Metaverse : A new era . Why is it changing the view of our future ?
Seriously, What Does “Metaverse” Mean?
To help you get a sense of how vague and complex a term “the metaverse” can be, here’s an exercise: Mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace.” Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change. That’s because the term doesn’t really refer to any one specific type of technology, but rather a broad (and often speculative) shift in how we interact with technology. And it’s entirely possible that the term itself will eventually become just as antiquated, even as the specific technology it once described becomes commonplace.
Broadly speaking, the technologies companies refer to when they talk about “the metaverse” can include virtual reality — characterized by persistent virtual worlds that continue to exist even when you’re not playing — as well as augmented reality that combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds. However, it doesn’t require that those spaces be exclusively accessed via VR or AR. Virtual worlds — such as aspects of Fortnite that can be accessed through PCs, game consoles, and even phones — have started referring to themselves as “the metaverse.”
Many companies that have hopped on board the metaverse bandwagon also envision some sort of new digital economy, where users can create, buy, and sell goods. In the more idealistic visions of the metaverse, it’s interoperable, allowing you to take virtual items like clothes or cars from one platform to another, though this is harder than it sounds. While some advocates claim new technologies like NFTs can enable portable digital assets, this simply isn’t true, and bringing items from one video game or virtual world to another is an enormously complex task that no one company can solve.
It’s difficult to parse what all this means because when you hear descriptions like those above, an understandable response is, “Wait, doesn’t that exist already?” World of Warcraft, for example, is a persistent virtual world where players can buy and sell goods. Fortnite has virtual experiences like concerts and an exhibit where Rick Sanchez can learn about MLK Jr. You can strap on an Oculus headset and be in your own personal virtual home. Is that really what “the metaverse” means? Just some new kinds of video games?
Well, yes and no. Saying that Fortnite is “the metaverse” would be a bit like saying Google is “the internet.” Even if you spend large chunks of time in Fortnite, socializing, buying things, learning, and playing games, that doesn’t necessarily mean it encompasses the entire scope of what people and companies mean when they say “the metaverse.” Just as Google, which builds parts of the internet — from physical data centers to security layers — isn’t the entire internet.
Tech giants like Microsoft and Meta are working on building tech related to interacting with virtual worlds, but they’re not the only ones. Many other large companies, including Nvidia, Unity, Roblox, and even Snap — as well as a variety of smaller companies and startups — are building the infrastructure to create better virtual worlds that more closely mimic our physical life.
For example, Epic has acquired a number of companies that help create or distribute digital assets, in part to bolster its powerful Unreal Engine 5 platform. And while Unreal may be a video game platform, it’s also being used in the film industry and could make it easier for anyone to create virtual experiences. There are tangible and exciting developments in the realm of building digital worlds.
Despite this, the idea of a Ready Player One-like single unified place called “the metaverse” is still largely impossible. That is in part because such a world requires companies to cooperate in a way that simply isn’t profitable or desirable — Fortnite doesn’t have much motivation to give players a portal to jump straight over to World of Warcraft, even if it were easy to do so, for example — and partially because the raw computing power needed for such a concept could be much further away than we think.
This inconvenient fact has given rise to slightly different terminology. Now many companies or advocates instead refer to any single game or platform as “a metaverse.” By this definition, anything from a VR concert app to a video game would count as a “metaverse.” Some take it further, calling the collection of various metaverses a “multiverse of metaverses.” Or maybe we’re living in a “hybrid-verse.”
Or these words can mean anything at all. Coca-Cola launched a “flavor born in the metaverse” alongside a Fortnite tie-in mini-game. There are no rules.
It’s at this point that most discussions of what the metaverse entails start to stall. We have a vague sense of what things currently exist that we could kind of call the metaverse if we massage the definition of words the right way. And we know which companies are investing in the idea, but after months, there’s nothing approaching agreement on what it is. Meta thinks it will include fake houses you can invite all your friends to hang out in. Microsoft seems to think it could involve virtual meeting rooms to train new hires or chat with your remote coworkers.
The pitches for these visions of the future range from optimistic to outright fan fiction. At one point during Meta’s original presentation on the metaverse, the company showed a scenario in which a young woman is sitting on her couch scrolling through Instagram when she sees a video a friend posted of a concert that’s happening halfway across the world.
The video then cuts to the concert, where the woman appears in an Avengers-style hologram. She’s able to make eye contact with her friend who is physically there, they’re both able to hear the concert, and they can see floating text hovering above the stage. This seems cool, but it’s not really advertising a real product, or even a possible future one. In fact, it brings us to the biggest problem with “the metaverse.”
Why Does the Metaverse Involve Holograms?
When the internet first arrived, it started with a series of technological innovations, like the ability to let computers talk to each other over great distances or the ability to hyperlink from one web page to another. These technical features were the building blocks that were then used to make the abstract structures we know the internet for: websites, apps, social networks, and everything else that relies on those core elements. And that’s to say nothing of the convergence of the interface innovations that aren’t strictly part of the internet but are still necessary to make it work, such as displays, keyboards, mice, and touchscreens.
With the metaverse, there are some new building blocks in place, like the ability to host hundreds of people in a single instance of a server (idealistic metaverse predictions suppose this will grow to thousands or even millions of people at once, but this might be overly optimistic), or motion-tracking tools that can distinguish where a person is looking or where their hands are. These new technologies can be very exciting and feel futuristic.
However, there are limitations that may be impossible to overcome. When tech companies like Microsoft or Meta show fictionalized videos of their visions of the future, they frequently tend to gloss over just how people will interact with the metaverse. VR headsets are still very clunky, and most people experience motion sickness or physical pain if they wear them for too long. Augmented reality glasses face a similar problem, on top of the not-insignificant issue of figuring out how people can wear them around in public without looking like huge dorks. And then there are the accessibility challenges of VR that many companies are shrugging off for now.
So, how do tech companies show off the idea of their technology without showing the reality of bulky headsets and dorky glasses? So far, their primary solution seems to be to simply fabricate technology from whole cloth. The holographic woman from Meta’s presentation? I hate to shatter the illusion, but it’s simply not possible with even very advanced versions of existing technology.
Unlike motion-tracked digital avatars, which are kind of janky right now but could be better someday, there’s no janky version of making a three-dimensional picture appear in midair without tightly controlled circumstances. No matter what Iron Man tells you. Perhaps these are meant to be interpreted as images projected via glasses — both women in the demo video are wearing similar glasses, after all — but even that assumes a lot about the physical capabilities of compact glasses, which Snap can tell you isn’t a simple problem to solve.
This kind of glossing over reality occurs frequently in video demos of how the metaverse could work. Another of Meta’s demos showed characters floating in space — is this person strapped to an immersive aerial rig or are they just sitting at a desk? A person represented by a hologram — do they have a headset on, and if so how is their face being scanned? And at points, a person grabs virtual items but then holds those objects in what seems to be their physical hands.
This demo raises so many more questions than it answers.
To a limited extent, this is fine. Microsoft, Meta, and every other company that shows wild demos like this are trying to give an artistic impression of what the future could be, not necessarily account for every technical question. It’s a time-honored tradition going back to AT&T’s demo of a voice-controlled foldable phone that could magically erase people from images and generate 3D models, all of which might’ve seemed similarly impossible at the time.
However, the last several months of metaverse pitches — from tech giants and startups alike — have relied heavily on lofty visions that break from reality. Chipotle’s “metaverse” was an ad disguised as a Roblox video game. Stories about scarce “real estate” in “the metaverse” refer to little more than a buggy video game with virtual land tokens (which also glosses over the very real security and privacy issues with most popular NFTs right now).
The confusion and disappointment surrounding most “metaverse” projects are so pervasive that when a video from 2017 of a Walmart VR shopping demo started trending again in January 2022, people immediately thought it was yet another metaverse demo. It also helped demonstrate how much of the current metaverse discussion is built on hype alone. Walmart’s VR shopping demo obviously never went anywhere (and for good reason). So why should anyone believe that it’s the future when Chipotle does it?
This kind of wishful-thinking-as-tech-demo leaves us in a place where it’s hard to pinpoint which aspects of the various visions of the metaverse (if any) will actually be real one day. If VR and AR headsets become comfortable and cheap enough for people to wear on a daily basis — a substantial “if” — then perhaps a virtual poker game with your friends as robots and holograms and floating in space could be somewhat close to reality. If not, well you could always play Tabletop Simulator on a Discord video call.
The flashiness of VR and AR also obscure the more mundane ways that our existing, interconnected digital world could be improved right now. It would be trivial for tech companies to invent, say, an open digital avatar standard, a type of file that includes characteristics you might enter into a character creator — like eye color, hairstyle, or clothing options — and let you take that data everywhere, to be interpreted by a game engine however it chooses. There’s no need to build a more comfortable VR headset for that.
But that’s not as fun to imagine.
What’s the Metaverse Like Right Now?
The paradox of defining the metaverse is that in order for it to be the future, you have to define away the present. We already have MMOs that are essentially entire virtual worlds, digital concerts, video calls with people from all over the world, online avatars, and commerce platforms. So in order to sell these things as a new vision of the world, there has to be some element of it that’s new.
Spend enough time having discussions about the metaverse and someone will inevitably (and exhaustingly) reference fictional stories like Snow Crash — the 1992 novel that coined the term “metaverse” — or Ready Player One, which depicts a VR world where everyone works, plays, and shops. Combined with the general pop culture idea of holograms and heads-up displays (basically anything Iron Man has used in his last 10 movies) these stories serve as an imaginative reference point for what the metaverse — a metaverse that tech companies might actually sell as something new — could look like.
Mentally replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace.” Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change.
That kind of hype is arguably more vital to the idea of the metaverse than any specific technology. It’s no wonder, then, that people promoting things like NFTs — cryptographic tokens that can serve as certificates of ownership of a digital item, sort of — are also latching onto the idea of the metaverse. Sure, NFTs are bad for the environment and the public blockchains most are built on come with massive privacy and security problems, but if a tech company can argue that they’ll be the digital key to your virtual mansion in Roblox, then boom. You’ve just transformed your hobby of buying memes into a crucial piece of infrastructure for the future of the internet (and possibly raised the value of all that cryptocurrency you’re holding.)
It’s important to keep all this context in mind because while it’s tempting to compare the proto-metaverse ideas we have today to the early internet and assume everything will get better and progress in a linear fashion, that’s not a given. There’s no guarantee people will even want to hang out sans legs in a virtual office or play poker with Dreamworks Mark Zuckerberg, much less that VR and AR tech will ever become seamless enough to be as common as smartphones and computers are today.
In the months since Facebook’s rebrand, the concept of “the metaverse” has served as a powerful vehicle for repackaging old tech, overselling the benefits of new tech, and capturing the imagination of speculative investors. But money pouring into a space doesn’t necessarily mean a massive paradigm shift is right around the corner, as everything from 3D TVs to Amazon’s delivery drones and Google Glass can attest. The history of tech is littered with the skeletons of failed investments.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing cool on the horizon. VR headsets like the Quest 2 are cheaper than ever and finally weaning off of expensive desktop or console rigs. Video games and other virtual worlds are getting easier to build and design. And personally, I think the advances in photogrammetry — the process of creating digital 3D objects out of photos or video — is an incredibly cool tool for digital artists.
But to a certain extent, the tech industry writ large depends on futurism. Selling a phone is fine, but selling the future is more profitable. In reality, it may be the case that any real “metaverse” would be little more than some cool VR games and digital avatars in Zoom calls, but mostly just something we still think of as the internet.
The metaverse, explained
These three elements — a VR interface, digital ownership, and avatars — still feature prominently in current conceptions of the metaverse. But none of them is actually essential to the idea. In the broadest terms, the metaverse is understood as a graphically rich virtual space, with some degree of verisimilitude, where people can work, play, shop, socialize — in short, do the things humans like to do together in real life (or, perhaps more to the point, on the internet). Metaverse proponents often focus on the concept of “presence” as a defining factor: feeling like you’re really there, and feeling like other people are really there with you, too.
This version of the metaverse arguably already exists in the form of video games. But there’s another definition of the metaverse that goes beyond the virtual worlds we know. This definition doesn’t actually describe the metaverse at all, but does explain why everyone thinks it’s so important. This definition isn’t about a vision for the future or a new technology. Rather, it looks to the past and to the now commonplace technologies of the internet and smartphones, and assumes that it will be necessary to invent the metaverse to replace them.
The influential venture capitalist Matthew Ball, who has written extensively about the metaverse, describes it as “a sort of successor state to the mobile internet.” (Mark Zuckerberg, who last year gave his company Facebook the name Meta and said the metaverse would be its focus, has used an almost identical phrase; clearly, Ball’s essays are hugely influential on Silicon Valley thinking.) Remember when smartphones revolutionized tech, the economy, and society itself? The metaverse is expected to be an equivalent watershed, and lots of businesses want to get ahead of that.
There are many things to challenge in Ball’s vision, but the biggest is his proposition that the metaverse will be a single network as open, interconnected, and interoperable as the internet is now. That’s a very big ask. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
IS THE METAVERSE NEW?
In brief: lol no. We’ve already established that the term has been around for 30 years, and not just in fictional form. It’s formed a part of corporate visions of the future for quite some time. During the first VR boom of the ’90s, U.K. grocery chain Sainsbury’s put together a VR shopping demo that’s eerily similar to a video that Walmart made in 2017.
Beyond marketing puff-pieces and proof-of-concept demos, metaverse-like virtual worlds have actually existed for almost as long as their fictional counterparts. Hype pieces about people getting married in the metaverse will elicit a sigh of recognition from anyone who has followed online gaming for the past few decades. One of the most famous virtual worlds, and perhaps the closest to the metaverse ideal, is Second Life, an “online multimedia platform” which launched in 2003.
Second Life mostly resembles an early-’00s massively multiplayer online role-playing game like World of Warcraft, only with all the game taken out: the combat, the quests, the stories, the rewards. It fulfills many of the roles imagined for the metaverse of the future, and has done so since its launch. Users are embodied in avatars and hang out with each other in virtual spaces. They enjoy virtual versions of real-world experiences, from business meetings to clubbing. Users can create their own content and services and trade with one another. There’s a virtual economy with its own currency, which can be exchanged with real-world currency. Second Life is almost a textbook metaverse, to the extent that such a thing exists.
Another notable but oft-forgotten example of an early metaverse was PlayStation Home. Sony’s ill-fated virtual social hub for PlayStation 3 launched in 2008 and closed in 2015, to the sorrow of its tiny community. It didn’t go anywhere and seemed, to a casual user, quite pointless, but it’s an interesting example of what a highly corporatized metaverse — as opposed to the anarchic, community-driven Second Life — might look like. It featured a lot of advertising and one-way purchasing opportunities, and not a great deal else to do; it suffered from sitting right next to much richer and more entertaining virtual worlds, the games themselves, in your PS3 interface. But the clean, blandly stylized, utopian futurism of its art style clearly prefigures Zuckerberg’s recent metaverse demo. This is what companies think our dreams look like.
The reality, of course, is probably closer to the messy, sometimes grubby Second Life. Give humans a chance to build a world without restrictions, and they’ll either come up with a branding opportunity or a fetish dungeon. That should serve as either a warning for the future architects of the metaverse, or an opportunity.
WHY IS EVERYONE SUDDENLY TALKING ABOUT THE METAVERSE?
There are a few factors that have catapulted it to the forefront of the tech industry’s thinking in the past few years. One is that a couple of technologies closely associated with visions of the metaverse have matured. Virtual reality, which was taking its first faltering steps in the ’90s as Stephenson wrote Snow Crash, is now, well, a reality. Commercially available headsets of decent quality exist, including standalone wireless devices like the Quest. Facebook’s purchase of Oculus in 2014 was an early indication of where Zuckerberg thought his business might be headed.
Another is the blockchain, the barely comprehensible and energy-hungry technology that has made cryptocurrencies and NFTs possible. NFTs, which have become an obsession for crypto enthusiasts, snake-oil salesmen, suggestible executives, and (bizarrely) some parts of the art world over the last year or so, could enable the ownership of virtual items and real estate within the metaverse.
It should be noted that it is possible to “own” and even trade virtual items in plenty of games and virtual spaces, Second Life included, without using the blockchain — but that ownership is pretty flimsy and usually subject to a license agreement. NFTs offer different (but similarly flimsy) methodologies of proving ownership. Regardless, the uniqueness and supposed portability of NFTs has metaverse proponents excited.
Just as significant a factor in the metaverse trend is the coronavirus pandemic, which has radically altered lifestyles across the planet. With people spending so long in Zoom meetings for work, and with soaring use of video games as people seek to enter more colorful and exciting environments without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes, it’s natural for tech companies to look for ways to capitalize on the situation by bridging these two needs.
Late in 2021, Facebook’s rebranding and its metaverse-focused mission statement sealed the deal. Since then, the term has cropped up with increasing ubiquity — in the business world, at least. The world of government and politics may take a while to catch up as it focuses on how to contain the power of Big Tech in the here and now, as well as how to mitigate the deleterious effects of social media on actual society — which continues to be a thing. Boring!
ISN’T THE METAVERSE JUST… VIDEO GAMES?
Maybe! You know who thinks so? Microsoft. On buying Activision Blizzard for almost 70 billion dollars, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella commented: “When we think about our vision for what a metaverse can be, we believe there won’t be a single, centralized metaverse and there shouldn’t be. We need to support many metaverse platforms … in gaming, we see the metaverse as a collection of communities and individual identities anchored in strong content franchises, accessible on every device.”
It’s possible Nadella was just throwing shareholders the buzzword of the day in the hope it would help get them behind such an enormous acquisition. Nevertheless, he was outlining a vision that was strikingly different from the all-encompassing VR internet put forward by Ball and Zuckerberg. In his version, metaverses are plural, and they’re all around us already. They are persistent communities formed around virtual places where people want to be — like World of Warcraft, or Call of Duty: Warzone.
There’s consistency in Microsoft’s thinking here. In 2014, around the same time Facebook acquired Oculus, Microsoft bought Mojang and its enormously popular game Minecraft. Minecraft, with its social, creative, and deeply customizable gameplay, is often cited as a metaverse-adjacent game, and it’s notable that Microsoft has not tried to strongarm it into exclusivity on its own platforms; it views Minecraft as a valuable platform in its own right.
MMOs like WoW share an obvious kinship with metaverses in form, if not function. But there are closer analogues to be found in two post-Minecraft games that are hugely popular with kids. In both Roblox and Fortnite, your avatar, your presence, your customization choices, and your social connections are almost more important than the game itself — or the games, plural, in Roblox’s case.
Roblox is an incredibly free-form environment almost on par with Second Life, where players author their own games and chase status and dreams of real-world success — and where brands create advergames as a way to reach the elusive tween demographic. Fortnite, meanwhile, has staged colossal in-game cultural events, like the 2020 Travis Scott concert that drew over 27 million participants. To many observers, including Ball, these events represent the closest we’ve come to a true metaverse experience.
SHOULD I RESIGN MYSELF TO LIVING IN THE METAVERSE?
Not just yet. Despite the maturity of the idea and the current obsession with it in boardrooms, the technology still needs a lot of work — especially if it really is to become “the next internet” envisioned by Ball and Zuckerberg. And despite the pandemic that has confined so many of us to our houses, a strong consumer desire for a metaverse experience that isn’t just a video game has yet to be proven.
The biggest obstacle to Ball and Zuckerberg’s metaverse becoming a reality is interoperability. You might want to call it standardization; it’s the idea that you will be able to take your avatar and digital possessions with you from one app, or game, or virtual world to the next. (Ball imagines bringing a unique Counter-Strike gun skin with you into Fortnite, for example.) For the metaverse to become the next stage of evolution of the internet, interoperability is vital, but the hurdles are so huge as to seem insurmountable. There are technical challenges: how to bring an asset from one graphics engine to another, and render it faithfully across a bewildering range of hardware configurations, for one. There are legal and commercial challenges, too: circumventing intellectual property rights and persuading countless businesses to agree not to wall off their gardens. It’s a lot, lot harder than agreeing on a standard for hypertext links, for example.
Beyond that, people have to be persuaded that this is something they want. The technology through which we access these worlds needs to be at least as comfortable and convenient to use as a smartphone, and as portable, or it will seem like a backward step from the mobile internet it’s supposed to be replacing. And while the science-fiction appeal of such a virtual world might seem obvious on the surface, you have to question how deep the desire to spend time there really goes. In fiction from Snow Crash to The Matrix and Ready Player One, metaverses are usually envisioned as an escape — willing or not — from dystopian realities that are too awful to bear. I dare hope that we’re not quite there yet.
What is the difference between the internet and the metaverse?
The internet is a network of billions of computers, millions of servers and other electronic devices. Once online, internet users can communicate with each other, view and interact with websites, and buy and sell goods and services.
The metaverse doesn’t compete with the internet — it builds on it. In the metaverse, users traverse a virtual world that mimics aspects of the physical world using such technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), AI, social media and digital currency. The internet is something that people “browse.” But, to a degree, people can “live” in the metaverse.
Even governments may extend their reach into the metaverse. For example, while most countries have a relatively static presence on the internet, Barbados plans to open a diplomatic embassy in the metaverse — specifically, the online world Decentraland.
The growth of the internet has spawned many services that are leading the way to the creation of the metaverse.
“In gaming you see Roblox, Minecraft and other immersive video games — and even Zoom — foreshadow what the metaverse is designed to offer,” said Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies. “You even have a kind of digital presence on social media.”
Now he says it’s a question of what form the metaverse ultimately takes. Will it be open like the internet? Or will it be more of a gated experience controlled by a few big companies?
“The big players all want to be early movers and have their own ecosystem win out,” Bajarin said.
Here are several companies with their own metaverse visions.
In an open letter, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company’s metaverse investment represented a fundamental change and was part of a new vision for the social media giant designed to “bring the metaverse to life.”
He also said that Facebook is a metaverse-first, not Facebook-first, company. That’s an important change because it means users eventually won’t need a Facebook account to use other services in the metaverse. Among other non-Facebook products, Facebook has already sold millions of its Oculus VR headgear units for navigating the metaverse.
In the Meta announcement, Zuckerberg said Facebook aims to accelerate the development of the fundamental technologies, including social platforms and creative tools, required to “bring the metaverse to life.” After the Meta news dropped in late 2021, Facebook launched Horizon Worlds, a VR space that users can navigate as an avatar, and tools for developers to create additional virtual worlds.
Epic Games, makers of the popular online shooter game series Fortnite — with some 350 million users — and the Unreal Engine software for game developers, planned to stake a claim in the metaverse following a $1 billion round of funding in 2021. This included $200 million from Sony Group Corp.
Epic Games’ vision of the metaverse differs from Facebook’s in that it wants to provide a communal space for users to interact with each other and brands — without a news feed riddled with ads.
“I strongly believe that this aligns with our purpose to fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology,” said Kenichiro Yoshida, chairman, president and CEO at Sony Group Corp. in a statement.
The metaverse is coming to Microsoft Teams — the software giant’s online meetings competitor to Zoom. Microsoft said it will release Mesh for Microsoft Teams in 2022. The new service lets Teams users in different physical locations join collaborative and shared holographic experiences during virtual meetings.
Microsoft said Mesh will let users establish a virtual presence on any device using a customized avatar of themselves. This builds on the earlier announcement of Mesh for Microsoft, a platform for developers that includes a suite of AI-powered tools for avatars, session management, spatial rendering, synchronization across multiple users and “holoportation.” Holoportation is a 3D capture technology that lets users reconstruct and transmit high-quality 3D models of people in real time.
Microsoft has already been working with professional services firm Accenture to create Mesh-enabled immersive spaces. Accenture hires more than 100,000 people every year and uses Mesh to help onboard new employees.
New hires meet on Teams to receive instructions on how to create a digital avatar and access One Accenture Park — a shared virtual space that’s part of the onboarding process. The futuristic amusement park-like space includes a central conference room, a virtual boardroom and digital monorails that new hires use to travel to different exhibits.
How do NFTs fit into the metaverse?
Nonfungible tokens (NFTs) figure to play a big role in the usefulness and popularity of the metaverse. NFTs are a secure type of digital asset based on the same blockchain technology used by cryptocurrency. Instead of currency, an NFT can represent a piece of art, a song or digital real estate. An NFT gives the owner a kind of digital deed or proof of ownership that can be bought or sold in the metaverse.
Metaverse Properties bills itself as the world’s first virtual real estate company. The company acts as an agent to facilitate the purchase or rental of property or land in several metaverse virtual worlds — including Decentraland, Sandbox, Somnium and Upland. Offerings include conference and commercial spaces, art galleries, family homes and “hangout spots.”
While the metaverse has created opportunities for new companies such as Metaverse Properties to offer digital goods, established brick and mortar companies are also jumping in. For example, Nike acquired RTFKT — a startup that makes one-of-a-kind virtual sneakers and digital artifacts using NFTs, blockchain authentication and augmented reality. On its website, RTFKT said it was “born on the metaverse, and this has defined its feel to this day.”
Prior to the acquisition, Nike filed seven trademark applications to help create and sell virtual sneakers and apparel. Nike and Roblox also partnered on “Nikeland,” a digital world where Nike fans can play games, connect and dress their avatars in virtual apparel.
“NFTs and blockchain lay the groundwork for digital ownership,” said Nick Donarski, CEO of ORE System, an online community of gamers, content creators and game developers. “Ownership of one’s real-world identity will carry over to the metaverse, and NFTs will be this vehicle.”
How close is the metaverse?
While the basic idea of being able to engage in a virtual online world has been around for many years, a true metaverse where lifelike interactions are possible is still years away. In his annual year in review blog post, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates noted that most people don’t have the VR goggles and motion capture gloves to accurately capture their expression, body language and quality of their voice.
But for business, Gates predicts that in the next two to three years most virtual meetings will move from two dimensional square boxes to the metaverse — a 3D space with participants appearing as digital avatars.
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