Most people who talk about the metaverse these days, thanks in part to movies like Ready Player One, think of an expansive 3D world that users immerse themselves in with the help of VR goggles.
Mark Zuckerberg even goes so far as to rename his company – to assert that he is serious about the metaverse and to sell the story that the 3D virtual world is the only true metaverse. However, the idea and concept of the metaverse is older than Facebook itself.
Gamers have been moving around in virtual worlds (then still text-based) since the first days of the Internet, and Neal Stephenson already wrote of a “metaverse”, in his novel “Snow Crash”, 14 years before Facebook was founded. From a technical point of view, there is also something to be said against our society spending its days behind a VR screen in the future. Even after more than 12 years since the first Oculus Rift prototype was unveiled, motion sickness still exists among a not insignificant portion of users. There is no mass-market solution for haptic feedback or movement in 3D space, and until recently, each pair of glasses had to be wired to an expensive gaming PC or console. This is reflected in the user numbers for Meta’s virtual world called “Horizon Worlds” – where they recently reported 300,000 active monthly users, which is shockingly low for a corporation that controls much of the Internet and has taken a very confident and risky approach to the metaverse.
Meta did make sure that there were “attractions” such as workshops, educational games, or virtual conference rooms. But instead of taking advantage of these, users often spend their time harassing female avatars or generally spoiling the fun for other users. New technologies/platforms have always needed a so-called “system seller.” An experience so novel and unique that not only the nerdy early adopter, but also the more conservative user can’t help but want to experience it.
“Content is King” is commonly said in the entertainment industry. From the Mario games for the Game Boy to Halo for the XBox to Stranger Things on Netflix – each time, it was not a new technology but a new, particularly artistic presentation on the platform that ensured its final breakthrough to the mass market.
Does this mean that the metaverse is doomed to fail?
Rather than viewing the metaverse as a virtual 3-dimensional world (ruled by Mark Zuckerberg) that represents the next iteration of today’s Internet, one should probably view it as a connecting layer that links such 3-dimensional worlds and other portions of the metaverse. Just like Google and Facebook, which would have us believe they are ‘the Internet’, Meta’s “Horizon World” will not be the new Internet, but only a part of it.
Big companies like Nike already understand this and have positioned themselves for a future that is not only digital but also decentralized by acquiring the NFT brand RTFKT. The virtual fashion sold by RTFKT is designed to be worn in game worlds of different providers – such an approach is called interoperability by the industry. However, it will probably take a while before this concept is understood and implemented by all companies. One thing is certain: we are heading towards a future in which it will be essential for both brands and celebrities to take place in an interconnected metaverse.
Eventually, this aspect will be as much a part of a corporate infrastructure as a website or social media accounts are today.