What is the Metaverse — and 4 Reasons why Everyone is Buzzing About it

Image Credits : The Sandbox

The metaverse has become one of the most talked about buzzwords over the past year or so, especially after Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of Facebook to Meta. What is the metaverse, though, exactly? And how will it “change the world” ? We will try to touch upon these questions here.

In recent times, people have been gradually but undeniably shifting away from physical contact with others, mostly attributed to the rise in internet and smart devices. The shift already existed but was accelerated during the COVID years. A vast majority of human interactions now occur online, be it work, dating, hangouts, ecommerce etc. The next step in this process appears to be the Metaverse — it does appear like this decade could be really big for Metaverse adoption — just like the 90’s was for the internet. As discussed earlier, the Facebook rebrand to Meta is something which shows how mainstream the concept is starting to get. Now coming to — what exactly is it?

What is the Metaverse really?

Risking oversimplifying it — the metaverse is kind of like “stepping into” the internet. We could consider it a new layer to the internet, existing on top of our current reality.

We could understand the metaverse as a virtual space that is graphically rich and appears to be “real” at least to some degree. It is a space where people can socialize, work, play — essentially the stuff people do in real life / on the internet.

Metaverse proponents focus on “presence” being a defining factor — you would feel like you’re really there and other people are there too, beside you — at least more so than the traditional internet.

Is the Metaverse New ?

Nope — the metaverse is actually not new — and has been in existence in some form or other for at least ~30 years. There was a VR boom in the 1990’s during which the UK shopping chain Sainsbury created a VR shopping demo — very similar to something Walmart did just a few years back in 2017.

Credits : Second Life

One of the biggest “metaverses” so far has been the hugely popular game “Second Life” that debuted in 2003. This was similar to “MMORPG” (massively multiplayer online role playing games) such as World of Warcraft — but the “game” aspect was taken out. No quests, or combats or rewards. It is the closest thing to the ideal metaverse definition we have today — players have avatars, they socialize with friends in virtual worlds, they take part in online versions of real life events like clubbing or work meetings.

Credits : PlayStation Home

In contrast to this “community driven” metaverse, there was a corporate metaverse attempt through “Playstation Home” — a virtual hub for PS3 players created by Sony in 2008, which was later closed in 2015. It featured a lot of ads and purchasing opportunities, and did not have very much else to do. Perhaps that is an indicator of the kinds of metaverses that will probably thrive — community driven metaverses definitely seem to trump corporation created virtual worlds.

Why is everyone suddenly talking about it ?

A few factors have come together to catapult metaverse towards tech/cultural headlines again , especially over the past couple of years

1 — Blockchain & NFTs are enabling a Metaverse Economy

Credits : CryptoKitties

Blockchain technology has enabled cryptocurrencies and NFTs. This makes possible a fully functional economy within the metaverse which would otherwise be not possible. You can now really “own” stuff within the metaverse — such as real estate, avatars, digital art objects, in game assets etc. This is different from owning something in say Second Life — where ownership is subject to license agreement and is pretty barebones. Owning a virtual item via an NFT however, means you really own the item in your own wallet. Even if you exit / delete the game, your ownership will not be affected.

Huge amounts of capital are already being poured into some leading metaverses by leading brands and businesses — for example , the metaverse “Sandbox” already has the presence of several real world brands in it.

2 — VR Tech has matured

Virtual reality was first conceptualized in the fictional work “Snow Crash” in the 90’s. And over these decades, Virtual Reality technology has matured immensely, and decent quality VR headsets are now commercially available. A precursor to the direction the industry was headed, came in 2014 when Facebook purchased Oculus. This has played a big role in driving forward VR tech — and in the process accelerating growth of the metaverse

3 — The pandemic has shifted our lifestyles

Like it or not, the pandemic has had a significant impact on our lifestyles as a society. People have been seeking different ways to entertain themselves and explore new environments without leaving the comfort of their homes — and video games & metaverses have helped fill the void. Also it has naturally led to tech innovations & capital inflows to try and solve this need gap.

4 — Facebook becoming Meta

Credits: Meta

A big tech firm like Facebook rebranding to Meta and sharing its long term vision about how it believes Metaverse is the future of the internet — this kind of supercharged the shift that was already taking place. Ever since then, the term has entered the mainstream and become one of the biggest buzzwords of the past year. It has caught the fancy of the tech and business worlds

It does seem like the Metaverse is here to stay. In the next post, we discuss the effects it is having on us as a society.

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