The metaverse concept includes three major elements: a virtual reality interface, digital ownership, and avatars. However, these components are optional for the metaverse. At its core, the metaverse is a visually immersive virtual environment that provides a degree of realism, allowing people to engage in various activities such as work, play, shopping, and socializing, similar to real life.
A metaverse is a shared virtual space that results from the convergence of digital and physical realities, similar to how the internet evolved from independent websites to a collaborative platform. The metaverse is not controlled by a single entity and is powered by digital currencies and NFTs. Metaverses require various technologies and trends to work together, such as VR, AR, flexible work arrangements, HMDs, AR clouds, IoT, 5G, AI, and spatial computing.
The term “metaverse” was first coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science-fiction novel, Snowcrash. The novel portrayed a world where people utilized virtual avatars to interact in a digital realm. Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One further popularized the idea of the metaverse, depicting everyday people logging into a virtual world via VR headsets to live out their dreams.
The rise of platforms and apps like Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft, and Snapchat contributed to the growing interest in the metaverse, particularly among tech and gaming communities. However, Facebook’s 2021 rebrand to Meta brought the metaverse concept to the forefront of public consciousness.
The metaverse is a vast and bustling network where people can socialize with friends, create art, play games, and shop remotely. The concept is one that expands the possibilities of the internet, as it will keep the internet’s underlying structure and protocol. The metaverse’s appearance is strikingly similar to the early stages of the internet’s development.
While platforms like Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft aren’t metaverses, they exist within the metaverse as unique destinations. In other words, they’re like personal websites on the internet. To put this explanation in another way, Fortnite and Facebook are not the same, just as planets are not the same as galaxies. They’re both parts of a much larger system.
The internet’s future may lie in blockchain, Web3, and the metaverse, as companies and projects related to these fields continue to emerge. While these concepts share similarities, they are not at odds with each other and may support and complement one another. “Web3” refers to a decentralized internet built on blockchain technology.
The core premise of Web3 is that power over the internet will shift away from a handful of tech giants and toward individual users and developers. Although Web3 and the metaverse are not identical, they are not contradictory either. Both may coexist in the future. Two examples of projects that lie at the intersection of blockchain, Web3, and the metaverse are The Sandbox and Decentraland.
These projects offer immersive virtual worlds and tools, allowing users to create monetizable projects. Unlike many metaverse companies, both The Sandbox and Decentraland are owned by their users and built on the Ethereum blockchain.
The metaverse comprises ten layers, grouped into four categories: content and experiences, platforms, infrastructure and hardware, and enablers. Some examples of each layer are:
Content and experiences:
Infrastructure and hardware:
Metaverse technology is a hybrid of various technologies, including virtual reality, Web 3, and blockchain, as well as conventional programming technologies that power the internet. Blockchain is a technology that facilitates the storage of data in blocks linked together in a chain based on relevance, guaranteeing the security and accuracy of the data shared, hence its critical role in cryptocurrency.
Web 3, built on blockchain, is the latest version of the internet that provides the framework for extended reality. Virtual reality builds on these technologies to create a simulated real-world experience. Most VR software relies on a virtual world generator constructed using a software development kit from a specific VR headset vendor, which provides basic programs, drivers, data, and graphic-rendering libraries.
The metaverse is expected to significantly contribute to the digital economy, which is a crucial driver of the global economy. Although the metaverse is primarily associated with entertainment, fashion, gaming, and socializing, experts believe its most significant potential is education. Traditional learning methods, such as Zoom classes, may be enhanced by 3D-based education, which allows for more immersive and interactive experiences.
While there may be opportunities for financial gain in purchasing virtual assets, the actual value of the metaverse lies in its ability to enrich people’s lives through meaningful and valuable applications.
Trading cryptocurrencies can be a way to make money, similar to investing in stocks. However, it involves using real money as an initial investment and comes with a high level of risk that you must be willing to take on.
Just as people buy property in the real world, investors now purchase virtual spaces in the digital world. Virtual real estate involves using cryptocurrency to buy directly from a virtual developer. The Sandbox and Decentraland are currently the two most popular platforms for buying virtual real estate, and each has its own currency (SAND and MANA, respectively).
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are digital assets that represent real-world items like music, art, in-game items, and videos stored on a blockchain. NFTs can be profitable if you have an eye for predicting what will be popular. However, it’s important to note that NFTs have been criticized for their potential negative environmental impact.
As technology advances, new financial opportunities are emerging. These opportunities include hosting events in the metaverse, selling virtual items such as digital clothes or hairstyles for avatars, offering services specifically for the metaverse, and trading metaverse tokens.
Virtual reality safety concerns are more severe than those in traditional online environments, as the level of realism makes it easier for scammers to deceive people. Moreover, the metaverse introduces new safety issues unique to this technology.
Blockchain technology is considered a highly secure and private way of sharing information, but like any technology, it has its weaknesses. Furthermore, there needs to be more clarity surrounding laws related to digital privacy rights, and there are many unanswered questions about the legality of data privacy in the metaverse.
To enter the metaverse, people need more than just their physical bodies, which demand costly hardware, software, and expertise. This could be a significant barrier for individuals who need help to afford the expenses. Additionally, some places would require expensive infrastructure upgrades to improve data processing and storage, further amplifying the technological gap between countries or regions, which could cause concern.
According to Madsen, virtual reality can significantly impact a person’s physical and mental health. While physical injuries like tripping or falling are apparent risks, people are also experiencing headaches, vertigo, muscle soreness, and vision problems when using VR.
Moreover, people who spend a lot of time in digital worlds may need to pay more attention to physical exercise, fresh air, and socialization. The mental health risks of VR are even more subtle. As the technology provides an incredibly realistic experience, the emotional and mental impact can be more intense than simply watching something on a computer screen.
To understand what the metaverse is all about, let’s take a closer look at some of the platforms leading the charge:
Decentraland is a virtual social environment built on blockchain technology. It allows users to create, buy, sell, and explore virtual worlds. The blockchain serves as a permanent record of transactions across a decentralized network of computers, forming the foundation of the decentralized universe.
This platform provides incredible opportunities for both educational and entertainment purposes. Users can participate in meetings, trade in virtual marketplaces, and interact with other members like in real life.
The Sandbox is a 3D virtual world created on the Ethereum blockchain where people can come together to interact, build, and earn money. It’s accessible on various devices, including smartphones and Windows phones. The sandbox provides a platform for creating and exploring new virtual experiences, which can lead to monetary gains.
However, using the forum comes at a cost. To address this, The Sandbox created its own digital currency, the SAND coin, based on Ethereum. SAND tokens can be used to pay for gas expenses on the Ethereum network, making transactions more affordable for users.
Previously known as Facebook, it invested heavily in virtual reality, such as by acquiring Oculus in 2014. Meta aims to create a digital world where people can connect through VR headsets using their digital avatars for work, travel, or entertainment. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, believes that the metaverse could replace the current internet. He recently announced the company’s rebranding and described the metaverse as “the next platform and medium that will be even more immersive and embodied, where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.”
Microsoft is a software company already working on mixed reality applications with its Microsoft Mesh platform, which allows for combining the real world with virtual reality and augmented reality. Recently, the company announced its plans to bring mixed reality to Microsoft Teams in 2022.
They are also working on creating 3D virtual connected spaces for retail and workplaces. The U.S. Army is working with Microsoft on an augmented reality Hololens 2 headset to help soldiers train, rehearse, and fight. Additionally, Xbox Live is a platform connecting millions of video game players worldwide.
The metaverse and cryptocurrencies are closely related, and a crypto wallet will be necessary to fully participate in the digital world. The Metaverse supports digital wallets, making it easy for businesses to manage transactions within their virtual ecosystem.
While some may find the idea daunting, blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies offer more advantages than disadvantages. With cryptocurrency, online transactions can be carried out more conveniently for users and businesses. There is no need to connect your bank account to virtual worlds, and payments can be made with just a few clicks, with all transactions being transparent.
To access the metaverse, you’ll need specialized hardware such as phones, computers, headsets, and other devices, as well as software like games and programs. The specific requirements depend on what you want to do in the metaverse. For example, you’ll need a VR headset and controllers to play VR games. Since no single metaverse exists, different companies are developing their own platforms, headsets, and other technologies. Meta, NVIDIA, Epic Games, Microsoft, Apple, Decentraland, Roblox Corporation, Unity Software, Snapchat, The Sandbox, and Amazon are some of the major players in this space.
Currently, the most popular platforms for accessing the metaverse include Meta, Oculus (owned by Meta), Sony, HTC, Pico, Valve, and Samsung. Augmented reality experiences come to you through your phone screen and camera, such as Snapchat filters or the popular Pokémon Go AR game. In the future, accessing the metaverse will be as simple as wearing a pair of eyeglasses.
The metaverse has the potential to revolutionize the technology industry and various sectors outside it. This is because it is envisioned to transform everything from how people shop, navigate, and tour places to how they interact with businesses and advertisements. While some companies will develop the hardware, software, and infrastructure to power the metaverse, others must adapt to this new environment to stay relevant. It still needs to be determined if the metaverse will become a reality or if it will fizzle out. However, if it does materialize, it will likely shake up multiple industries and compel them to invest in technology or compete with others to provide metaverse experiences to their consumers.