The Metaverse – What is it and What Does it Mean for Business and Society – EP16
In this episode, I will explore more of the world I exist in, the Metaverse. Looking into where it was, where it is, and more importantly, where it is going. From virtual real estate and real-life virtual spaces, to battle royal social spaces selling digital fashion, and copyright infringements for Roblox, I aim to look into every corner of this digital world, shining a light on exactly what is going on and taking a closer look at what all of these ones and zeros mean for our public and private lives.
Hopefully, by taking a closer look at this new frontier, we will get a better understanding of what it means for our professional and personal lives and how the metaverse will change our society.
So, let’s get right to it, it is time to start today’s digital download.
The metaverse, a shared virtual space, a place where our physical world blends with the virtual and creates a new digitalised space somewhere in-between.
In these spaces, the rules change.
People become what they dream about in their daily lives. They express their inner selves through digital avatars, and can even bring their digital idols out into this world
Initially, this space was reserved for gaming, but as digitalisation becomes ever the norm, the metaverse is becoming a place with limitless possibilities, with fashion shows, movie screenings, concerts, and even digital products.
Head of Experiences Product Marketing at Facebook Reality Labs, Meaghan Fitzgerald, describes the metaverse as “A shared, three-dimensional and digitally-driven space”, a space that “ultimately combines physical and online elements”.
Although, trying to define the metaverse is still a risky business, as Technologist, Peter Gasston, puts it, “To pin down the Metaverse is not a simple task. I’m always wary of when people say the Metaverse will be this because, in my opinion, nobody is really qualified to make that call yet.”
The term ‘metaverse’ first appeared back in 1992, when Neal Stephenson’s released his science fiction novel, ‘Snow Crash’.
In that book, humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that acts as a metaphor for the real world.
Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet, and his vision was not far off reality.
Since 1992, the pace of digitalisation has ever quickened, and with it, we have seen metaverse technologies constantly reaching new heights.
The metaverse is currently built on several spheres, with the internet being the largest.
It supports games and social spaces alike, with the 2003 title, SecondLife, being one of the original successful attempts to create a metaverse portal.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
VR, virtual reality, a technology that has always inspired imaginations, but could never quite deliver, is now a realistic, albeit expensive, alternative to classical computer-based metaverse portals, and shows this with the 2017 title, VRChat, which is a good example of a metaverse portal to a digital social space.
AR, augmented reality, which back in 2016 became the most popular metaverse portal thanks to the success of Pokemon Go, also has plenty of metaverse centred programs and devices in production.
And XR, extended reality, is a cross-platform technology that looks to combine VR, AR, and the internet.
While the metaverse and digital spaces, in general, are largely devoted to gaming, it is in fact software that largely centres around human-to-human interaction which tends to inspire the most.
Titles like Pokémon Go succeeded in creating such a buzz and exciting the whole world because of how much it got everyone together, out of the house, and trying to catch them all.
Even the most successful title today, Roblox, leans heavily on its platform’s social elements. Roblox is a platform predominantly aimed at a younger audience with a main emphasis on player-generated content. Players can create worlds, or maps, and create different games for them.
Some maps are peaceful social spaces where building and cooperation are encouraged, while others are competitive spheres and boast a vast array of creative games.
The company went public in March and developed a market cap of 45 billion dollars, earning its creators and developers five hundred million dollars.
And here is the crux of the matter, the potential market size is huge.
The Founder and CEO of Roblox, Dave Baszucki, even teamed up with author Ernest Cline, to help promote and flesh out the story to Ready Player One, a movie set in a dystopian future where humanity spends most of its waking life inside the metaverse.
An idea that may not be as science fiction as we initially thought.
Fortnite creators, EPIC Games, are looking to turn Fortnite into the world’s first full metaverse, a Roblox inspired space where Fortnite players can exist without the need to constantly compete.
Spaces like these would need to be filled with something, though. We would undoubtedly watch as these spaces are slowly transformed into areas, areas providing services and group entertainment, like movies, music, and talk shows like the one you’re watching now.
By the time this tech is mainstream, contactless payments and digital currency will be more accessible too, meaning even small artists could digitally perform in these areas for tips, like digital busking.
Advertising could also play a big role and take the form of sponsored in-game items, like all drinks would be cokes or food, McDonald’s.
While it is pretty hush-hush right now, EPIC games CEO, Tim Sweeney, tweeted at the beginning of 2020, ‘Fortnite is a game, but ask that question again in 12 months.’
While Fortnite is still just a game, as COVID and other technical limitations undoubtedly slowed operations, the sentiment shows where the company aims to take their product.
The main technological limitation holding the metaverse back right now is server size. Severs can usually accommodate up to one hundred people.
This was felt the most during a recent Fortnite metaverse event where they managed to attract ten million people to watch a DJ Marshmello virtual concert.
This audience of ten million needed to be split up into servers of one hundred, meaning all who attended would only see ninety-nine other players at the concert.
This limitation does look like it has a life span though.
An Improbable Worlds’ title, Scavengers, recently experimented with four thousand players on a single server.
While the experiment ended up in utter chaos, the fun kind of chaos where four thousand players simultaneously charge down the same narrow hill in a race to the finish line, it proved a successful test and a good sign of things to come.
The Metaverse is Social
Social interaction spaces seem to be the main focus for many of the digital giants.
Facebook’s project, Facebook Horizon, looks to give Facebook users a shared digital space where they can interact, play easy and fun games, and even create.
With twenty percent of the company’s entire staff working on these metaverse VR and AR technologies, Zuckerberg clearly has faith in the potential the metaverse holds.
Niantic is another metaverse project looking to connect the entire world using one program. Their ultimate aim is to create an AR platform where users from around the world can interact, joining forces to create projects which would otherwise be impossible.
Then, in a similar style, Magic Leap is a new device that leans on AR to digitalise training and collaboration. Magic Leap is already used by surgeons when planning complicated procedures, highlighting the diverse possibilities associated with the metaverse.
AR seems to be the main focus of many metaverse centred companies right now.
With Quantum Matrix Limited, a leading Hong Kong-based digital humanoid technology company, and Snapchat, being two other well established digital companies heavily investing in metaverse projects.
Snapchat lens, for example, is already pushing the boundaries for open-source AR development. Releasing their AR development platform, Snapchat Lens Studio, for free to anyone who wants to use their system to design AR experiences, Snapchat has already seen their platform give birth to numerous ground-breaking AR experiences.
With utility lenses that let you measure amounts and analyze real-world objects. Educational lenses that show you the muscles under your skin or the word of an object in a foreign language. Entertainment lenses that enrich concerts, museums, and tourist attractions. And shopping lenses that let users try on clothes, makeup, shoes, and jewellery without needing to even leave the house.
Snapchat’s Lens Studio represents the dawn of this technology.
This then nicely leads me to my next point, what does all this mean for business?
Products are going digital.
Digital goods, intangible products only available in digital form, like eBooks or digital apparel, have already grown in their short life span to be a 190 billion dollar market, and will only continue to grow. This new frontier represents a new era, a new generation of digitally literate consumers.
A type of consumer tapped into a different type of digital consumerism, one which rests far more around an experience rather than a product. Aesthetic digital items, essentially digital fashion, are far more about the experience of buying and displaying the item instead of the quality of the item itself.
IMVU, another metaverse portal founded in 2004, had a digital fashion show earlier this year, in May. This single event helped revive their dying audience to over seven million active users and lifted their app into the top five grossing apps in the App Store.
This fashion show had over two hundred thousand creators and saw fifty million items added to their catalogue.
It is not only dying platforms who are capitalising on this though.
Gucci was one of the earliest fashion brands to understand the potential in the metaverse, having already added fashion items in The Sims and Pokémon Go.
Recently, they went a step further and created a digital version of their one hundredth-year anniversary exhibition, in Florence, to Roblox.
This digital experience lets users move around the exhibition’s seven digital rooms, encouraging them with collectible items along the way, while at the same time enabling them to purchase digital Gucci items.
It is not just fashion brands who are getting into the Roblox sphere either, recently, Sony Music entered a partnership with Roblox.
At the same time as paying Sony Music a settlement for music rights infringements, Sony and Roblox entered this mutually beneficial partnership.
To date, they have already put on a digital Lil Nas X concert and a Zara Larsson launch party, where they sold digital merchandise for fans’ avatars to wear during the shows. The platforms have said they intend to unleash a wave of metaverse experiences.
Roblox reached a similar deal with BMG and Warner before, as they found themselves in a similar situation, starting with a settlement for right infringements and moving forward to find common ground.
One of the main issues with capitalising on digitalisation is the ease of pirating.
During the rise of Pirate Culture, a term used to describe people who frequent ThePirateBay, many companies have found themselves in a losing battle against the decentralised aspect of the internet, and how easy it is to copy intellectual property.
So, how can a company ensure their valuable digital item is one of a kind? This is where NFTs come in.
The Metaverse and NFTs
NFTs, Non-Fungible Tokens, are a recent digital method for creating a single unique digital item, which I have covered before in The Tech Journal, click here to watch that. The digital item is supported by a blockchain, ensuring its uniqueness and authenticity.
NFTs have been making waves in a number of industries, from international trade and fine art to fast food and online forums.
NFT Art is a recent trend highlighting the impact the metaverse is having on a real-world industry, previously thought incapable of digitalisation.
Thanks to blockchain technology, digital art can now be, one, unique, and two, traceable.
More, unlike the real world, an artist can receive a commission each time the art is sold, an aspect many artists would love but logistically impossible for real-world art.
Another industry one would not think of when it comes to the metaverse is fast food.
Tacobell, an American fast-food chain, recently made tens of thousands of dollars after releasing a series of NFTs.
While profits were modest for the well-established brand, the case study highlights that if a fast food restaurant can sell NFTs of floating tacos and make money, then other companies definitely can.
Reddit, a social platform with over fifty million downloads on GooglePlay and hundreds of millions of users, is a well digital platform looking to become part of the metaverse and get into the NFT market.
In collaboration with Metamask, a crypto wallet and gateway to blockchain NFTs, Reddit is launching what it claims will make Reddit History with the launch of Reddit’s first NFTs, avatar-based fashion items and profile badges, items designed more to be collectable than useful.
With the obvious intention of being round for at least the next century, the NFTs it releases now have the potential to one day be worth one hundred times what they are worth now.
Even cryptocurrency was getting involved, as Dogecoin hosted its own meme metaverse party, where attendees from all over the world could interact with each other through AR, and be showered with NFTs and Dogecoins for just turning up.
Imagine, as the metaverse becomes a reality and an established part of society, as much as sports or theatre is now, we are living through the dawn of a new age, an age where the giants we have watched grow around us, Facebook, Google, Reddit, even Roblox, will stand tall for centuries to come as founding pillars of the metaverse.
Gucci’s move by itself, hosting of a digital one hundredth birthday celebration on Roblox, a platform aimed at the younger generation, shows how much this high-end brand believes the future is in the metaverse.
Its move shows it aims to keep itself relevant, to future proof itself.
As Tacobell and Gucci prove, regardless of the company product or mission statement, all companies should be thinking about staking their claim in this new sphere, or risk going the way of the gramophone.
With the huge amount of AR devices in production, with Google Glass, Snapchat Glass, Magic Leap, and Niantic, to name only a handful, the metaverse will only bleed more into our physical world, meaning that even companies refusing to participate online will still exist in a sphere the metaverse touches.
Meaning they can either get on board or be left behind.
I can compare this by analogy to a business today without a website. A website has become as essential for a business as a store-front was pre-millennium.
A metaverse presence may simply be the next step, a do or die moment for many companies.
While businesses that embrace this will stand a chance of beating the test of time, private citizens will have more flexibility on whether they include themselves in this new sphere, like I have already done.
But again, much in the same way, those who embraced the internet had an upper hand over those who rejected it, those who embrace the metaverse and become fluent in its language may have an upper hand on those who do not.
Only time will tell, but if history has taught us anything it is that post-industrialisation, those who embrace the future first, thrive.
Are you excited about the potential or worried about the implications? Maybe you think I missed something important. Let me know in the comments below. I read them all.
And with that, I will finish today’s download here. If this digital download hits you right in your CPU, leave a like, and subscribe to the channel. This has been The Tech Journal. See you next time. Stay digital.