Are You Ready For The Metaverse?
Imagine you are walking down the street, returning home after a long day, and all of a sudden remember a product you need. All of a sudden, a vending machine appears out of thin air. You punch a few buttons, and the product arrives at your home before you arrive.
Welcome to the Metaverse! It’s the next version of the internet. It’s more evolved, more immersive, and more personalized. You can call it the mirror world, the mirror world, the magic world, or the AR Cloud. Whatever you call it, one thing’s certain – metaverse is no longer just fodder for science fiction movies. It’s coming soon. Like, really soon!
What Will The Metaverse Look Like?
While experts don’t agree on the specifics of the metaverse, there are some widely acknowledged characteristics that lend it a unique character. (No! Unfortunately, neon-lit cyberspace isn’t one of them).
Matthew Ball, the VC, one of the most prolific media analysts and an authoritative voice on the big media business, identifies seven descriptors. It’s always on, it is experienced in real-time, can host audience irrespective of their size, has a fully functional economy, not limited to a particular platform, spans digital as well as physical realms (like augmented reality), allows transaction of digital assets, and its contents will be crafted by single users and large corporate entities alike.
Roblox, a gaming platform of more than 120M users with ambitious metaverse plans of its own, comes up with a similar list of traits. It’s vast & diverse. It’s immersive & persistent, enables a core user identity, has a significant social networking component, allows multi-device seamless access, has an economy of its own, and is managed by a set of rules.
When thinking about metaverse, think about a vast virtual space. It is a space that is constantly bustling with user activity, a place where people do whatever they want and go wherever they like. They can hang out with like-minded people, create stories, art, play video games, consume art, shop whatever they desire. They can also travel to other virtual realms while carrying the same virtual identity.
Wait a minute! Doesn’t that sound a lot like the internet as of today?
It sure does. According to Pim de Witte, the CEO and co-founder of Medal, a game clip sharing service, “The way the metaverse looks is very similar to how the internet took its start’. He likens metaverse, not to a single destination that everyone aims for but a diverse network of destinations, browsers, devices, and indexes.
For instance, platforms like Roblox, Fortnite, COD are not metaverses in themselves but mere destinations within the same metaverse. There will be thousands of such destinations, unlike individual websites as we see on the internet today. Users will rely on indexes such as Twitch and Discord to make these destinations feel less overwhelming. These indexes will be responsible for connecting people to different destinations and to like-minded folks.
And on top of the pyramid will be browsers. Services like Google Stadia and Microsoft’s xCloud will pull all the indexes together for a much more streamlined user experience. Labeling each of these things a metaverse is thinking too small. Experts like Ball and de Watter suggest multiple metaverses can emerge within a single metaverse. If Roblox, COD, and Minecraft contain destinations, indexes, and browsers within them, they can become a single metaverse each.
Once all of this pans out, expect not thousands but millions of destinations, hundreds of destinations, and tens of browsers. The metaverse will consist of a wide set of rules, protocols, tubes, technology, and languages along with multi-device support and communication channels on top – just like the internet.
How Will We All Fit Inside It?
If any of you have ever attended a concert on a video gaming platform, the multiverse will be a lot similar. For example, last year, we participated in the Travis Scott Fortnite concert along with more than 12 million other people. Not all of us were at the same venue (because we weren’t even on the same server). Instead, Fortnite did something different. It portioned about 50 users and assigned them a unique batch for the venue. The concert was then broadcast simultaneously to each bath. This way, all of the participants were together and separate at the same time.
Sure, it’s a very clever technique. It’s called sharding (for those of you who want to know the name). But, can 12 million people be in the same room sharing the same experience? This is because when we talk about metaverse (i.e., beyond the universe), anything short of “beyond” is somewhat of a letdown. Don’t you think? De Watte, who used to run the biggest RuneScape server on the globe, thinks creating synchronicity across millions of users in a single environment is tough. While we can expect to achieve that level of synchronicity in the future, we have to get used to the limited resources we have at the disposal. At the same time, be incredibly thankful for the incremental technological improvements that are coming our way every year.
Improvements are coming. There is no doubt about it. Developers of Dual Universe, for example, have successfully squeezed approximately 30 thousand users concurrently on a single shard. How did they achieve that? By distributing the server load across dynamic cubic cells. In simple words, they used a different technique from sharding. One that allows thousands of users to participate in a live event synchronously. With improvements in tech, we can expect the numbers will only increase in the future.
How Will The Metaverse Economy Function?
The metaverse economy will be diverse. It will not just comprise big tech companies selling their digital products to users (that’s pretty much a given). But, it will primarily consist of peers selling their products to their peers.
For instance, take the example of Roblox. Roblox gives its users the ability to create their own video games with Roblox’s developer tools. Users can then monetize and sell to other users. What’s more, they can even go for a cashout. In that scenario, Roblox demands a percentage of the cashout amount.
However, for the most part, it remains a free economy, driven by user’s demand and supply. Digital economies such as Roblox aren’t just about making money out of the ecosystem but also using the same money to purchase different products across the same platform. Most Roblox users don’t just show up, sell a product, and take money home. Instead, they put it back into the economy. They spend it on video games, avatar customizations, upgrades, and other products that different users create. Therefore money moves inside the system rather than going out. It’s a totally self-sufficient, self-driving economy.
Roblox has a massive internal economy. It’s so large that according to some reports, the creators of Roblox earned approximately $110m in 2019. About 60 percent of its users customize their profile avatars each month, spending millions of Robux (the platform’s digital currency) in the process.
Think that’s big? Here’s another example to open your eyes to how big the Metaverse economy can get. Back in 2016, Vice broke the news that users of the virtual reality game Second Life redeemed $60m from the ecosystem. Now, if you calculate the total GDP of its in the world economy, the figures turn up to $500 million. Impressive, right?
Who Will Build It? Who Will Own It?
Judging by the environments Minecraft, Second Life, and Roblox have created, it goes without saying, users will generate most of the experiences within the metaverse. These business operators and creators will have very little to no knowledge of how to develop video games.
No doubt, machine learning is going to play a huge role in the development of such ecosystems. AI-backed tools will reduce the barriers to creation, making it convenient for regular folks to contribute and distribute in the metaverse. Creating a user experience for the metaverse will become identical to creating a video for Youtube. Simple, less time-consuming, and fun.
One interesting characteristic of the metaverse is its ability to allow interoperability. You can travel across different platforms conveniently carrying your stuff (such as customized avatars, credit history, etc.) with you.
However, you cannot wear your Minecraft skin on the Roblox boards. Neither can you access the portal from Google Chat inside Minecraft, Slack inside Second Life, or Alexa inside Fortnite. This is the biggest barrier to realize the full potential of the metaverse. Tech giants like Amazon, Google, Apple, or Roblox operate in a closely guarded ecosystem. They don’t allow interoperability. These companies are hesitant to let go of their proprietary material for fear of losing control.
Some tech giants are already challenging the walled garden mentality and actively demonstrating the advantages of interoperability.
Among them, OpenXR by Khronos Group is one example. OpenXR is an open space, royalty-free standard for VR and AR developers to utilize and create unique cross-platform/device experiences. It is already gaining widespread support and at the forefront of the war for interoperable ecosystems.
Fortnite is making progress on a similar note. Anyone can access the platform on any device – whether iPad, android phone, iPhone, or a Playstation. A few years ago, you couldn’t do that. For many years, gaming console manufacturers like Sony resisted the idea on the pretext that enabling such experiences will undermine their networks and eliminate the need for purchasing their proprietary hardware.
Over time, we expect tech giants to become more and more comfortable with users hopping through different platforms – like tourists visiting several countries on a universal passport without any need of a VISA. Still, the chances of a single entity taking full control of the main hub (the main hub is a point of metaverse that connects different parts) remain unlikely.
That said, whoever masters the main metaverse and gets to write the codes for APIs will allow others to portal in or out. And those will be the real winners. Everyone else will just be mere destinations.
Ultimately, much of the multiverse remains unclear to have any strong convictions about who will build it, who will lead it, who will own it and how they will get us there. Most likely, it will emerge out of all the different tech platforms and bodies working together and embracing interoperability.
Whoever builds it, though, we hope they keep the neon!