The Metaverse – It Is Coming. I Have No Doubts.
There has been a lot of news since Mark Zuckerbeg announced
Facebook’s Meta’s vision of the Metaverse. Disney, Microsoft, and Roblox (to name a few) are all talking about their plans. And even if Apple is mum on the topic – it is on their radar. I’d going to give insight into the three key relevant technological and social trends that are currently in place today. I’m not here to argue if the Metaverse is good or bad, or debate what exactly it will evolve into. That being said, there is enough momentum and economics behind this. It will happen.
And articles claiming that the Metaverse is already here are incorrect. Mark Zuckerbeg mentioned two key features when he announced
Facebook’s Meta’s vision. Those will make a huge impact on the Metaverse becoming ubiquitous . Once you read what those are, you’ll agree with me it isn’t here yet. But the trends show it is coming for sure.
VR/AR/XR is Here and Immersive
VR/AR/XR is established enough, the technology is advanced enough, that people are experiencing just how immersive it can be. I remember the first time I stepped into a virtual pool hall in VR. At one point I leaned in to take a shot and almost fell over – having tried to rest my elbow on a virtual pool table that wasn’t there. Now mind you, there had been a pool table in the room a year prior and I was very used to physically leaning on it for certain shots.
A real eye-opener for me though was the first time my son played Vivecraft. For those not familiar, Vivecraft is a mod that allows you to play Minecraft in VR. My son and his friends have played Minecraft since mid-elementary school. He is regularly in my office updating his game server with a new release. A few years ago I finally got around to installing Vivecraft on our VR system. I passed the headset to my son as soon as I could see it was running. He very quickly figured out how to move around and interact with the world. My wife and I sat on the perimeter and listened to the energy and excitement in his voice. Although the TV screen was no where near as vivid as what he was experiencing, we could understand where he was and what he was doing. What happened next blew my mind.
The sun started setting in the game. “Oh wow” he stated, then physically sat down on the (real) carpet to enjoy the (virtual) sunset. As he narrated to us what he was seeing you could hear how into the environment around him he was. And it didn’t stop there – once the sun set, he laid over onto his back and did some star gazing while telling us about his day at school.
For Some Immersion
Now if Minecraft is not your thing, I urge you to find a friend that has a VR system. Try out any of the following experiences:
- Trials on Tatooine is a bit of a teaser of what is possible. If you are a Star Wars fan this one is for you. (SPOILER ALERT) I remember watching my son’s friend physically crouch down to hide behind a couple of barrels when the Storm Troopers started shooting.
- theBlu is a relaxing experience on multiple platforms. So immersive that I found myself changing my breathing like I would when actually scuba diving.
- Blue Flame VR gives you a chance to experience going 1000km/h ride in 1970 on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Having once gone 162mph (260kph) there in a Hemi powered Lakester I can tell you the feeling of the mile markers passing by is spot on. It is impossible to capture the near-claustrophobia of being strapped almost on your back in a 7-point racing harness combined with an SFI 3.2A/15 fire suit and Snell rated full face helmet. Not to mention the roar of open headers and the roughness of the salt surface. In the end though this app captures so much of the experience once you’re staged and get the starter’s “thumbs up” to start down the course. The following would capture the Bonneville Land Speed Racing experience even more:
- Add the sound of open headers
- Leverage some Bass Shaker Tactile Transducers in a seat that reclines
- Squeeze down the field of view to match that of the helmet
- Render the inside of the vehicle and don’t allow the user to move their head outside of the vehicle
For Some Adrenaline
- Ocean Decent (part of PlayStation VR Worlds on PS4 – SPOILER ALERT). This is for if you want a bit of an adrenaline rush. The first time I didn’t warn my son, and remember him yelling as he pulled up into a protective ball on the chair . . . yanking his feet up from a virtual shark that wasn’t really there.
- Keep Talking and Nobody explodes. This is one of those rare VR games where other people without a headset can participate. The person in VR is looking at a bomb, while the other participants have the manual but can’t see the bomb. The virtual “bomb tech” describes each section and gets tips on which wires to cut or buttons to press. I can say when my son was the bomb tech and the timer got low on time – I did get nervous and my heart was beating faster.
- Arizona Sunshine. Another one for the adrenaline junkies. At a party once we had it in campaign mode and passed the headset to a new guest just as a (unknown to us) zombie rush was about to happen. That guests had never played before, and when that rush rapidly came on they screamed, threw down the controllers and physically ran across the room to crash into the sofa. Still wearing the VR headset of course . . .
Most that experience one or more of these as their first VR excursion will start off by audibly saying “Wow”. This will shortly be followed by a giggle and them looking all around. Depending on which experience they are trying, their breathing and energy levels will change. I know for a handful of people out there it isn’t their “thing” – but I can assure you that for a large percentage of the population living with technology it will be attractive.
The MU Worlds are Here Already
Another is that Multi-User environments have existed for years. Ones with large populations of youth. Now I’m talking far more advanced than the text-only MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) that many techies played years ago. 80’s college students congregated in the dorm basement. They’d play 3 dimensional space battles with a dozen other classmates on ASCII dumb terminals in mTrek. Some of us remember driving up our phone bills playing other text-based multiplayer dungeon games on bulletin boards in the 90’s.
This is part of where the fallacy that the Metaverse is already here comes from.
Today you have large worlds in Roblox where kids build/furnish their homes and interact. Back in 2018 they had 50 million players a month joining their gaming worlds. The older ones are playing Fortnite or Valorant. Headphones with built in mics allow them to coordinate and interact with their team. My son is often laughing and calling out strategy to his friends in the evenings once homework is done.
The (Gaming) Economics Are Here Too
Mark Zuckerberg has painted a picture of hanging out with friends, playing virtual card games or attending a virtual concert. There is a lot of complexity behind being able to have avatars where you can see their expressions and have their mouths move with their voices. Not to mention the bandwidth to have people enter new environments and see/share the unique items and clothing. Other complexities include intellectual property rights and tracking someone’s hand and facial gestures.
Undoubtedly the first steps will be primarily with multiplayer games. The gaming economy is huge, and it will be the initial draw for many. It generated $155 BILLION in revenue in 2020. Players are always looking for a new experience, and gaming in VR is beyond exciting for many.
Economics are for buying special clothing or winning an item. If a player from one game can visit another game with their avatar wearing the same t-shirt – people will want to show off like that.
Proposed Key Differences
The key pieces that all of this will depend on will be the open standards that allow people to bring their avatars and virtual items from world to world.
The open standards will also make it possible for others to build their worlds. It then makes it possible to jump from one world to another similar to “clicking a link” on a web page.
Teleporting around the metaverse is going to be like clicking a link on the internet. It’s an open standard. In order to unlock the potential of the metaverse, there needs to be interoperability. And that goes beyond just taking your avatar and digital items across different apps and experiences . . . — Mark Zuckeberg
These standards will also cover how a person’s avatar can bring with them virtual objects from world to world. A lot will ride on technologies like NFTs (Non-fungible tokens).
Wrapping It All Up
It will take years for the Metaverse to be as common as the Internet is. It is debatable if it will be a good thing, not to mention what it will look like. These topics are not enough to keep it from happening. The technical foundation is there. Enough large firms have started investing. And lastly, the economic potential for serious profit is there also.
The fact that Disney, Microsoft, and Roblox (to name a few) are all talking about their plans might not be proof enough for you. And even if Apple is mum on the topic – it is on their radar. (Even if Apple has not yet spoken of getting involved.)
For Part II I’ll start to explore the technological components you want to have a high-level familiarity with. For now, please comment with your thoughts here. If you don’t think it will happen – why not? And if you do see it happening – how quickly?