The metaverse – future reality?

The metaverse is how many tech corporations envision the future. But what is that actually supposed to be? Our story takes a look at how Mark Zuckerberg and others intend to create a new reality.

The metaverse links the physical world with virtual reality and many tech corporations see it as a vision for the future.
Images: © greenbutterfly / Adobe Stock

Mark Zuckerberg has renamed his company – that news was even reported on the German “Tagesschau” TV show in late October. Facebook Inc. has now become Meta Platforms Inc. – or Meta, for short. As is well known, along with Facebook, the umbrella brand also includes Instagram, WhatsApp, and technology provider Oculus VR. As well as the new corporate name Meta, another term also emerged as part of the rebranding: metaverse. Zuckerberg actually uses it when he talks about his visions and plans for the project, but other major players in the tech industry are also toying with the idea of building a metaverse, so the term is now on everyone’s lips. But what does it actually mean?

The metaverse is where the line between the physical world and virtual reality blurs

The term “metaverse” was coined in Snow Crash, a sci-fi novel from 1992. Author Neal Stephenson used it to refer to a global virtual reality that people could enter in the form of avatars, giving them a way to escape their depressing physical reality. The basic principle that underpinned the metaverse in Snow Crash was that the real and virtual worlds always remained separate from each other. Zuckerberg’s metaverse sees the future differently. According to Meta, the plan is to bring together gaming platforms, virtual marketplaces, workspaces, and Meta’s own VR living room Horizon Home.

The result will be a virtual metaverse that can do everything that is possible in the real world – and more.

Zuckerberg wants to exploit every angle

The Facebook founder’s plans involve every company in the Meta franchise. Oculus VR intends to launch a headset in 2022 that supports eye and facial tracking, which will improve the facial expressions of the avatars in the metaverse. An augmented reality mode is also in the cards, which can be used with RGB cameras to create a mixed reality.

There is absolutely no intention of maintaining the strict separation between real and virtual worlds in the metaverse of the future – in fact, quite the opposite. According to investor Matthew Ball in his essay “The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find it, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite”, the metaverse will incorporate both the digital and the real world. Although he describes the vision of this mixed reality as “hard to define, seemingly fantastical, and decades away”, the essay is a good overview of what this new version of mixed reality aims to represent:

  • Real time. The metaverse will be live, although some events will be for a limited time.
  • The metaverse will be persistent; it cannot be paused or ended.
  • There will be no cap for users.
  • The metaverse will have its own economy; businesses and individuals will be able to buy and sell, invest, work, and be rewarded for it in the metaverse.
  • The metaverse will allow digital items – such as items from games – to be exchanged.
  • The metaverse will be a living experience that exists consistently for everyone and in real-time.

When Mark Zuckerberg discusses his ideas for the metaverse, the feeling of presence is front and center. Feeling that you are really there is a key objective for building the metaverse. Access will be via PCs, mobile devices, and gaming consoles alike, to make it a “persistent, synchronous environment”, as Zuckerberg said in a podcast from tech magazine “The Verge” in July 2020.

In short, the metaverse is neither a game nor a virtual theme park and using it definitely won't just be about communicating.

The aim is for users to design their own virtual space, with never ending attractions that are not centrally programmed or subject to usage limitations.

Global tech elite sees huge potential in the metaverse

Meta is not the only corporation dreaming of building a metaverse. Epic Games – the company responsible for multiplayer success story “Fortnite” – has already been interested in creating a metaverse for a long time. Microsoft and Chinese gaming firm Tencent also see massive potential in the metaverse – along with the opportunity to generate enormous profits, of course. This optimistic vision of the future is corroborated by estimates from industry experts like Matthew Ball. He believes that the metaverse could be a new content medium or computing platform capable of producing billions of U.S. dollars in sales.

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