In 1999, Boris Becker asked the German television community, quite perplexed, “Am I in there already or what?” At the time, Becker was advertising AOL and the Internet Start package. And getting on the Internet with it was easy, so easy that even Becker didn’t realize it. Today, anyone who wants to get into the Metaverse, “a network of constant, real-time, three-dimensional worlds and simulations that can be used by an unlimited number of individual users,” has a much harder time than the young Becker of 1999.
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The Metaverse doesn’t really exist yet. One can predict that it will become like the Internet, only newer, more three-dimensional, more virtual, and much more complex. And there will not be one Metaverse, but several. As of today, no one has been there yet, except for science fiction heroes like Hero, Neo and Fortnite players. That’s why we don’t yet know exactly where the metaverse is, and there’s no starter package like the one AOL gave us to take the plunge into the new 3D worlds, apart from VR glasses, a few gadgets and special VR gloves. So why all the hype about the Metaverse?
If we look at the facts, it quickly becomes clear what it is all about. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wants to send one billion people into the Metaverse by 2030. “Our overarching goal is to bring the Metaverse to life,” he told employees in late June 2021. And in October 2021, Facebook became Meta Platforms Incorporation. The word “meta” comes from the Greek and translates as “the beyond” or “beyond” (in English). The metaverse is intended to link the real and virtual worlds, the Facebook boss announced. He sees the future not in individual social media platforms, but in a connected system. But what exactly is the Metaverse, how do you get there and how can it change our lives? In this blog post, we’ll try to find answers to some very exciting questions.
The next big thing
“It may seem far away, but 35 years ago people would have been skeptical, too, if they’d been told we’d find dates and jobs while staring at a screen in our bedrooms,” writes the Washington Post in a piece about the Metaverse. So, it’s high time to take a closer look at the metaverse, because it seems it won’t be 35 years before it’s a reality.
Already today, several tech giants and industrial companies, as well as cities and countries, are working to build the Metaverse. Everyone wants to be there and be prepared when it comes and everyone, it seems, wants to secure a piece of the pie in time. And it’s a gigantic one, worth tens of trillions of dollars according to experts. As early as 2022, according to a recent report Metaverse apps are expected to take in more than $3 billion in consumer spending. Metaverse, many experts claim, is currently Silicon Valley’s biggest bet, along with the conquest of space and autonomous cars.
Software company Epic Games initiated a $1 billion funding round back in 2021. The money, according to company CEO Tim Sweeney, will be used to implement the company’s long-term vision of a Metaverse. The focus is on the battle shooter game Fortnite, which is to be expanded into a metaverse. That same year, South Korea announced the formation of a national Metaverse alliance with the goal of building a unified national VR and AR platform. Seoul has pledged $33 million to a project called “Metaverse Seoul.” The South Korean capital plans to roll out Metaverse technologies across all administrative sectors by 2026. This five-year plan is designed to “transform Seoul’s public services by allowing employees to communicate with the public through an official Metaverse platform using 3D avatars and immersive environments,” according to XR Today. Barbados has announced that the island nation plans to open a Metaverse embassy. According to a CoinDesk report, the Barbados government is in the process of finalizing partnerships with several leading Metaverse platforms.
At aircraft manufacturer Boeing, planes are to be designed in the metaverse in the future. And software giant Microsoft announced in January of this year that it was buying game maker Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion to further advance its Metaverse strategy. With the deal, Microsoft not only becomes the third-largest game developer in terms of revenue but has a plan to broaden its footprint in the Metaverse. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella assumes that there will not only be one central metaverse, but several metaverses. Microsoft wants to turn its attention to these.
Science fiction novels as blueprint for the metaverse
Anyone who has seen the movie “Welcome to the Jungle” with Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the cinema knows how to get into the Jumanji metaverse. You need a game console, the Jumanji video game and a TV and bang, before you can count to three, you’re already in the jungle, stuck in a new body and have 3 lives to advance in the game. If you prefer a closet instead of videogaming, you’ll end up in Narnja and not in Jumanji. Which isn’t so bad either. And if you prefer reading and like science fiction books, you may already know about the Metaverse.
Neal Stephenson described the Metaverse in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. And it’s not a place you want to spend your next vacation. “Stephenson’s novel is set in a dark, dystopian world in which all major state agencies (police, judiciary, governments), even states themselves, have been privatized. Life is marked by hyperinflation and extreme social inequality. To escape the nightmare of daily life, people retreat into a metaverse, a mixture of the Internet and an online role-playing game. People move through the metaverse with avatars. People enter the metaverse through a non-permanent interface between the digital and non-digital worlds, also referred to in the book as a “phygital interface.””
Hiro Protagonist is a hacker, information gathered for the CIC, the successor organization to the CIA. and pizza courier. In the process, he gets on the trail of a conspiracy that is claiming more and more lives both in the real world and in virtual space. As a VR swordsman, he dives into the cyberworld of the future to defeat a villain from the distant past and prevent the “infocalypse.”
The metaverse represents a digital alternative to the real, physical world. A world in which banal everyday things can be done as well as things that were once only possible in the wildest dreams. At least, that is the vision of the metaverse advocates. The term metaverse stands for a different, new, digital universe, for a virtual parallel world in which people move freely with avatars capable of interaction and communication – in search of entertainment, information, products or, as Facebook describes it, the “next evolutionary stage of social connections.”
Frank Steinicke, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of Hamburg, goes even further. He understands the metaverse to be a virtual space that is consistent and persistent. “A large, coherent world that may consist of several parts, but allows you to enter and switch between these parts without restrictions – in other words, it is consistent. This world, however, must not only endure while the user:s are logged in. It lives on regardless of who interacts with it – in other words, it is persistent. “The idea of the metaverse is that all the digital and web-based applications and platforms are converging. Games, commerce, social media, virtual reality.”
The features of the Metaverse
A very good, because much more precise, description of the characteristics of the metaverse comes from Mathew Ball, a Canadian visionary, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. His essay published in 2020, “The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It.” became required reading for employees even at Meta, according to media reports. In his essay, Ball defines seven core attributes that ideally make up the Metaverse. Three of them are particularly relevant for the future:
The metaverse is persistent
That is, it exists perpetually and permanently. The Metaverse cannot be paused or terminated or restarted. It never ends.
The metaverse is synchronous and live
That means: Even though events and activities in the metaverse can be planned and scheduled in advance (e.g. a virtual concert, a virtual reading or a shared virtual game), just like events and activities in real life, the metaverse is always a real-time experience. What happens in the Metaverse is – in its entirety – not plannable or predictable.
The Metaverse is in principle infinitely large
That means: The Metaverse is, just like our permanently expanding universe, infinitely large. It includes private and public and open and closed parts. The borders of a partial world can be overcome at any time by the change into another partial world.
This also makes it clear that the metaverse, as envisioned by its pioneers, is still far from becoming reality. After all, one of the biggest hurdles yet to be overcome is probably to find a uniform system of digital avatars that all actors involved in the metaverse accept as a standard creation tool. That would be a worldwide standard interface – the “phygital interfac,” as Neal Stephenson calls it in his novel.
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