There’s a buzz about the metaverse that has captured the imagination of technology thinkers, but no one seems to have pinned down exactly what the term means.
The metaverse has different definitions, depending on who you speak to.
For business, it’s another marketing channel to interact with and reward customers.
The metaverse is a place for gamers to trade collectibles or buy weapons and power while interacting online with other fans.
For creatives, the metaverse is for minting and trading NFTs or non-fungible tokens for artists and art lovers.
The reality seems somewhat different – the metaverse is another unregulated market that links cryptocurrencies and NFTs that can change hands for millions of dollars.
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No one seems sure what the metaverse is, but loosely, it stands for the space where people interact by harnessing technology.
Metaverse is a term that is interchangeable with cyberspace or virtual reality.
Explaining the metaverse is like trying to explain what the internet means. It’s somewhere that doesn’t exist in the real world, just as a digital representation.
Think of the metaverse as Zoom video chat on steroids.
Instead of a bank of faces on your monitor, you can meet your family, friends or colleagues in a virtual world as avatars. In this world, you can talk and interact as expected. The experience is enhanced if you wear VR goggles and gloves.
The biggest buzz is around cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which big brands and entrepreneurs see as the way to monetise the metaverse.
Corporations are busy setting up walled gardens where you are invited to spend time – but at a price as your metalife is limited by the rules the brands impose. Corporations aim to make money from you, and they will try to tie you into their version of the metaverse.
Facebook and other big businesses have already tried and failed to impose their cryptocurrency in the metaverse with Diem and LIbra.
Yes, the metaverse exists in virtual reality unless everyone switches off their internet connections.
Virtual worlds continue after you stop participating as you share the space with other users, especially in games.
The latest craze for NFTs allows those living in the metaverse to mint or otherwise create artefacts to trade or sell.
Game creators are already on board crafting character skins, in-game power objects and private worlds.
Artists and musicians are churning out memes, images, tunes and even NFT tweets.
The problem is because each platform exclusively wants you to spend your time and money with them, NFTs like character skins and power objects are not transferable between them. That’s not much different from the world of video games where you have in-game purchases but cannot take a shoot-em-up weapon from Call of Duty to Mario World.
The corporations must give up their grip on the metaverse to make the concept work.
In real life, you can buy a coat in one store and freely visit another while wearing the garment – but you can’t do that in the metaverse. This is because each platform jealously guards its virtual identities, avatars and artefacts.
It’s like the old days of Betamax and VHS video. The organisations battling for a toe-hold must make one metaverse template the common standard. Unfortunately, NFT buyers may find they are backing the wrong horse by jumping into the metaverse so early.
In a way, yes, the metaverse is already out there.
Elaborate and intricate game worlds like Fortnite and World of Warcraft already have marketplaces with a brisk trade in in-game goods but fall short of what everyone expects from the metaverse.
Fortnite and Facebook are just silky strands of the metaverse, and the full version will not exist for years to come. However, that hasn’t stopped tech companies from building their concept spaces.
Facebook is already a corporation called Meta, while giants like Microsoft, Nvidia and Roblox are ready to convert their blueprints for the metaverse into program code.
Decentraland includes a crypto marketplace, digital wallets, and a governance system. Digital assets, such as land, are stored as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. A number of real-life businesses are getting into the action by building virtual offices and headquarters in Decentraland.
Roblox is an online platform and storefront where people can create and play games. Roblox players can spend the Robux digital currency but not cryptocurrency on in-game upgrades or avatar accessories.
The metaverse has put out a welcome mat and left the door ajar, but we have to take up the invite.
Technology has some way to go. Most metaverse innovators expect those taking part to wear augmented reality glasses or headsets for the whole metaverse experience. Unfortunately, these devices make most users ill after continuous use and are expensive.
A predecessor to the Metaverse was Second Life, an online virtual social platform. Second Life was launched in 2003 and still has a strong following. In Second Life, people can create avatars to socialise, or buy and sell virtual items, like clothes and property.
Meta comes from the Greek for something behind, after or beyond. Examples in everyday speech would be metaphysics, a state beyond physics, or metadata, data about data. A metaverse is a place beyond the real world.
Don’t hold your breath as the metaverse is some years away. Developers are working on visualisations of what they would like the metaverse to be rather than the virtual world beyond our world.
The concept is one world for everyone, but at the moment, we have a string of virtual worlds that lack any connecting infrastructure.
The metaverse is like the internet. No one owns the internet, but companies manufacture the infrastructure and software that makes the world wide web work.
The metaverse has no owner, so if you buy a plot of land, you are investing in someone else’s concept or virtual world, not the metaverse.
Copyright and other intellectual property laws are the same for the internet and metaverse as for the real world. Buying an NFT proves ownership of a part of the metaverse, but ownership does not trump copyright, which allows the NFT creator to generate copies of a unique item. This is one of the problems the metaverse and blockchain must overcome.