Facebook says the metaverse is in the future. But we are already in it, thanks to the mixed reality of games like Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft.
A broken typewriter. A leaky fountain pen. Reams and reams of paper. A monk’s avoidance of email. In the most analog way possible, writer Neal Stephenson wrote his 1992 sci-fi epic Snow Crash.
So epic was the novel’s scope, so sweeping was its foresight, that it became the birthplace of Google Earth, Xbox Live (Snow Crash was mandatory reading at the Xbox Live office), Wikimedia, and countless video games. Even internet avatars owe their name to Snow Crash. But something from the book that has stuck around and is making a steady resurgence today is the metaverse.
What is the metaverse?
In the book, the term metaverse stands for a collective shared virtual space that combines virtually enhanced physical space with physically visible virtual worlds. It included the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet.
Or a lot like how Mark Zuckerberg thinks the Facebook metaverse will be.
Although first mentioned along with the Digital Twin Technology by Satya Nadella at Microsoft’s Build developer conference, it only set newsrooms on fire when Mark Zuckerberg spoke about it at length with journalist Casey Newton.
The underlying difference between the Metaverse and the internet is the idea of presence. Consider this update from Mark Zuckerberg:
At its core, the metaverse is about seamlessly blending the physical world with the digital—largely with VR and AR. In Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the metaverse is an urban environment developed along a single 100 meter wide road that runs the circumference of the entire planet.
In real life, you can know if you’re in a Metaverse if the physical + digital environment (dare we say phygital?) around you is:
The environment never resets, pauses, or ends, it just goes on, infinitely.
Events that have been scheduled will happen, just like they do in real life, but the metaverse’s existence will be consistent for everyone.
It won’t cap the number of users at any time and will provide each one with a sense of presence—this makes each person an individual entity in the metaverse.
The metaverse will be a through and through economy, where people and companies will be able to deliver work and get paid.
It will cover the digital and physical worlds, public and private networks, and all platforms—be it open or closed.
Anything can be moved from anywhere to anyplace. Yes, it will be that simple. For example, you can take a skin you use in Counter Strike and port it over to Fortnite, or if you’re feeling generous, gift it to a friend on Facebook
The metaverse will make content creators out of more people and businesses than ever before, throwing the creator’s gauntlet up for grabs
Zuckerberg’s metaverse is similar to Stephenson’s mixed reality (MR also holds tremendous utility in health and wellness) in a lot of ways. It is persistent, it can be synchronous and live, and it can be populated with experiences that are made by a lot of contributors. But Zuckerberg’s vision goes beyond—or whichever is the right direction to virtual reality headsets and trillions of dollars.
Why does the metaverse matter?
If the metaverse comes to life, it will become the only (or at least the most popular) point of entry into the online world for most people, a key part of every physical platform, and the most gargantuan labor (and virtual real estate market) market to ever exist.
The metaverse will change how we allocate and use resources forever. For instance, consider the case of Gold Farming. Gamers in middle or low income countries are hired to collect in-game valuables that can be sold to richer gamers in the West or can be auctioned off outside in the physical world.
Although this kind of labor is pretty menial and repetitive, its diversity and usefulness will only amplify when the metaverse becomes a reality. The modern day laborer perhaps wouldn’t even live in the city, but miles and miles from it. They wouldn’t be anywhere near dust and tools, but neck-deep in virtual space.
And considering how Meta’s social network serves roughly half the planet’s population, its metaverse can truly change the way we live, connect, and work forever. Brands, for instance, already adopted virtual and augmented reality—with experiences designed around VR headsets and game consoles—hand-in-hand with tech companies. And all this, has changed user interaction, making brands more connected than ever before.
Marvel, DC, Skywalker, and Keanu Reeves?
This is why Fortnite is so crucial to understanding the metaverse. Although it started off as a game, it is so much more today. People log into it to not just play it, but to meet and interact with their virtual friends.
It is also perhaps one of the few places where Marvel and DC appear together. For instance, a player in a Spiderman skin can go walking in Gotham City and stop to chat with players wearing licensed LeBron James skins. With each passing week, Fortnite is becoming the preferred platform of choice for individuals and brands to express themselves. Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker premiered exclusively inside Fortnite alongside an interview with J.J Abrams. And this event in Fortnite was even explicitly referred to in the film’s opening moments!
Nike’s Air Jordans. Keanu Reeves’ John Wick. Wear anything. Be anyone. Live anywhere. The game even lets its players build and create their own content, which can then be monetized. Players can wear custom skins and find themselves in a lobby that sends them to an infinite number of space-time rifts with upto 99 other players.
The metaverse in microcosm
But Fortnite isn’t the only Fortnite. Roblox and Minecraft, for instance, boast 100 million monthly users; Fortnite probably has fewer. They, too, have access to intellectual properties (from Marvel and DC) and are even more reliant on user-generated content.
These games have no underlying goals—one doesn’t win or survive in Minecraft. The game here is creation. And you can bet users have created games within the game for players to duke it out.
And in 2019, Roblox announced that they will have paid out over $100 million to their game creators around the world. This motley group has anyone from individual users to 10 people studios. But what makes it come close to a multiverse is the fact that Roblox doesn’t even pay these developers out of its pocket—unlike Apple’s App Store—they get paid by users.
Where does this leave us?
A lot of the metaverse is still foggy to us. There are no strong indicators of who might lead it or how they are going to get us there. Epic Games (Fortnite) doesn’t seem interested in branching out to other realms of reality. And even if it does, it’d be a wholly different ballgame in China, where Ma Huateng’s resident behemoth (and 40% owner of Epic Games) Tencent runs the show.
What’s likely is that the metaverse looks set to spring from a network of different platforms, technologies, and devices working together. An early example of this is the mysterious Metakovan’s purchase of a painting at a Christie’s auction—where they paid $69 million in the cryptocurrency Ether to secure an NFT for the painting.
Nobody will be on board with such a brave new world from the get-go, but an expanding metaverse will swallow every galaxy that comes its way. Users will begin to reign supreme as interoperability becomes the order of the day.
But Stepehenson’s Snow Crash was a parody of this cyberpunk dream.
Its satirical take on the absurdities of a cyberworld is forgotten. Snow Crash spoke about the fundamental discord between what the metaverse claims to be and what it is. Sure, users have all the freedom to navigate the metaverse fully. But it is the same metaverse that clips their wings and shackles them to its ever-expanding systems. This opens up an array of tough questions—some of which the real world may not be able to answer any time soon.
There aren’t many players out there doing this. Just a select few who could propel us into the metaverse.
But the one thing we know for sure? The stage is set for a battle royale.
Ever since smartphones kicked up a storm a decade or so ago, Mutual Mobile has been leading the charge with app and digital innovation. Nothing excites us more than solving today’s impossible question. And that’s key, because if recent times are anything to go by, early movers have all the pros and none of the cons. So if you’re looking to give your business that differentiating edge, reach out and talk to us. We may just hit upon something.