The Objective Guide to the MetaVerse
All of the Facts with None of the Fiction
The MetaVerse has probably never been as hyped or as talked about in both tech and non-tech circles as it is now. There are lots of different opinions on it, many folks are trying to promote their versions or views of it, and there’s a lot of what I’d regard as disinformation out there. So this is the Objective Guide to the MetaVerse which will hopefully give a more realistic view. It’s a long one, so grab a cup of tea and enjoy!
I’ve broken it out into several sections:
- An Objective View.
- What is the MetaVerse?
- What does Web3, NFTs , Blockchain and Crypto technologies have to do with the MetaVerse? (Spoiler — not much).
- How far away is mass adoption of the MetaVerse?
- Should your company invest in the MetaVerse now?
- Virtual Reality can be of value today.
An Objective View
Objective is the key word — I don’t have any agenda; I don’t work for a VR company, I’m not looking to sell MetaVerse consultancy hours, I’m not promoting NFTs for virtual property, I don’t have an ad-laden site all about Web3 — I just have an interest in the potential of the MetaVerse and want to give folks an unbiased look at the concepts and technologies, what’s fact, fiction or just all hype.
It’s my viewpoint of course, so I may be completely right or wrong!
What is the MetaVerse?
Let’s begin at the start — what is the MetaVerse? A tremendously important question, whose answer varies widely depending on who’s answering. For me:
The MetaVerse is a collection of virtual platforms and applications, accessible via virtual reality, augmented reality and traditional Internet technologies, where people can meet, be entertained, work, create and do all the other things they may also do on the Internet currently or in the future.
Let’s go through that in more detail.
A collection of virtual platforms and applications
A great quote I heard at a conference this year from James Watson:
“The MetaVerse is currently like a set of unconnected planets”
which is nice way of explaining it. The current MetaVerse is a collection of applications like Altspace , Horizon Worlds and Decentraland which have no relation between them. There is no “one” MetaVerse, just like there is no “one” website or application on the Internet; today folks use thousands of different sites like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, BBC, CNN, Netflix or NOadsHere — none of which are majorly connected either.
Could a single MetaVerse arise, that defeats all the other competition and becomes the default? Potentially, but unlikely. In certain cases, a tech company can manage a near monopoly — like Google with search or maps, but in most cases competitors will come and go continuously.
There may be a dominant device or platform, or a small number of them — upon which MetaVerse applications are built. Meta (formerly Facebook) have been making a strong play to be the default physical platform, with their large investment into their Oculus headsets and accompanying virtual applications.
The elephant in the room is Apple — if they, as a lot of folks expect, release a new VR or AR headset it could become the default device; and depending how they provision applications on the headset, they may also become the default MetaVerse software platform. i.e. a MetaVerse App Store.
… Accessible via virtual reality, augmented reality …
The MetaVerse conjures images of folks sitting at home on their own wearing VR devices, cut off from the real world, but the future is likely a mixture of such “closed” devices (i.e. seeing only virtual content) and devices which combine elements of VR and AR i.e. also being able to see the real world.
The Oculus Quest 2 (now known as the Meta Quest 2) currently has a “passthrough mode” where you can see in black & white the surrounding world, via cameras. This is mainly used to help you position the device and yourself as you wear it, and to prevent you from walking into real-world obstacles, like walls! Future iterations are expected to have color passthrough, and be used for more applications and purposes.
I imagine an eventual future where we all have access to lightweight “glasses” that can display virtual content all around us, to be used or ignored as we need. The technology isn’t there yet, but is probably going to happen at some stage.
… and traditional Internet technologies …
The MetaVerse will also be accessible via normal internet devices like mobile phones, laptops and games consoles. Some people regard applications like Fortnite and Roblox as being MetaVerses already — massive online sites where millions of people from all around the world come together to play together. A lot of future MetaVerse applications will similarly be consumable on “normal” tech aswell.
Which lead us to:
… where people can meet, be entertained, work, create and do all the other things they may also do on the Internet currently or in the future.
The MetaVerse is basically a new way of experiencing content — a new type of Internet if you will, where people will do things like play games, watch movies or tv shows, look at endless streams of images and videos — all the sort of things that they do today on their phones. There will of course be new applications, new solutions and new experiences, but for the most part, the MetaVerse will be another way of consuming content. Or in more enterprise terms, a new “channel”.
The difference is that the MetaVerse is three-dimensional, and will allow content to be consumed and experienced in ways not done before. I think Top Gun Maverick is possibly the best movie I have ever seen — imagine if it was released via the MetaVerse and you were sitting in the plane with Tom Cruise as he dogfights his way out of Coffin Corner! Just as mobile phones brought in a new huge wave of solutions and companies, the MetaVerse will usher in a new era of creativity and content.
What does Web3, NFTs, Blockchain and Crypto technologies have to do with the MetaVerse?
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to some more controversial topics! One can’t read or ask about the MetaVerse without coming across content and opinions that heavily involve technologies:
- Web3 (or Web 3.0)
Web3 is a new vision for a more decentralised Internet, mainly built on blockchain technologies. NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) are a relatively new way of purchasing and assigning ownership of digital assets e.g. of VR houses, clothes, or any other virtual items, and cryptocurrencies can cover anything from Bitcoin, Ethereum to any random new tokens.
While knowing some folks won’t like my next statement, I believe:
The MetaVerse does not need Web3, NFTs, Blockchain, or any other type of Cryptocurrency Technology.
None of these are necessary for the MetaVerse — just as today’s Internet doesn’t need them either.
Yes, there are arguments for their usage e.g. using NFTs to verify who owns what in new virtual platforms, but just like blockchain technology isn’t needed today for Netflix, TikTok, or for buying your kids new character skins in Fortnite, it won’t be needed either for new VR applications.
The cynical, but in my opinion realistic, view is that all the current association of crypto or blockchain tech with the MetaVerse is simply an attempt by folks to make money — just as folks have been trying to make money off blockchain and cryptocurrencies for years.
As it became clearer that blockchain wasn’t the utopian technology some were predicting, there has been a movement to relate the MetaVerse to the same technologies, as an attempt to salvage the concepts, investments and revenue.
What’s more likely is that platforms will emerge — from Apple, Meta and other tech companies, which will allow folks to build virtual assets, houses, characters, stores — whatever — using non-blockchain technology. I’ve seen some of Microsoft’s plans in this area (under NDA so I can’t discuss the details!) and I didn’t hear a mention of blockchain.
Convenience is technology’s greatest wrecking ball
In my opinion, blockchain tech is also just not as easy as other techs to use, and doesn’t have sufficiently differentiating features to move the mainstream solutions to its concepts. Yes, NFTs can be used to potentially verify who owns assets in MetaVerse applications, but so can existing security methods. One of my favourite quotes is:
Convenience is technology’s greatest wrecking ball.
and the MetaVerse will be no different. Why buy a virtual house using some proprietary token when you can just use your Revolut or PayPal account instead? Or even better, use a tool provided by Apple or MicroSoft to just build your own one.
So before you decide to splash out a load of cash on a crypto-backed MetaVerse asset, I’d step back and consider if it’s the wisest investment.
How far away is mass adoption of the MetaVerse?
I would guess 5 to 10 years, but this depends heavily on the rollout of next generation VR & AR devices, so it’s really just a guess. As discussed above, if Apple release an amazing headset it could change everything overnight — and just how folks may have viewed iPads or Air-Pods with bemusement on their launches, Apple’s VR/AR device may be viewed sceptically at first, but then grow to dominate the market.
Should your company invest in the MetaVerse now?
In short, maybe.
The MetaVerse is a bit like mobile phones and App Stores about 2007 when the iPhone first launched — full of potential but not ready yet for mass commercial use. Fast forward to 2022 and mobile devices are essential to everyday life and commerce — and the MetaVerse may eventually also be just as essential. If predictions from companies like Meta come true, in 5 to 10 years we will all spend a lot of time in virtual applications — and spend money there, just like we do today on the standard Internet.
If you’re a large enterprise with capacity for researching and exploring emerging technologies and concepts I would definitely recommend investing appropriate levels of time and money in learning more about VR tech.
When I talked to Microsoft recently about their MetaVerse plans they asked me “Do you have Unity developers?” (Unity being an industry standard 3d technology used heavily in games and VR applications). Spending time up-skilling your engineers and designers in technologies like Unity will likely pay future dividends.
The “winning” or most popular platforms won’t be known for possibly years, but the fundamentals can be guessed at now — consumers will be able to access and interact with content virtually, potentially in very different user experience paradigms than they do now. e.g. shopping for clothes will switch from two-dimensional images on a website, to a three-dimensional virtual store that folks can “walk” through, and virtually try on clothes — seeing themselves with clothes easily superimposed on themselves.
Companies can start thinking about those new user paradigms now, and start exploring what’s needed to get there. You also need to think about all the usual enterprise considerations:
- Management of devices and access
If you think you may like a virtual presence in 2023, I’d be contacting your compliance team in 2022 and asking them have they started considering all the implications.
Virtual Reality can be of value today
An important point to understand about the MetaVerse is that while mass adoption is probably years away, there are plenty of virtual reality use-cases where value can be found today e.g. Accenture onboard new staff using Oculus Quests and VR offices and there are many games such as Beat Saber which offer a fantastic and different experience.
The Oculus Quest 2 is an important device — it is technologically advanced, easy to use and to develop for and is relatively inexpensive. If you have a use-case where you think that a more immersive experience may be of value, or where you think the ability to display and interact with data in three dimensions instead of two may be of value — it’s worth exploring.
My company has been exploring using VR for remote meetings, using Meta’s Horizon Workrooms application, and my personal experience is that VR meetings are far better than the current 2-dimensional Teams or Zoom calls we’re all used to. The ability of the Quest 2 to track your hands is frankly amazing, offering a level of non-verbal communication that really adds to the immersion. It’s difficult to explain — it’s better to try it out and experience it yourself, but it basically feels more like a “real” meeting than a video call does.
While not perfect — the devices can feel heavy after a time and the applications don’t yet have all the integrations we may want — overall I see a future where companies’ employees meet in VR by default; and this is all possible now using current technology. There are blockers to mass enterprise usage — such as enacting all those compliance & access management type tasks, but none of it is impossible; upcoming releases by Meta, Microsoft and others will also be more enterprise friendly.
So — again if you have budget — VR is worth exploring today; it isn’t the low-value “cool” tech it used to be, it’s now a more mature technology capable of delivering real value.
- The MetaVerse won’t be “one” platform or application — it will be a diverse set of different ones.
- Blockchain, NFTs, Cryptocurrencies etc are not needed for the MetaVerse — rather standard technologies will be used.
- Mass adoption is probably 5 to 10 years away, but this really a guess.
- If you have capacity it is worth exploring how your business can use the MetaVerse in the near future.
- Current VR technology does have valuable use-cases worth exploring today.