New technologies inevitably cause confusion when it comes to naming. In the 90s, modems, websites and cables were called the Internet, and monitors and keyboards with mice were called computers. Now the same thing is happening with the metaverse. In this article, we will figure out what it is and dispel the most popular misconceptions about it.
What is the metaverse
This term first appeared in 1992 in Neil Stevenson's science fiction novel Avalanche. This was the name of the virtual world in which people spent most of their time. In 2021, the metaverse is already being spoken of as the near future. For example, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview with The Verge that in 5-7 years his company will be associated with this particular technology. We have analyzed the main theses and created a summary of the interview.
Zuckerberg refers to the concept of the metaverse described by venture capitalist Matthew Ball in his blog. He is the managing partner of EpyllionCo, the venture partner of the Makers Fund, and the former director of global strategy for Amazon.
Ball compares the metaverse to the internet. The World Wide Web is a complex of protocols, technologies, fiber optic cables, access devices, content, and user interactions. Large Internet companies like Google or Amazon are its components. The metaverse, according to Ball, will also be a complex of many technologies. The companies that are working on it now will become important components of it.
Matthew Ball does not provide a definition of the metaverse but lists its characteristics. Some of them are:
- persistence - the metaverse does not reboot but is parallel to the real world. It cannot be paused
- a functioning economy - ordinary people and companies will be able to create, own, invest, trade, and operate in the metaverse
- reach - the metaverse will affect both the digital and the physical world. It will include both public and private networks
- compatibility - data, virtual objects, and content will be compatible with all parts of the metaverse;
- content - the metaverse will consist of content created by both ordinary users and large companies.
What the Metaverse is Often Confused With
According to Ball, the metaverse does not yet exist - only the infrastructure for it is being created. Therefore, this term is sometimes confused with existing technologies and trends. Below we list some of them.
Virtual worlds and spaces. They already exist in games. Some are inhabited by AI characters others by avatars of real people. But these are not metaverses because they feature a limited number of goals related to the gameplay.
Virtual spaces exist in projects like Facebook Horizon or Second Life. They have been created for communication, work, and other social interactions. Synchronous updating of the content applies here, and real people are present in spaces in the form of avatars. But these characteristics are not enough to consider them a metaverse.
Digital or virtual economy. In online games like World of Warcraft, people trade virtual items and complete tasks and use real money to settle accounts with each other. Such an economy has existed for about 20 years, and during this time it has become the norm.
Another example is blockchains in which people provide computing power in exchange for financial rewards. The DeFi ecosystem already has its own central bank, credit and insurance companies, currencies, and exchanges. But neither blockchain nor DeFi is a metaverse. Therefore, it is wrong to reduce this term only to economics.
Games. Some video games are like a metaverse. For example, in Fortnite, you have an opportunity to spend time only on social activities and make money on content creation. But most of the users are still busy only with the gameplay.
The technical architecture of video games is also not suitable for the metaverse. No game has the ability to put all users in one space. Even in projects with a multimillion audience, players are divided into many identical worlds. Each of them is a separate server that can accommodate a limited number of people. As a result, the player interacts with only a small fraction of the users. There will be no such limitation in the metaverse.
VR and AR technologies. The opportunity to explore the world using virtual and augmented reality technologies already exists. They are used in games, communication spaces, teaching, and other areas. But this is only a tool used for interaction. Calling VR and AR technologies the metaverse is the same as calling a modem or smartphone the Internet.
New platforms for user-generated content. In the metaverse, it will be possible to create not only content but also full-fledged businesses. They will have their own economy, databases, and management structure. It will be like the Internet in which there are both sites that contain content and companies that provide services.
A virtual theme park like Disneyland. The metaverse will have a potentially infinite number of such parks. Both large companies and individual users will create them. But this is only one of its elements.
The concept of the metaverse is actively discussed, but not everyone means the same thing by it. Matthew Ball believes that this will be a new technological entity similar to the Internet. The metaverse will also have its own protocols, technologies, access devices, content, and user interactions.
Ball outlined the criteria that the metaverse must meet:
- functioning economy,
Ball also highlighted the technologies with which the metaverse is confused. Each of them will only be an important part of it, but they themselves don’t form a metaverse:
- Virtual worlds and spaces,
- VR/AR technologies,
- A digital or virtual economy,
- A game,
- A virtual theme park,
- A new AppStore,
- A new platform for user-generated content.
Illustrator: Ekaterina Yarmarkina