Lately, it is close to impossible not to come across the metaverse on the Internet. Although it was first described two decades ago, it has recently garnered vast interest; internet searches for the term increased by 7,200% in 2021.
In December of that same year, Mark Zuckerberg declared his ambition to help bring the metaverse to life and, in a bid to do so, Facebook was rebranded as Meta. Following this, Microsoft announced that its proposed acquisition of gaming giant, Activision Blizzard for $70billion, has the potential to provide building blocks for the metaverse.
Meanwhile in China, the tech conglomerate, Tencent, has announced its intention to engage with the metaverse. Many companies have since then dived into the concept, partnering amongst themselves, pouring capital and raising funds. In 2021, $10 billion was raised by metaverse-related companies, surpassing as much as twice what they had raised in the previous year. According to Citibank (and as reported in Forbes), the global value creation opportunity from the metaverse could by 2030 be worth as much as $13trillion.
What is the metaverse?
There is yet to be a single definition generally agreed on by interested parties. Recently however, Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist, attempted to give an insightful take on it. According to Ball: “The metaverse spans both the virtual and physical worlds, and multiple platforms; the metaverse exists in real-time, encompassing immersive environments, often using virtual or augmented reality technology; the metaverse is powered by a fully functioning virtual economy, often built on crypto and digital assets, including NFTs. This is quite inclusive.” Equally, the metaverse could be referred to as the ever-evolving convergence between the physical and digital worlds which comes closer to realisation every time we replace a physical element with its digital equivalent; it is the great physical-digital convergence. Technologies such as AR, VR, blockchain, 5G, edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI) fill the gap between both the physical and digital worlds (the convergence) and collectively introduce “decentralisation“.
How will the metaverse change the world?
- At work
From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a decline in the need for physical contact – albeit matters are ‘normalising’ now. During this time, many companies and organisations have adopted a ‘work from home’ method – partially or totally. With the world gradually adjusting from the pandemic, working remotely has now become an integral part of the everyday workforce. The shift in work culture means that everyday moments that would have historically occurred in an office are being replaced with virtual alternatives. Whilst platforms such as Zoom, Google meet, Discord and many others have taken care of this so far, there is a need for much more personal and connected interactions between people than is provided on the 2D internet world. The metaverse, by offering a 3D environment, has hopes of being the virtual environment for these social moments. Employees of the same company spread across the globe will have the potential to meet up in the metaverse to brainstorm at highly creative levels so as to solve problems. They will be transported to a ‘virtual office’ and look across at their colleagues without leaving the comfort of their homes, simply by putting on a VR headset or AR glasses. Firms such as Apple, Mircosoft, Roblox, Epic games, Meta and Nvidia are just a few of the firms helping to create the infrastructure to help bring the metaverse to the masses.
- In education
The metaverse will alter the structure of education. By choice, students may or may not physically attend a university – i.e. they will be able to attend university classes in the metaverse. Regardless of their real-life location, teachers and students could meet up in a virtual space through the virtual reality headset. However, with the metaverse, the teacher can meet with the students irrespective of the difference in location. A more interesting feature of the metaverse is its ability to, alongside audio, show an immersive 3D environment. This exciting feature does not only help in teaching, but it also improves assimilation since it provides a serene, virtual, academic environment. In the US, Dallas Hybrid Prep, is one of the first schools in the country to implement a metaverse platform. Olga Romero, at the school, explains: “Our fifth-grade students join with their teachers while learning from home to collaborate and complete gaming-style assignments, using avatars and earning online currency for completing the assigned tasks.”
- In commerce
Buying and selling are basically the exchange of values – i.e. when you buy an item, you give an item of value in exchange. In the virtual 3D world, if you are buying an item which you could use in the virtual world then you are most likely making payment using another virtual item of equal worth, such as an NFTs or cryptocurrencies. In addition, there is no need to travel several miles and pass through the potential stress of needing to be physically present at the store. Furthermore, when shopping in the metaverse your avatar could try on clothes, purchase them and have them shipped directly to your physical reality address. This means no need for the often-experienced ‘scrambles’ in the changing rooms. And if you are shopping for home decor in the metaverse, you can place the item in your digital reality home to see how it looks before actually purchasing it.
- In sports and exercise
Sports and exercise are certainly not excluded. New equipment, companies and technologies are promoting an at-home fitness lifestyle, such as Peloton and the Mirror meaning that exercising in the metaverse may become the norm for many. You can also schedule an appointment and meet up with your personal trainer in the metaverse. You can exercise without being distracted by the noise, movements and presence of other people. The metaverse will bring the freedom of exercising effectively without leaving your living room.
The entertainment industry suffered a massive blow due to the pandemic. Many concerts were cancelled and TV shows were cut short. But, in spite of this, a new way of delivering concerts emerged – for example, a digital reality concert was held starring Travis Scott. The concert attracted 27 million people who entered as individual avatars. The audience was able to buy skins for their individual avatars and other types of digital merchandise whilst in the metaverse. You can now go to parks or gaming centres in the metaverse and there is also the ability to visit the zoo, gaze at the animals or actually choose to be one of the animals.
- With the global economy
By purchasing virtual real estate, people are investing in the metaverse with the belief that it will soon hold the majority of the world’s wealth. It is comparable to investing in domain names – investors buy domain names, put a price tag on them and wait for people to come along, wanting that domain so badly that they will pay hugely for it. Virtual real estate is similar to this, with the market value of the metaverse being estimated to have reached about $800 billion by the year 2025.
There are more ways than can be mentioned by which metaverse will influence the world – ultimately, it will revolutionise virtually all aspects of human endeavour. Certainly, there is a healthy amount of scepticism about the metaverse and companies are advised to exercise caution, since the promise of what it can offer may take a while to catch up with the reality of the pitch. From all indications however, and in spite of this, we are at the cusp of a fundamental shift in how people use the internet. But one thing is for sure, the metaverse is significantly more than merely on-line games.