Imagine this- It’s 6 in the morning. Your alarm goes off and wakes you up. You open your eyes and think about what a fine morning it is. You reach out for your phone to check if you have missed any texts or calls while you were asleep. Maybe you open Slack and check for any messages from your colleagues at work or you open your favorite social media application to see if your friends have posted anything about their lives.
On your smartphone’s display, you see pictures or videos of your friend having a cup of Chai, standing at the top of a mountain at sunset, or headbanging at a concert of your favorite metal band. You try to feel their emotions but the visual and hearing stimuli from your mobile device are not making it any easier and you realize you are still lying on your bed staring at a 2D screen. That was not so fascinating, right?
Please allow me to rewind five seconds of your life and ask you again to imagine this- when your friend’s posts of her having a cup of Chai, you can not only hold the cup in your hands but take a sniff of its strong aroma.
When another one of your friend’s posts stands at the top of a mountain, you can not only see the low lying valleys or the slowly descending red sun but also feel the cool breeze of ecstasy. When your friends post something from a concert, you find yourself headbanging next to crazy fans in epic mosh pits while your favorite metal band shreds their guitars and destroys their drum sets. All of these while you were still in your bed at 6 in the morning.
If you now ask me how all these will be possible, I would slowly open my arms wide, revere Robert Downey Jr., and say “ For your consideration, the METAVERSE”. For anyone who is still having problems imagining this I’ve got a simpler explanation- imagine you are using your favorite social media application on your mobile device by staring at your 2D screens and tapping on it.
Now imagine that your body has literally transported inside your phone and into your social media universe. Everything you see and feel around you is METAVERSE.
Now broaden your mind and think of it not only as an extension of a social media application but an extension of the physical reality that we are aware of.
History & Early Visionaries
The term ‘metaverse’ was first used by Neal Stephenson in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash in 1992 which was portrayed as a virtual reality internet where people interacted using avatars in a digital space.
Coming to reality, the early idea of online digital universes came from the concepts of MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). From customizing your own avatars to buying and selling digital artifacts valuable in the game, MMORPGs were revolutionary for a world which only knew social games like Dungeons and Dragons.
While single-player games don’t require you to interact with other players to advance in the game, most MMORPGs require the players to team up with other players for various achievements. This feature made MMORPGs not just an online gaming platform but also a mode of socializing with other people. Current social media companies are building on this idea to connect their users in a meta-reality instead of a game.
Diffusion of Metaverse Into Our Physical Universe
With the current situation of COVID and the confinement of people inside their houses, there is an increase in the consumption of digital content worldwide. People have started opting for the concept of working from home instead of being physically present in a specific place. Digital classrooms and online workplaces are being extensively used during the pandemic.
Incorporating the concepts of metaverse into fields like these, where one doesn’t need to be physically present for fulfilling a particular purpose, could make the experience so much more immersive and ‘real’. Technological advancements in the fields of AR and VR show us a future where there won’t be much difference between what we feel in the metaverse and in the physical world.
Creation of a New Economy
Until a few years ago, when a player wins or buys a certain artifact (money, tokens, accessories) within a particular game, it had no value outside the game in the physical world. But with the introduction of blockchain technology and the concept of tokenization of real-world assets has almost solved the problem of value transfer across the platforms.
Before the invention of blockchain technology, any digital item could be infinitely reproduced by copying and pasting. But with the introduction of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), the value of a digital item can be locked within a token while showcasing properties such as uniqueness, true ownership, and the seamless transfer of ownership. Thus making the digital assets scarce and in turn, increasing their value.
Games like Fortnite have introduced various types of artifacts in the form of NFTs which are sold in digital marketplaces within and outside its universe. The growing popularity of cryptocurrencies has given the players’ digital assets an intrinsic value in our physical world thus blurring the boundaries of the metaverse.
Today, play-to-earn blockchain games which reward the players either in the form of NFTs or other tokens have reached unbelievable heights. Games like Axie Infinity are already revolutionizing the gaming industry. During the pandemic in 2020, Axie players from the Philippines earned three times more than they could be earning through minimum-wage jobs. Other play-to-earn games like Upland, Cryptoblades, Farmer’s world, and Spaceport Universe are also becoming wildly popular.
Metaverse economy is like a ticking bomb that will surely explode and bring about an epic boom.
Present-Day Scenario in the Evolution of The Metaverse
Instead of one big company having the majority of the power and control over the metaverse, various companies and individuals are working on their respective fields of interest in a decentralized manner to contribute to the metaverse together. To understand how bullish the world is about the metaverse, let’s have a look at the top tech companies actively investing and building a metaverse.
A few days ago, Facebook changed its company’s name to Meta as a commitment towards building the metaverse. Apart from building VR gadgets like Oculus, they have also launched apps for the metaverse like Workplace — a tool which you can use to mimic the environment of your workplace via Groups, Chats, and Live video broadcasting, Portal — a family of video-calling apps which is taking your experience of talking to your distant loved ones towards unbelievable possibilities, Novi — Meta’s own digital wallet which uses USDP as a cryptocurrency to carry out secure transactions on the blockchain from anywhere in the world).
Epic Games is another company that is heavily investing in building a decentralized metaverse where no one company can have absolute power. In games like Fortnite, the introduction of customizable avatars that can be used in all Fortnite-related platforms and the relevancy of artifacts within the Fortnite universe is just the beginning of what they have planned for the future. In April 2020 Fortnite also conducted a series of concerts in collaboration with artists like Marshmellow and Travis Scott in Fortnite’s digital space during a global pandemic.
Microsoft is bridging various businesses across the world with their new Dynamic 365 which allows its users the choice of CRM, ERP, or Sales modules. Apart from this Microsoft has introduced Mesh which is dissolving the boundaries of the physical and digital space without the need for any sophisticated hardware. When hardware innovations like HoloLens are incorporated into Mesh which has features like spatial maps, 3D presence, holographic rendering, and multi-user sync, the potential truly seems infinite.
Google is also making significant contributions to AR and VR technologies. With Google Lens, ARCore is using AR in apps like Google search, Google Maps, Google Earth, Stadia(gaming platform by Google), etc. Its recent project is called Starline which is a 3D video calling app using the latest developments in visual screens, machine learning, spatial audio, and real-time compressing to give their users a real-lifelike experience while conversing with their contacts thus breaking geographical boundaries.
Apple is making good promises in AR and VR technologies with their recent inventions like ARKit 5, RealityKit 2, and AR creative tools like Reality Composer and Reality Converter which work effortlessly in all AR-enabled iPhones and iPads thus eliminating the need for any extra hardware for the experience.
Nvidia has recently launched Omniverse where the users can bring almost all physical objects into a virtual space. Omniverse is set to solve many of the problems faced by 3D artists and creators while interacting with a digital space in AR or VR like inter-incompatibility of various applications, increasing complexities of projects, remote locations of the people involved, and security issues. Omniverse has been in evolution for quite some time now and it is finally helping us see a better future in the metaverse.
Amazon and the Rest of Big Tech
Though Amazon is not doing advancements in the AR and VR components of the metaverse, it is hoping to benefit from the increase in the usage of its AWS facilities.
Other inventions in fields like neurobiology involving tricking our sense organs into believing something that is happening in our virtual space is actually happening in our physical space is mind-boggling.
These are just a few of the areas among countless others which are working tirelessly to build a better metaverse.
Glimpses of the Future
The concept of the metaverse and the recent technological advancements in the field really make us excited and scared about the future at the same time.
On one hand, I can think of so many sectors which can be benefited from the widespread use of the metaverse. The opportunities will be limitless. The course of human evolution is changing right in front of our eyes.
While on the other hand, like every light source illuminates an object, it also brings a shadow attached to it. With addiction to smartphones and digital content becoming a real problem today, who is to say what darkness the metaverse holds beneath its enticing veil. The world might take a dystopian turn where the thin line between the physical and meta-reality turns grey and people forget what it’s like to be truly human.
A leap of faith into the abyss is what we will be needing to unveil the future that the metaverse holds for us. Only time will tell.