Even if you’ve never dipped a virtual toe in the metaverse, in many ways you’re already swimming in it.
Just look at the headlines. The term itself was narrowly felled by “Goblin Mode” for Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, and yes, it did lose, but only in a technical sense. For conceptual technology, cultural cachet is as important as silicon.
Snoop Dogg is in the Metaverse. Gucci is in the Metaverse. Your friends (at least if you belong to a generation that lived its life only on the internet) are in the metaverse. That makes it as ubiquitous as an idea can be in the world of technology. That makes it as ubiquitous as an idea can be, Period.
Its popularity is no accident. The explosion of the metaverse has almost everything to do with a small society you may have heard of. I’ll give you a tip: It starts with “M” and ends with “eta”. With a simple name change – and some $10.2 billion in R&D – Mark Zuckerberg ushered in an explosion of speculation about the sluggish potential of a new, more inclusive internet. “We fundamentally view the metaverse as a successor to mobile internet in the sense that mobile internet hasn’t fully replaced everything that came before it,” Zuckerberg said Vice versa last year.
Since then, Zuckerberg and his social media empire have rode full force in the prevailing winds of virtual reality, smugly nesting at the epicenter of the eye of the Metaverse storm. And while Meta has focused on the conversation and providing the spark to propel the metaverse forward, it’s not the only brand carrying the resulting torch.
For companies like Roblox – a social media platform turned from games with around 60 million active users every day – the metaverse is no question. According to Craig Donato, Roblox‘s chief business officer, the Metaverse is objective. It’s right here, right now.
“Ignore it at your own risk.”
“Ignore it at your peril, I suppose, if you’re a brand,” says Donato Vice versa. “It’s such a big shift in how people interact and how they expect to interact with brands and artists in the future.”
And by “people” Donato means young People. Most Roblox users are between the ages of 16 and 24, and many of them have never known a world without a near-ubiquitous internet. These are what Donato refers to as the “natives” of the brave new world of the metaverse.
“There are two types of populations with the Metaverse. There are what I call the natives of the metaverse and the colonists of the metaverse,” says Donato. “The natives of the metaverse are typically under the age of 21 and have grown up playing interactive online games their entire lives…they are just as comfortable or more comfortable in digital spaces than they are in the real world.” According to Donato, the Metaverse colonists, of course, on the other side of this digital divide. “The colonists think there is only a digital world and the physical world – and the digital world is less than the physical world.”
Both parties, as different as they are philosophically, are mainly focused on one common activity: games. As Donato notes, gaming has been the most successful first use case to demonstrate what the metaverse offers, and Robloxwhile it’s a major player in the gaming metaverse, it’s far from alone in its appeal to younger generations.
Fourteen days, The hugely popular battle royale shooter from Epic Games has not only magnetized gamers with the prospect of battle royale shootouts, but also with hanging out. Fortnite players gather at the Metaverse to watch concerts and trailers for upcoming shows or movies. They shop and meet in brand-curated spaces. Dragon Ball Z, Samsung, Neymar Jr., everyone wants a piece of this Fortnite’s metaverse distributed.
Just as Facebook is the internet for some people, Fourteen daysand the diverse experiences it offers players is an equally vibrant center for entertainment, social networking and commerce – all the things that make an internet tick.
“The Metaverse is truly cross-platform.”
One thing that Fourteen days does Not However, offering in his metaverse is virtual reality. And that’s not an accident – it’s intentional. According to Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, who spoke to him recently The edge, VR hardware just isn’t ready to handle the kinetic energy of a game like this Fourteen days. Or more precisely, we are not ready to deal with it. “What we do Fourteen days Every day, players are quickly taken through an environment, and it’s the kind of experience that involves intense movement and doesn’t work that well in VR,” he said.
This is where the metaverse meets the sobering, cold hardware reality. Anyone who’s played a game in VR knows the experience can be nauseating. When our brain thinks we’re moving but our body remains static, motion sickness sets in.
And then there are other unavoidable factors like weight, size, processing power, hand tracking, audio, and more practical considerations like price.
But even with UX, hardware, and software limitations, devotees of the metaverse and its potential are poised to move forward with or without VR. For example, Sandbox – the platform of choice of Snoop Dogg and Tony Hawk – is a Web3-focused segment of the metaverse where users can purchase digital land and avatars, play games, and meet up with friends in recognizable locations like the Playboy Mansion.
And Sebastien Borget, co-founder and COO of Sandbox, tells Vice versa that the metaverse doesn’t have to wait for VR to ramp up.
“We think Meta’s flaw is that they adjusted the way they speak and present the metaverse. They’ve tied it too much to the hardware, so they want people to enter the metaverse with a VR headset,” says Borget.
“The Metaverse is truly cross-platform. It can be mobile; it can be PC, Mac; it can be a VR, AR, XR. I find it interesting to think about how to provide experiences with or without continuity.”
Likewise, Donato says the metaverse’s promise of immersion isn’t intrinsically tied to VR hardware.
“What often happens with Metaverse is that humans merge Metaverse and VR,” says Donato. “VR is a technology that will make it [the metaverse] More immersive, but we’ve already reached the tipping point for immersion in that when kids play it, even on their phones, they’re inside when they look at it.”
Still, the emphasis remains on VR. Meta, the biggest proponent of a VR-centric metaverse — and arguably VR’s greatest evangelist in history — hasn’t backed down from its quest to dominate both the metaverse and the hardware we’re meant to access it on.
Although Meta’s President of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, has acknowledged that the Metaverse will be multimodal – including mixed reality and AR, as well as VR – in practice, VR is still at the heart of his plans. For example, Horizon Worlds, its largest and most Metaverse-like platform for socializing and gaming, is positioned solely as a VR experience. And immersive work experiences? Well, that’s going to be the job of Meta’s $1,500 Quest Pro headset.
Where Zuckerberg’s obsession with VR and building a more immersive metaverse will lead is unclear, but so far the results have seemingly placed stress on the meta’s bottom line. In November, Meta announced a staggering layoff of 11,000 employees. It’s since blamed a less-than-ideal economy for its mass firings, but it’s hard to fully filter its hefty investment (again, more than $10 billion this year) in VR from the conversation.
In a recent statement from Andrew Bosworth, CTO and head of Meta’s Reality Labs, Meta acknowledged the pressure points their pivot has created for VR and the Metaverse. But instead of backing down, the company redoubled its efforts.
“We made tough decisions this year to stop some work so we can continue to focus on the things we think are most important,” he wrote in a blog post published in late December. “But I can say with confidence that after one of the most difficult years in the company’s history, Meta remains as committed to our vision for the future as we were the day we announced it.”
Lazy advances in hardware aren’t the only obstacle either. A significant portion of the metaverse – including platforms like Sandbox – is made up of Web3 technologies, often with a focus on NFTs and cryptocurrency, both of which have tremendous value this year. To put into perspective what a terrible swoop of a year it has been, a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT (by far the most coveted prize in the category) purchased by Justin Bieber for $1.3 million in January was probably worth about $70,000, according to data released in November insider Report.
Despite differing definitions and expectations of what the metaverse can and can do should be, all proponents agree on one thing: the metaverse has a lot to do. Borget says he believes it will be around 10 years before we see the Metaverse in a mature form – an estimate that reflects the predictions of even the most optimistic proponents like Meta. A spokesman for Meta tells Vice versa it will be “years” before his vision is fully formed.
Inevitably, these predictions will cause eye-rolls in viewers versed in the history of technical forecasting – breakthroughs are always “just 10 years away”. But Donato also has a message for these critics.
“I would say [critics] should speak to 14-16 year olds. [The metaverse] has already happened and they don’t know it,” he says. “And I think they should just listen. And they should realize that the train has left the station.”