Metaverse: What is it, and How You Can Get The Most Out Of It
January 25 2022
Table of Contents
- What Is Metaverse?
- A Better Definition of the Metaverse
- Entire Cities in the Metaverse
- The Big Potential
- What Does That Mean for You
By now you’ve probably heard several things about Metaverse. Maybe you’ve heard it’s the next big thing. Or that Facebook (now Meta) or Roblox are doing “something” about it. Or perhaps that soon we'll all be wearing VR helmets in all the inappropriate situations.
Truth is, few people know what Metaverse is now and no one knows what it’s going to be even a couple of years in the future. It seems that every tech giant has its own vision of Metaverse and how it will affect our lives. And as you’ll soon see, these companies don’t always see eye to eye.
In this article, we’ll go through every common definition of Metaverse, explain how big players shape their Metaverse today and show the unlimited potential the field can provide for anyone who’s ready to jump on the bandwagon.
What Is Metaverse?
The term “metaverse” has science fiction roots and was brought to popularity by writer Neal Stephenson in his futuristic novel “Snow Crash” as a way to describe a shared 3D virtual reality space where humans could interact with each other and their digital environment.
But the concept of shared digital space was hardly new even then with digital worlds being explored in such classics as Steven Lisberger’s “Tron ' (1982) and William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” (1984). Later portrayals of digital worlds for real people can be traced in Wachovski’s Matrix and Cline’s Ready Player One’s “Oasis” (2011).
Outside of the science fiction realm, however, the term “Metaverse” is as elusive as it can be.
Let’s try to define it nonetheless:
Metaverse is an encompassing experience of living in a virtual world. Metaverse combines advancements in virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain technology, the internet, and others to enable people to work, entertain, collaborate, and communicate with each other within the digital universe.
But companies such as Meta (ex. Facebook), Roblox, Microsoft, Sony, seem to each follow their own definition that largely depends on what these companies want to do with it.
According to Mark Zuckerberg's interview with The Verge, Metaverse is the mobile internet successor with a large emphasis on the natural engagement with your digital environment achieved through the latest developments in virtual reality and augmented reality tech.
Roblox, a gaming company turned social network mogul, doubles down on a social component of Metaverse and delivers a platform where the nature of digital interactions between users is limited only by their own imagination. As Roblox’s CBO Craig Donato said, augmented and virtual reality tech might not even be all that necessary to create immersion.
Lastly, a cohort of businesses, crypto enthusiasts and investors might see Metaverse as a billion-large market for digital goods with headline-making sales such as Adidas’s $22M NFT collection or a $650,000 digital yacht in an unfinished video game.
As of now, Metaverse could be seen as all these things at once. Circling back to the sci-fi origins of the term, characters of the novel “Snow Crash” used virtual reality goggles to enter the Metaverse, bought and sold digital real estate, and some of them even chose to be continuously plugged in, living their lives in a digital world.
To better understand both, let’s take a deeper dive into the plans of companies that will be shaping our definition of Metaverse in the coming years.
A Better Definition of the Metaverse
One of the better definitions of Metaverse comes from Jon Radoff, CEO of Beamable - a creator centric platform for building live games in Unity. According to Radoff the metaverse consists of seven layers that binds together the necessary elements of the "metaverse" experience.
These layers are:
- Experience layer refers to the dematerialization of physical space, distance, and objects in favor of abundant user-generated forms of interactive content.
- Discovery layer relies on introducing people to new experiences both inside and outside of Metaverse with an emphasis on real-time presence through shared experiences.
- Creator economy layer focuses on creating fertile grounds for developers who will build new Metaverse experiences and tools for other creators.
- Spatial computing layer refers to utilizing new forms of computation through manipulation of digital 3D space, geospatial mappings, and new forms of user interfaces.
- Decentralization layer relies on creating a decentralized Metaverse that isn’t controlled by a single entity
- Human interface layer describes various forms of interaction between users and their digital environment through innovative immersion devices and interfaces.
- Infrastructure layer refers to the continuous development of a physical infrastructure that enables Metaverse: networks, servers, devices, and power.
What Metaverse will be in several years remains to be seen. The outcome will depend on the efforts of both enterprise moguls who are already shaping the Metaverse landscape and upcoming tech unicorns who will try to disrupt it. However all current and future 'metaverses" will have to consists of the elements defined by Radoff in order to be relevant, stable and sticky for the users.
Metaverse According to Meta
In October 2021, the Facebook company rebranded itself as Meta and announced its far-reaching plans to make Metaverse a reality for everyone. During an hour-long presentation, Mark Zuckerberg went into details on what metaverse is and what people will be able to do with it.
“An embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. And we call it Metaverse. You’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine - get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create, as well as entirely new categories that don't really fit how we think about computers or phones today.”
If you were to summarize the entire presentation with one word, that word would be immersion.
“We’ll be able to feel present, like we’re right there with people no matter how far apart we actually are. We’ll be able to express ourselves in new, joyful, completely immersive ways.”
The theme of deep immersive Metaverse experience spans over all aspects that Meta wants to enrich, from social connections, entertainment, and gaming to commerce, education, and remote work.
“And on top of that, you can keep wearing your favorite sweatpants”
— Mark Zuckerberg, Meta Presentation
To facilitate immersive Metaverse, Meta relies heavily on both hardware and software innovation.
In terms of hardware, the company continues to work on the next generation of VR headsets. Meta already sold more than 10 million Oculus Quest 2 units since its release in 2020, making Quest 2 one of the most popular standalone VR devices on the market.
While Quest product line will likely remain an embodiment of affordable gateway VR device, Meta also outlined the ongoing development of Project Cambria, a higher-priced Oculus-compatible headset with slimmer “pancake” optics, built-in face gesture scanners, and hi-res colored passthrough mode. Parallel to that, the company continues to venture into augmented reality with its AR-glasses “Project Aria” and innovative movement tracking technology such as wrist-based neural interfaces.
As for software infrastructure, Meta introduced an array of platforms and software development kits (SDK) to help developers create rich VR and mixed reality applications for the Metaverse. The Presence Platform offers machine perception and AI capabilities for building rich mixed-reality experiences on Quest 2, Interaction SDK contains modular components for adding hand interactions, and Voice SDK helps utilize the user's voice as means for navigation and gameplay. The augmented reality infrastructure is supported with Spark AR, a AR-development platform that has already amassed a community of 600,000 developers.
Meta also puts a special focus on creating modifiable photo realistic avatars to facilitate more dynamic and life-like Metaverse interactions. After all, part of the appeal of Metaverse is the ability to both present yourself as you are even when you are a part of a digital world.
It’s clear that Meta aims to blend digital and virtual worlds together more closely, trying to make our digital worlds feel more real while making our physical world more digitally rich.
While it still leaves a great deal of speculation how exactly Meta’s Metaverse will look a few years from now, two things are certain. First, their version of Metaverse will be social and immersive. And second, Meta is no longer a social media company.
Everyone Wants a Piece of That Pie
Although Microsoft hasn't been as vocal about their Metaverse ambitions as Meta, the company is one of the major players in the field, especially when it comes to how Metaverse will transform business collaboration and remote operations.
Microsoft’s involvement in Metaverse revolves largely around Microsoft Mesh, an Azure-based platform for delivering mixed reality experiences for teams and corporations. Microsoft Mesh allows teams to collaborate in a virtual environment, from having a town hall meeting in a 3D replica of their office to immersive mixed reality simulations where team members can co-create and experiment within the same space.
For mixed reality simulations, Microsoft relies on HoloLens2 smart glasses. Using a Holoportation™ technology, users can project themselves as photorealistic avatars that can, for example, interact with their teammates in remote locations. Alternatively, Mesh users can opt for custom virtual avatars and tailor them to their preference.
Using the AltspaceVR platform, teams can host virtual meetups or even build their own 3D worlds that can be joined through a virtual reality headset.
It’s notable that team members can join Mesh simulations even through their phones, tablets, or PC, although their immersive capabilities will be limited by their device.
Even though all these developments may seem like isolated attempts of Microsoft to cater to business hunger for immersive technology, in reality that shows that the company realizes Metaverse potential and uses its professional community as testing grounds.
In the light of a recently formed 2-year AR glasses project with Samsung we might see attempts by Microsoft to make a strong push into the consumer's AR market. And their recent acquisition of Activision Blizzard and ZeniMax shows determination to expand their gaming infrastructure as well.
As Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said “gaming will play a key role in the development of metaverse platforms.
"The metaverse as we believe it will be a collection of communities that are anchored by franchises that we'll start with, whether it's a Call of Duty or World of Warcraft or Candy Crush, those franchises that have hundreds of millions of players are going to be the basis for what we think will be as large vast virtual world",
— Phil Spencer, Microsoft Gaming CEO
At one point business, gaming and consumer virtual worlds will collide, and seeing this collision taking place in Microsoft’s Metaverse is not that far of a stretch.
Apple is not that hot about Metaverse hype. Or is it?
While Apple doesn't make any resonating statements about Metaverse and their plans about it, by now the company has everything it takes to enter the Metaverse race without losing any points.
Later this year Apple hopefully releases its first AR glasses. As analysts claim, the device will be designed for shorter activity sessions rather than supporting the idea of constantly being in the Metaverse.
That seems a bit contradictory.
After all, aren’t all manufacturers interested in maximizing the usage statistics of their devices? If anything, the upcoming glasses are the first step in the new direction for Apple.
Add to that LiDARs built-in all the newest Apply mobile gadgets and what you get is a million devices and users ready to scan their real-world surroundings and enhance them with a digital content as soon as the opportunity arises.
Apple might treat Metaverse as a buzzword, but whatever specific form the concept takes in the next few years, the company has all the tools to become an integral part of it. And as history has told us, Apple doesn't jump into some other sandbox but they always create their own.
While many companies paint colorful descriptions of what Metaverse can be, Snap has quietly been building their own for years.
And while the company refrains from aligning themselves with buzzed definitions, the premise behind Snap digital reality ventures is simple and Metaverse-like:
“The way that we’re looking at our opportunity in the future, it’s really around developing this kind of singular, holistic platform in which you as an AR creator can make something really compelling, and get that in front of people — through Snapchat, through CameraKit, through Spectacles — and then build a career or build a business through that kind of path.”
— Bobby Murphy, Co-Founder of Snap Inc.
The main vehicles of Snap’s Metaverse are Snap Spectacles, lightweight augmented reality glasses, and a community of more than 250,000 developers who already created more than 2.5 mission AR effects.
While the debates are going on whether Metaverse will take place in a completely new virtual reality or will be built on top of our real world with augmented reality, it’s pretty apparent that Snap went in hard with the AR route. We’re yet to see whether that was the right choice.
While the release date of the next Sony Playstation VR2 headset is still unknown, we wouldn't be all surprised that it’s going to be a hit just as the first Playstation VR that was sold more than 5 million times.
And while we know that the upcoming Sony headset will be a quality product (just take a look at these controllers), it’s even more interesting to guess what place Sony may take in the upcoming Metaverse huddle?
With its massive customer base of more than 100M users of PlayStation Network and over 64M devices projected to be sold by 2024, Sony has the resources to become a leading Multiverse platform.
The question is: does it want to?
Evidently. In 2021, Sony Group Corporation spearheaded a $1B investment into Epic Games’ long-term Metaverse initiative to “advance the state of the art in technology, entertainment, and socially-connected online services.”
The investment will accelerate the rate at which Epic, the company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine 5, will build interconnected social experiences and perhaps unite all their services under the Metaverse hood.
In the same spirit Sony recently teamed up with a Manchester City soccer club to create a metaverse version of their stadium for virtual events.
Partnerships such as these show that while Sony might not have plans to build a Metaverse of their own (yet), they’ll certainly help others to do it better.
Roblox’s Metaverse Champions
There are virtual worlds out there that have been established for years. World of Warcraft, Second Life, Minecraft, VR Chat…There are thousands of games, each being a separate virtual world, and millions of players inhabiting them. But these are not Metaverses. These are gaming worlds. Or chatting worlds.
And Roblox could be another one.
But with 43 million daily active users (half of US kids of age 9 to 12) and evaluation bigger than FedEx and Ferrari, you know Roblox did something differently.
“Some people refer to what we’re building as the Metaverse. We’re shepherds of the Metaverse.”
— David Baszucki, CEO of the Roblox Corporation
Instead of building one virtual world, Roblox lets other people build millions of worlds also called “experiences”. And Roblox connects them all. A user no longer needs to choose from a set of predefined characters for each virtual world.
Every Roblox user creates their own unique avatar that can be used throughout any of the 20 million Roblox experiences. Add to that built-in digital economy that lets you customize your avatars however you like with skins, clothes, and accessories, and you get the closest thing to a gaming Metaverse we have today.
But gaming is not Roblox’s priority.
“While shared experiences in the Metaverse today are about doing fun things together, in the future they will be about literally anything people can do together in real life: learn together, play together, or work together.”
— Manual Bronstein, Chief Product Officer at Roblox
Just recently the NFL opened a virtual store in Roblox. Nike launched Nikeland, a virtual space within Roblox where users may play games, check out products, and socialize. And Lil Nas X gave a concert that brought in 30 million viewers. Inside Roblox.
Interestingly enough, Roblox’s vision of Metaverse doesn’t necessarily revolve around immersion that much.
“I think that we’ve already kind of hit the tipping point for immersion. What I would say, though, is that there’s an incredible amount of innovation that still needs to occur on the social side.”
— Craig Donato, Chief Business Office at Roblox
Roblox chief of technology Dan Sturman explained Roblox's plan to create a virtual world as good as ours by prioritizing lag-free real-time interaction while helping people find fun and relevant collaborative activities with others even faster.
With over 1.2B annual revenue (and counting) we’ll probably see how far these plans will go.
Entire Cities in “the Metaverse”
If Metaverse sounds like a distant ill-conceived concept to you, then entire cities in Metaverse would sound like a madman tale.
Well, you’re in for surprise as cities in Metaverse might be closer than you think.
In November 2021, Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) announced on Monday that Seoul will be the first major city to enter the Metaverse. The city announced that in 2023 the SMG will open the “Metaverse 120 Centre”, that will provide convenient consultations and civil service in a virtual environment.
Although the first step, in theory Metaverse cities could offer many other benefits such as:
- Social research and advanced simulations. By creating digital twins of entire city ecosystems, officials could monitor and study real-life city dynamics and test solutions in a safer virtual environment.
- Enhanced education practices. Combined with developments in neural interfaces, mixed reality simulations, and social networking, Metaverse cities could reinvent the way we educate and share experiences within digital communities.
- Solve real-world inefficiencies. Even in its infant stages Metaverse cities already solve existing commute and bureaucracy problems, making typical civil actions effortless.
The Big Potential
Meta (Facebook) aims to spend at least $10 billion this year on its new metaverse division, Facebook Reality Labs, which builds AR and VR hardware, software, and content. Soon the company will release a mixed reality SDK that allows developers to publish their XR apps directly to the Oculus Store. At the time of writing there's 700+ AR/VR jobs opened at Meta Careers.
Microsoft opened the year with a series of loud acquisitions in the gaming industry, spending billions of dollars to take the lead in the upcoming Metaverse race. Their biggest target is Activision - the gaming behemoth which owns franchises such as Call of Duty, Tony Hawk, Overwatch and World of Warcraft.
Household names, investment funds, and etherium blockchain enthusiasts are pouring millions of dollars into the NFT market, Web 3.0 and cryptocurrencies.
The Metaverse, no matter how vague the concept now, is being built at the very moment and you might become the part of the first wave.
What Does That Mean for You
It’s notable that every big Metaverse player established a platform for building Metaverse experience. All the companies realize that developers are the driving force of the Metaverse.
Microsoft already established a Mesh Developer Platform with tools to support developers who create Metaverse experiences.
Meta currently has 700+ jobs in AR/VR alone and plans to hire 10,000 more people in Europe over the next five years.
Apple, Google, Unity, Epic are all looking for VR/AR specialists to sustain the rapid growth. Hardware, software, asset development, web 3.0and advertising – there are job opportunities emerging throughout all the tangent industries.
If you want to join in on the fun, there are already specific Metaverse job boards such as heymetaverse.co where you can track new opportunities for immersive skills daily.
How to Get Started
If you see a potential for yourself in Metaverse(s), there are a variety of ways to chime in. Here are just a few tips to get you started:
- Find a community. You can choose and watch from the sidelines how the industry evolves. The XR Slack Community is the first step to network and absorb the knowledge developers and designers share between each other.
- Get skills. Right now getting into Metaverse is all about rapidly learning new things. Whether you want to develop the next line of immersive devices, start by learning how virtual reality works and how to develop for virtual reality. If you’re interested in building or designing new worlds, check out the XR Design or XR Development programs at Circuit Stream or opt-in into career-oriented 24-week Unity Bootcamp program.
- Choose your path. There are many ways to obtain a career in XR development and Metaverse, but first you need to understand where you want to bring the most value during the upcoming Metaverse boom. Here’s everything about potential career paths in the immersive medium.
- Choose your tools. There are currently several tools on the market to aid your XR journey, most popular are Unity and Unreal Engine game engines. Both engines allow you to create XR applications, virtual worlds, and experiences only limited by your imagination, so compare Unity and Unreal Engine and pick the one you’d like to start your journey with.
- Stay in touch with market shifts. Keep in touch with the latest acquisitions, platform releases, and innovations to better understand where your skills might be making the most impact. Read NFT and crypto news, AR/VR tech digests, and Metaverse job boards to gain an insider view of where the industry is flowing at the moment.
Interested in XR Unity development or learning about AR and VR?
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