The Metaverse is an interconnected network of digital worlds. Users interact and engage with the Metaverse and other users as we would in the physical world. The Metaverse is a constant, virtual, alternate reality.
What is the Metaverse?
Ah, the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue. What is the Metaverse? Why are tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon all of sudden so interested in the Metaverse? Why did Facebook rebrand itself to ‘Meta’?
Is the Metaverse really the future of the internet, or are Zuckerburg and his white collar friends trying to sell me the next passing trend? What does the Metaverse have to do with Web 3, cryptocurrency and my NFTs (what in the world are NFTs even) ??
It’s a simple question with a complicated answer. You could say the answer only leads to more questions. You’d be right. To streamline your search, I’ve scoured the depths of the internet to find a definitive response so that you don’t need to.
I’ve left no stone unturned, and objectively looked at arguments from both sides of the fence. Still, it seems no one has a clear definition to 2022’s big question.
What exactly is the Metaverse?
Before we deep-dive right into the heart of the issue, let’s have a quick history lesson. Who even came up with the idea of the Metaverse in the first place?
We first heard of the term ‘Metaverse’ in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cult novel Snow Crash. Snow Crash told the story of avatars living in a 3d digital world, controlled by humans in the
real physical world. Naturally, our hero is a katana-wielding hacker who fights in nightclubs. Could this have inspired a popular NFT collection 30 years later?
A more recent interpretation of the Metaverse is Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, published in 2011. This novel was adapted into a film in 2018 by Steven Spielburg. This painted a glamorous picture of an immersive 3D world, complete with its own set of rules, laws and economy. The film’s physical world was a clear dystopia. But I must admit, its Metaverse looked extraordinary.
The internet’s current view of what the Metaverse is and what it will look like reflects this. The Metaverse is a digital world. An alternate, virtual reality where we can interact and engage with others and the environment around us. A world where we’re not restricted by our physical limits, but our imaginative limits.
Venture Capitalist Matthew Ball has written a great series of essays on the topic. He sums it nicely in a fashion that offers plenty of scope for the imagination:
“The Metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.”
Facebook is going for a much broader approach that is rather vague. I appreciate Zuckerburg is trying to keep the Metaverse as accessible as possible. However, this interpretation doesn’t really distinguish the Metaverse from our current internet:
“The ‘metaverse’ is a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.”
This leads to my next point, and I can already hear you asking: Aren’t we there already?
Our Digital Lives
If the Metaverse is a virtual space where you can interact with others digitally, doesn’t that already exist? During the COVID Pandemic, most of the working world stopped using offices. Zoom calls and virtual meeting rooms became the norm. Are these virtual spaces not Metaverses in their own right?
I would argue that our digital worlds are already intertwined with our physical worlds. Social Media is a great example. Maintaining a digital reputation on Instagram is of paramount importance. A job applicant is more likely to be successful if they have impressive LinkedIn connections.
Even our society’s flexes of wealth have taken on a digital format. We live in a world where Bored Apes and Beeples have replaced Rolexs and paintings by Jackson Pollock. It might sound ridiculous, but the proof is there:
So yes, much of our lives already take place in a digital space. Is that not the Metaverse already? Metaverse maxis will step in here and point out what could be a key point. Virtual meeting rooms and digital networks are still missing something. Perhaps what makes the metaverse unique is the ability to explore a digital realm in an immersive 3D environment. Which leads us to VR.
Do I need a VR Headset to enter the metaverse?
You don’t need to be a tech guru to understand that the Metaverse will be best experienced in virtual reality. Being able to fully immerse yourself in the 3d world, and ‘step in’ to a new dimension is one of key takeaways of the Metaverse. Virtual Reality is ‘living’ a digital experience like Travis Scott’s historic virtual concert. This is different to watching a recording on Youtube.
Modern Virtual Reality headsets exploded into the tech world back in the early 2010’s. Despite this, manufacturers haven’t quite nailed the design. VR users mention neck discomfort, facial pain and motion sickness when using headsets. For a 3D virtual reality Metaverse to see mass adoption, we will need to see solutions to these prevailing issues.
Then there’s the price. While Virtual Reality headsets are becoming cheaper, a quality headset might still set you back over $300. The Metaverse won’t be a very realistic reflection of our physical reality if it’s limited to only those who can afford to be in it.
Immersive 3D games like Fortnite already allow me to engage with others in a digital world. It even has its own economy. By both Zuckerburg and Ball’s definitions, this is categorically a ‘Metaverse Experience’. Do I need a VR headset to play Fortnite? No, not really.
What can I do in the Metaverse?
Now that we’ve got a better understanding of what the Metaverse actually is, the next question is obvious. Why should I be interested in the Metaverse? I like the idea of a virtual world, but what can I actually do in the Metaverse?
Gaming is the biggest and most obvious application of the Metaverse. This is what changes our standard MMO game into a living, breathing universe. Gamers will be able to get closer and deeper into their games than ever before. Slip on a VR Headset and try actually being your character. Then control a third person character on a monitor. The latter seems clunky and, well, flat.
Gaming metaverses will be further enhanced by in-game economies and inventories. This is where blockchain technology comes in. The potential for metaverse economies based on cryptocurrency will be huge. The play-to-earn movement already gained significant traction with games like Axie Infinity. NFT utility in a gamified digital world is also astounding and unrealized. Gamers will finally have true verifiable ownership of land and materials. Legendary 1/1 items will be exactly that, 1/1 and legendary.
Art & Culture
Personal anecdote incoming (sorry). I recently visited the Louvre in Paris. It was absolutely amazing. There were thousands upon thousands of breathtaking pieces of art. Paintings, sculptures, tapestries, you name it, it was there. So were thousands and thousands of people. I even skipped seeing the Mona Lisa because there were already 500 people lining up to get a glimpse.
This led me to thinking, imagine visiting the Louvre in a digital metaverse. You’d have complete freedom to wander without hordes of other visitors getting in your way. Paintings are still displayed in full HD glory. The Metaverse renders sculptures in 3D. I could’ve seen the Mona Lisa without queueing. Maybe I could have virtually reached out and touched it?
Socialising & Events
Online social interaction is already a cornerstone of our society. It’s now easier than ever to find a community with similar interests to yourself by looking online. This goes beyond friendships and networking. Statistically speaking, one study found 48% of people aged between 18-29 use a dating app or website.
It’s not far-fetched to assume that the Metaverse will open a lot of doors in the world of online dating and socializing. Digital worlds like Second Life provide an entire universe where users can create avatars and hang out in virtual spaces. I enjoyed reading this VICE article, which told the story of a writer’s ‘Night Out in the Metaverse’.
Virtual events aren’t limited just to concerts and nightclubs. Sports fans will have just much incentive to join the Metaverse. Manchester City, one of football’s biggest teams, has announced plans to develop a Metaverse Stadium. This will give fans the opportunity to follow the team everywhere, and watch ‘Away’ games from home.
Like I mentioned earlier, we already work predominantly in a digital space. Zoom meetings are commonplace in most businesses. Keynote speakers at conferences are live streamed internationally. I can’t even remember the last time someone handed me a document instead of sending it in an email.
These experiences will likely carry over into the Metaverse as well. I would love to see the internet’s favorite lawyer reprise his role as a kitten in a fully immersive 3D world.
Everyone’s mostly excited about Metaverse gaming. While that’s good fun, experts argue that the greatest opportunities in the Metaverse will be in the education sector. Students and teachers will be able to meet in infinitely diverse environments to learn in virtual reality. Imagine you’re working on a project about the surface of Mars. Why not go there and check it out from the comfort of your classroom?
I dissected a cow’s eyeball in High School. Interesting, yes. But also a bit gross. Some other students refused to be involved for that reason. What if that same lesson could be taught without harming any cows? Would students be more willing to take part?
What does the Metaverse mean for crypto and NFTs?
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The Metaverse is a fascinating new paradigm in the internet. People have said it’s the future of the internet and that it’ll change our experience of it forever. Where did we hear that before? Blockchain technology, cryptocurrency and NFTs are also the future. It makes sense they will have some interoperability.
One of the fundamental principles of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology is decentralization. This means no one entity has complete control and governance over how it operates. In a Metaverse world where our only limitations are our imaginations, this will be more important than ever. Andrei Jikh goes into great detail here around the 7 minute mark.
Crypto = money of the metaverse— Andrew Steinwold (@AndrewSteinwold) November 7, 2021
NFTs = all the “stuff” in the metaverse
DAOs = companies in the metaverse
Social tokens = compensating users for their engagement
What are some possible new categories that haven’t yet been created?
Will there be any or is that it?
Essentially, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are the building blocks that govern the metaverse. Crypto will be the currency that we’ll exchange for goods and services. Much in the same way that we use fiat in the physical world.
NFTs are those integral ‘items’ that will help us bring character and personality into our digital world. Think of it like decorating your house. NFTs will be the difference between living in an empty box with 4 walls and living in a home with your favourite possessions.
But this begs yet another question. Is there going to be just one Mega-Metaverse? Or will we have a collection of Multi-Metaverses?
One Metaverse to rule them all?
The short answer (for now) is no, there will not be just one Metaverse. We can already see that Microsoft Mesh is not the same as Meta’s Horizon Worlds. Decentraland’s metaverse doesn’t look like Fortnite. They might all have similarities, but the underlying technology won’t always be compatible.
Despite what you might have heard, not all NFTs are interoperable between different blockchains. You won’t always be able to pack up your things and move to a new Metaverse. You can’t hang up a Bored Ape or a Doodle in Solana’s Portal.
This means that the early days of Metaverse adoption (ie right now) are crucially important. People tend to stick with either Apple or Android because it’s comfortable and familiar. In the same way, the first movers in the Metaverse industry will likely take a significant share of users.
Now if I was a savvy investor looking for an opportunity in the market, where would I be looking? If there’s no dominant Metaverse to rule them all, how can I know which one I will come out on top?
How can I invest in the Metaverse?
If you want to invest in the Metaverse industry, conducting thorough, unbiased research is the most important thing you can do. As with any new technology that carries significant hype, there is also significant risk.
Perhaps a good strategy is to look at certain elements that Metaverses have in common. Let’s take a look at three of the biggest metaverse projects in crypto right now.
These Metaverse projects all share plenty of similarities. We can explore the Metaverse, interact with friends and play games. We can trade a native crypto token for goods and services. We can own digital real estate in the form of NFTs. As an investor, all these similarities pale in comparison to one unifying factor. They’re all built on Ethereum.
Think of each of these projects as a car model. You could invest in Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren in the hope that one outperforms the others. Or you could invest in the road that they all drive on and the fuel they all need.
Cryptocurrency and the Metaverse are intrinsically linked. You don’t need to invest in a specific project to invest in the metaverse. By investing in the blockchains that act as the foundations for these projects, you’re already getting exposure to the Metaverse.
Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that neither myself nor Versopedia are financial advisors. Always do thorough research before investing in anything. Never invest more than you can afford to lose.
Issues with the Metaverse
We can all agree that the Metaverse opens a vast world of possibilities. Games will become far more immersive. Events will occur in the digital world as they do in the physical world. Hands on, practical education will be more available than ever. But what are the drawbacks?
What world do I live in anyway?
I’d like to draw your attention back to my earlier metaverse examples. Both Snow Crash and Ready Player One are set in dystopian futures. Their respective metaverses are both escapes from a grim reality. Digital identities completely consume the characters. They spend more time in the digital world than in the physical world.
This is a serious issue. In some cases, children are already neglecting their basic needs while playing. Video game addiction is a serious problem. Is making gaming more captivating a significant health risk? VR companies will need to consider ways to curb excessive usage.
Data-protection and misuse is already a massive problem in today’s internet. Identity theft is common and data leaks threaten people’s personal privacy everyday. Moreover, the cryptocurrency world is no stranger to scams and hacks.
In the metaverse, it’s not just our keystrokes and passwords that could be at risk. Bots can easily mimic everything from body language to our voices and facial expressions. Stealing a virtual identity using a customizable avatar isn’t out of the question.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of creeps on the internet. Sexual harassment from behind a keyboard is harmful enough. In a realistic 3D environment these kinds of interactions would be even more intense and traumatic.
One woman reports being sexually assualted within 60 seconds of entering Facebook’s Metaverse. Part of the excitement around a VR metaverse is that everythings looks real. That isn’t always a good thing. Fortunately, Meta has safety functions in place that should stop these things from happening.
Obviously, the onus is still on individuals to treat others with respect. As a good rule of thumb, if it’s unacceptable in the physical world it’s probably unacceptable in the Metaverse.
We set out to tackle the big question. What is the Metaverse? Is it really worth all the noise and excitement? Or is it a buzzword and rebranding for how we already use the internet?
Vice wrote ‘Mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace.” Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change.’
I believe this statement has some weight. Much of what we do in the internet today happens in a Metaverse of sorts. We attend virtual meetings where we engage and interact with others. We shop for goods online and make purchases digitally. We can even virtually inspect an apartment if we aren’t able to physically visit.
I also believe that this is just scratching the surface. The Metaverse is a constant, digital world that we can interact with, explore and share with others in real time. The breadth of possibilities in the Metaverse is still unrealized. The key that will unlock the potential of the Metaverse lies in blockchain technology.
NFTs and cryptocurrency will bring identity and ownership to the metaverse. Cryptocurrency will provide the ‘money’ that will power the Metaverse economy. NFTs will be the ‘things’ that make us feel unique and genuine in an artificial world.
What do you think? Have I been asking questions in an echo chamber? Or has this been an objective approach to a polarizing topic? I’d love to hear your thoughts as well, so please comment below and give me your opinion. Or, step into the Metaverse and tell me yourself!