate — for instance, someone recently paid $450,000 to be Snoop Dogg’s neighbor in a virtual world called the Sandbox.
But even proponents are warning would-be investors that this is risky business.
Criticism and concerns
Skeptics say that the metaverse is stalled from achieving scale by a lack of infrastructure for both hardware and software, a monopolistic approach to platform development, and a lack of clear governance standards.”
In other words, the Metaverse technology has no clear pathway.
Some analysts predict that future technological developments, such as “more realistic computer graphics” and improvements in artificial intelligence, will continue to incentivize user engagement which will lead to the “normalization” of the metaverse.
An even more skeptical approach has been articulated by some representatives of the industry lately – they have pointed out that at scale of accessibility by billions of humans in real time, the industry will require at least a 1,000-times increase in computational efficiency from today’s top processors and GPUs.
Information privacy is an area of concern for metaverses because related companies will likely collect users’ personal information through interactions and biometric data from wearable virtual and augmented reality devices.
For Facebook it was always a huge concern as the world’s biggest social network has been collecting private data for years. Knowing what customers’ habits and likes are, it was easy for Facebook to sell targeted ads to other big companies.
Facebook’s Metaverse will have access to an even more vast array of personal and sensitive data.
If Facebook could collect only your texts, photos, videos, likes and comments, Meta will be able to collect your gestures, moves, facial expressions, eyes movement and even your heartbeat rate.
That will be a disastrous loss of personal privacy as it is.
Metaverse by Facebook (or Meta) will collect much more data than the whole internet today.
Addiction and problematic social media use
User addiction and problematic social media use is another concern.
Internet addiction disorder, social media, and video game addiction can have mental and physical repercussions over a prolonged period of time, such as depression, anxiety, and various other harms related to having a sedentary lifestyle.
Experts are also concerned that metaverses could be used as an ‘escape’ from reality in a similar fashion to existing internet technologies.
Virtual crime like sex abuse or harassments of different kinds are significant challenges with current social virtual reality platforms, and may be similarly prevalent in a metaverse.
The potential presence of child predators on metaverse platforms is another concern, along with the potential for worsening child depression and loneliness.
Previous investigations by journalists have found minors engaging in adult activities in applications such as VRChat and Horizon Worlds despite an age requirement of 13 years or older.
Technology companies claim that a Metaverse could be a reprieve from worker exploitation, prejudice, and discrimination. They have already engaged huge marketing machines to popularize the idea of the Metaverse as a place of freedom for everybody.
At the same time justice warriors claim that the Metaverse will be dominated by big companies eager to find more and more ways to make money.
The Metaverse which is often called “the new internet” might turn out to be just another step in the evolution of the consumer’s society.
Another issue is a generally negative societal impact of the Metaverse due to their strongly addictive potential.
The Metaverse Sexual Assault
Some worries about the Metaverse security and social problems have already emerged despite the fact that virtual worlds are at the beginning of their evolution.
The metaverse has a groping problem already, critics say.
A woman was sexually harassed on Meta’s VR social media platform. She reported that she had experienced a real horror play out in the virtual game Horizon Worlds developed by Meta, formerly known as Facebook.
According to her report, she was verbally and sexually harassed by 3-4 male avatars, with male voices, who essentially, but virtually gang raped her avatar.
She detailed watching her avatar get sexually assaulted by a handful of male avatars, who took photos and sent her comments like “don’t pretend you didn’t love it.”
What Can You Actually Do in the Metaverse in 2022
The future possibilities of the metaverse are presumably limitless, but is there anything you can do in the metaverse right now?
Yes, you can do a lot of stuff now, though it’s just a little piece of the whole array of the marvels that the Metaverse promises.
What can you actually do in the Metaverse, here is the list.
Build, explore and play in virtual worlds
Games like Minecraft and Roblox have been providing metaverse-like experiences for the better part of a decade; both Second Life and Eve Online have been alive and kicking since 2003, and World of Warcraft sprang to life in 2004.
Second Life is one of the closest metaverse analogs due to its creator-led economy and sprawling sandbox world. You can do anything you like in Second Life, and some people have been documented to spend their lives in the game, living off the virtual land, harvesting the game’s in-game currency.
In the 2020s, crypto games like The Sandbox and Decentraland are tilting the videogame economy on its head by adding digital assets to the mix. Not only can you import your own non-fungible tokens (NFT) into the games and buy virtual land, but you can also use the games’ fungible governance tokens to alter the parameters of the virtual world you’ll inhabit, explore and build.
Both are powered by cryptocurrencies – The Sandbox uses fungible SAND tokens as in-game currency and uses NFTs to represent parcels of land and other game-native items, the kinds of assets that decorate your avatar, and Decentraland has fungible MANA tokens and equivalent non-fungibles for virtual assets.
To create accounts, you need only connect a crypto wallet such as MetaMask.
Though, in Decentraland it is possible to play as a guest without connecting a crypto wallet.
These games play like any other sandbox game. You can roam around the games’ respective virtual worlds, hanging out with the brands and celebrities that are rushing to corner the market. In virtual spaces, like shopping malls, art galleries or plazas, you can walk around and speak to people, play games, build houses or attend events. Decentraland even hosts its own music festivals.
Meet people from anywhere for work or play
There are plenty of hangout spaces in the metaverse. While you can certainly congregate in huge open worlds like The Sandbox and Decentraland, you can also play around with custom-built rooms on platforms like Spatial.
These apps are purpose built for events, conferences and meetings. You can log into Spatial with a Web 2 login like Google, or with a Web 3 login like MetaMask. Spatial’s virtual worlds are separated into rooms; you can either visit pre-built rooms or create your own. Spatial’s galleries support NFTs. You can move about Spatial’s world on mobile, Steam, on a browser or through an Oculus VR headset.
Virtual reality is strong on one of Ball’s criteria for the metaverse: presence. Strap on a VR headset, like an HTC Vive, Valve Index or Meta (formerly Oculus) Quest, and launch yourself into cyberspace. Meta (formerly Facebook) is building a social hub for its VR headsets, and Steam’s VR software comes preinstalled with a virtual home.
Companies like MetaHub are creating virtual hangout spaces for conferences and business events, and Decentraland hosted its first music festival in 2021 – although artists were doing that in Second Life long before it was cool. Hanging out is where the boundaries of the metaverse can start to blur and the marketing spiel begins to unravel.
Create a 3D avatar
It’s one of the things people will love the most.
Your avatar is a big part of your metaverse identity. For some, profile-picture NFTs like CryptoPunks or the Bored Ape Yacht Club are sufficient for Discord and Twitter, mostly text-based platforms where a 2D picture is good enough.
For 3D realms, apps like Ready Player Me offer composable digital identities that, it claims, can be used in 1,330 apps and games, including Nike’s RTFKT, Somnium Space and VR Chat.
You could also buy a NFT sneaker from RTFKT, or an avatar from its upcoming “Avatar project,” although it’s unclear which games will let you “wear” these.
In Somnium Space, an Ethereum-based virtual reality open world similar to Decentraland, you can import a Ready Player Me avatar created from nothing more than a selfie. Following Ball’s framework, this fulfills the criteria of interoperability.
Buy virtual land, NFTs or tokens
Of course, if you’re not actually interested in partying with reality just yet, you could always invest in the buzzy virtual worlds instead.
You could invest in NFT avatar drops, like those offered by Nike or Adidas.
You could speculate on virtual land or in-game items, like those offered on Axie Infinity, Decentraland and The Sandbox.
You could also invest in the fungible tokens offered by those games, which function as in-game currency. If you’re not sure which token to invest in,there is another possibility.
You could always invest in a metaverse index fund, such as the Metaverse Index (MVI) offered by Index Coop. The MVI rebalances its portfolio in accordance with the largest metaverse coins of the day.
If crypto isn’t your thing, you could invest in the equity of virtual reality and metaverse companies. Meta is one company betting big on the future of virtual and augmented reality. Some experts estimate that the company will have spent $70 billion on the concept between 2014 and 2023. Virtual reality and metaverse stocks, as well as private investments, are also on the table.
The Metaverse Coins
It is obvious that all the Metaverses will be built using blockchain technologies. And all the payments inside will be made using the cryptocurrencies.
Of course, people expect metaverses to use popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. The latter might be the obvious choice, when taking into account that at least some metaverses will be built using the Ethereum blockchain.
We might not be able to tell what metaverse coins will be the most popular in the future. But we can see some of the metaverse coins gaining popularity right now.
Decentraland – one of the pioneers of the virtual worlds right now – has its own metaverse cryptocurrency. It is called MANA and it now ranks as the biggest metaverse cryptocurrency, with a market cap of $5.6 billion. MANA digital token has more than doubled over the past 12 months.
In addition to being the biggest metaverse cryptocurrency, Decentraland is also the first fully decentralized virtual world. Its Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) owns the key smart contracts that drive the Decentraland metaverse, notably including the LAND contract that allows users to buy and sell virtual land.
Users can monetize their LAND by developing interactive games, allowing advertising, and more. Decentraland’s native MANA token is the currency used throughout the metaverse.
MANA can be used to buy LAND, but also to purchase avatars, names, wearables, and other items in the Decentraland marketplace. You can also sell some staff and gain MANA in return. Later nothing can stop you from trading MANA to other cryptocurrencies or even fiat money, if there is such a need.
The Sandbox’s metaverse coin is called SAND) and it doesn’t trail too far behind Decentraland.
SAND, being the No. 2 metaverse cryptocurrency currently has a market cap of $4.5 billion.
It’s worth mentioning that The Sandbox has been a much bigger winner than Decentraland over the past 12 months in terms of general popularity And also in terms of financial succes, with its native SAND token soaring close to 1,670%.
Much like Decentraland, The Sandbox is a virtual world that uses a DAO model.
And both platforms are built on the Ethereum blockchain with the full use of smart contracts for purchasing virtual land and other assets.
Of course, there are differences between these two metaverses. The most obvious one is thatThe Sandbox is now migrating to Polygon’s layer-2 solution, which will lower transaction fees and increase processing speeds.
There is a third metaverse project that has a cryptocurrency of its own. Axie Infinity operates AXS token which comes in third among metaverse cryptocurrencies with a market cap of $3.7 billion.
For the last year AXS token has shown phenomenal growth gaining more than 2,840%.
Axie uses Ethereum blockchain just like two aforementioned metaverses – Decentraland and The Sandbox.
Nevertheless, Axie Infinity is more gaming-focused than its two top rivals. Players buy creatures known as “Axies” that they can engage in battle, breed, and sell. They can even build kingdoms for their Axies.
Is the Metaverse Real?
One of the most popular questions everybody asks now is – is the Metaverse real?
Short answer is no.
We don’t have a shared metaverse at this time.
Despite what Zuckerbegr says about the Metaverse the concept could be more than a decade away from becoming fully realized.
It is becoming more and more obvious that a true metaverse will require cooperation among the biggest players in the tech world.
However, several companies are working on creating pieces of what could eventually be part of the metaverse technology:
- Epic Games, the company that developed Fortnite, has hosted virtual concerts by huge artists like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, as well as movie trailers and music debuts. The company is also developing photorealistic digital humans with its MetaHuman Creator. It might be used to customize your metaverse avatar in the future.
- Roblox houses a large variety of user-generated games where users can build homes, work and play out different scenarios. The company also teamed up with skateboarding shoe company Vans to create Vans World and opened a Gucci Garden, where you can try on and buy clothing and accessories from the world-famous luxury clothing brand.
- Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella recently said the company is working to build an “enterprise metaverse” as digital and physical worlds converge in its offerings.
Graphics chips maker Nvidia presented its Omniverse platform for creating simulations of real-world buildings and factories. This platform could become the foundation on which different metaverses could be built.
- And of course, Meta (known as Facebook for the last 10+ years) is also positioning itself towards the metaverse with its virtual reality social media platform, Horizon, which is currently in Beta. Recently Meta has announced a new project called Live Maps that will create 3D maps of the world using augmented reality (AR).