A Crash Course on the Metaverse: The Crypto Powered Future of Social Networking
The buzzword, metaverse, has been filling headlines on a variety of publications lately where thought leaders and folks with popular bylines explain the concept to the masses and share their views. It was still pop-culture sci-fi when the term was first coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash, but today, it’s a rapidly evolving space that shows much more promise than ever before. So, let’s take a look at some key points that will help you navigate this new, hybrid world.
The Metaverse: from fantasy to reality
Chances are moderate that you’ve already been introduced to the idea but through the lens of fantasy. In these stories, there’s usually a similar story arc.
There’s a vastly populated digital world with avatars controlled by real humans and bots as well as virtual items, real estate, currency, and other counterparts to common real-life objects and processes. The technology is adapted for some kind of evil and a band of unassuming heroes comes together to put a stop to virtual shenanigans and save the day.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been the plot of many popular works such as the 2018 film, Ready Player One. Based on a novel of the same name by author Ernest Cline, the story is set in a dystopian future where a deceased game maker of the fictional OASIS VR game makes a post-mortem announcement to players that states the first to complete a series of hidden challenges will gain control over his company, Gregarious Games. A small group of underdog gamers take on a large corporate rival, Innovative Online Industries, that “employs” a small army of indentured servant gamers who are ordered to complete the challenges on behalf of the company.
It’s mainstream Hollywood so you can probably guess how it ends.
Despite being a work of fiction, it gets a lot of good (and dark) sociological elements right as far as how some engage with these worlds – by providing social elements and commerce, it provides a level of immersion that allows people to engage these as if they’re alternate realities. From a psychological lens, a metaverse offers the same kind of empowerment and escapism as a role-playing game and now we’re seeing first-hand how these systems will actually evolve in the real world. Thanks to the powerful technology at our fingertips, we’ll start to see these metaverses take hold outside a space that’s primarily been occupied by games since the early 90s.
What is a ‘Metaverse’ & players in the market today
A metaverse isn’t necessarily a game. It’s not just a space where avatars can meet up, nor is it limited to VR. Metaverse is used to describe a platform connected over the internet that’s comprised of real-life people who can socialize, cooperate while using some feature (e.g., a gaming component where your band together to complete some task whether it’s solving a puzzle or hunting a monster), and engage in some kind of commerce like trading digital items or buying and selling with a digital currency.
A few notable games have demonstrated just how valuable a metaverse can be such as the game Roblox. The Roblox game has been around since 2006 where it has grown into a massive global community of mostly children users. It facilitates communication and interaction as well as commerce – the appeal of Roblox is that you can use their digital currency, Robux, to play games published by other user developers made in Roblox Studio. Top earners can then transpose earnings into real-world currency.
As such, Roblox offers nearly unlimited content which has allowed it to grow substantially over the years. Upcoming platforms will take this idea a step further to further bridge the real and digital worlds.
Technologies that drive metaverses
Rather than explain all the gritty technical details that go into developing such a space, understanding some of the building blocks being used now and in the future can help better demonstrate their potential for generating value.
- The Internet, of course, is what’s needed to connect everyone from around the world. As the power of physical and mobile networks – plus, the hardware we use – have increased exponentially since the days of the first metaverses, this gives way to much richer experiences that can drive real-time interactions and other elements of a platform whether it’s a game, a virtual business meeting, trading some digital or real-world good, and much more. High-bandwidth 5G is instrumental in allowing users to stay connected wherever they may roam.
- Both VR and AR will play roles in upcoming metaverses now that there’s a variety of accessible solutions on the market. With that said, “metaverse” is not virtually exclusive with either technology as we see with current platforms in this category like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite.
- People are the main component. There are plenty of digital worlds where you can spend your real-world money on in-game items in marketplaces throughout a vastly populated world but if there aren’t other people, it doesn’t count.
Most metaverses will rely on blockchain, at least in part, as it will play a major role in commerce and the exchange of things like digital goods using a sophisticated system that can’t easily be cheated. This essentially removes the possibility of players manually modding databases to do things like add an item to their inventory or increase their in-game currency. This could be used to facilitate something like the ability to officially buy and sell houses in World of Warcraft which has been a gripe of players for over a decade!
The rise of NFTs
Blockchain is also an instrumental component of designating and transferring nonfungible tokens (NFTs) that people can buy with real-world or digital currencies. An NFT allows a person to own an intangible digital item, for example, a video, an image, or even something like a piece of real estate in a virtual world. Considering the growth of the NFT market, there’s immense potential for facilitating the exchange of NFTs both for gamers and their beloved epic-class equipment and the business world alike.
This is where blockchain can really shine: as a decentralized method of storing, this will allow for inter-metaverse functionality in time. For example, you might be able to buy a digital accessory for your avatar such as a shirt that can also be used in compatible metaverses. It also wouldn’t be surprising when print shops and other retailers eventually integrate with metaverses so you can get your avatar’s shirt in real life.
Truly, NFT could play a role in helping safeguard certain digital and real-world assets. Though there is potential for abuse as with everything, NFT could become the preferred way for creatives like writers, illustrators, and musicians to protect their works as well as for businesses to safeguard valuable intellectual property.
What to expect from upcoming metaverses
Facebook has been making headlines recently with its progress in the VR and AR market. Now, Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become a “metaverse company” that will connect people in new ways in shared spaces.
Naturally, there’s a bit of backlash as even though Facebook does already contain the main ingredients of a metaverse, the platform isn’t exactly a land of happiness and wonder. There’s misinformation, clashing between people with different views of the world, and a marketplace that frequently flags random things, like a simple ad for a 2006 Toyota Corolla, for inappropriate content.
It works but there’s a lot to be desired.
For now, it will be interesting to see how some of their other forays with metaverse components will play out. The new Facebook View OS now runs on Ray Ban’s new smart eyewear line, Ray-Ban Stories, which may come to play a role in time. Facebook is also heavily and directly investing in VR technologies as we can see with their work on the Oculus line that’s growing rapidly in terms of sales.
Other metaverses will also emerge on VR platforms with some companies like Unity helping pave the way. As such, we’re witnessing what is yet the beginning of another technological frontier take root in the mainstream.
We’re here to support the metaverses
At Blue Label Labs, we understand how to take ideas and make them sustainable through research, strategy, and iterative development. We help brands create digital consumer experiences that leverage the value of NFTs and the metaverse for their customer journey through simplified digital experiences that inspire loyalty and create new opportunities for engagement and growth. We help companies connect to their users to create great digital environments. To learn more or chat with one of us about your app or metaverse idea, get in touch.