Ever since Facebook was renamed Meta Labs and the associated marketing campaign, the whole world has been talking about the metaverse and started a hype.
Consequently, companies are now, understandably, jumping on the hype train.
From startups to large tech corporations of global stature, like Microsoft or NVIDIA. But also game developers – which is very obvious – like Epic Games or Tencent. All want to get a piece of the megatrend pie.
But is the hype justified, or is it just a marketing bubble, perhaps even just old wine in new skins?
The Metaverse Hype in a nutshell
If you had to describe the metaverse (hype) in just one sentence, you would say it is a virtual environment where people meet to interact.
However, there is much to add to this. In times of a global pandemic, it has become a matter of course for us to work together virtually. Before that, it was already natural for many people in the world to play with each other virtually (online gaming).
The metaverse describes a consistent further development and fusion of these two scenarios, but also adds the facet of general social interaction, of which gaming is only a small subset.
Often, the vision of the metaverse also includes a highly advanced technological basis in which the real and virtual worlds merge and are partially inseparable.
The first thoughts about this are already several decades old.
A short history of the metaverse
Many already know the vision of the metaverse from the Spielberg film adaptation* of the book Ready Player One* by Ernest Cline (2011). For me, the film is currently the best depiction (here: OASIS) of a possible future with a metaverse after the hype.
But the roots of the metaverse lie over 35 years in the past. In the 1980s cyberpunk was raised from its cradle and with it the origin of the metaverse.
William Gibson’s visionary novel Neuromancer*, which spoke of a cyberspace (1984), was certainly groundbreaking. Eight years later, Neal Stephenson coined the term metaverse in Snow Crash* and is thus its creator by name (1992).
At this point, it should be noted that Stephenson’s novel was long considered required reading for new employees at Facebook/Meta Labs.
More recent ideas even turn the tables and do not put us in a virtual world but bring the virtual into the physical world (Holonet), as Tom Hillenbrand shows in the really readable thriller Hologrammatica*.
In terms of implementation, Second Life was created in 2003 as a 3D world that offered almost infinite possibilities for interaction and networking.
Via chats, cinema visits, virtual company branches, joint cooking courses, dating, trading, or building houses. Personally, the degrees of freedom were too high for me at the time, which quickly bored me.
Nevertheless, Second Life had a stately 34 million users at its peak but was ultimately superseded in its individual disciplines by customized apps and websites.
Examples are social networks, at that time mainly Facebook, dating apps but also open-world games like Minecraft*, Fortnite or Roblox.
As I mentioned at the beginning, it is very obvious to think of the metaverse in context with games, because they create the most attractive virtual worlds possible.
Are games therefore the door opener to the metaverse?
The way to the metaverse besides the hype…
My opinion is that games can make an important contribution but are by far not sufficient on their own. There are two main reasons for this.
First, my idea of the metaverse is gigantic, or more precisely ubiquitous. Minecraft, the best-selling computer game in the world, comes in at 140 million monthly players.
The metaverse of my imagination has dimensions in the billion range (cf. monthly users today: YouTube approx. 2 billion, Meta Labs approx. 3 billion). This requires the addressing of completely different target groups.
Secondly, 99.9% of gamers play games in front of a screen. Despite all-in-one virtual reality sets like the Oculus*, we are still a long way from merging reality and the virtual.
Efforts to bring the virtual into our reality (augmented reality) have not yet been crowned with success, as shown by the flops of Google Glass or other smart glasses.
The reason for the latter often lies in the technology. Insufficient contrast, weak battery, too little computing power, or no available fast Internet.
Speaking of the Internet. The metaverse does not even have to be based on the Internet. Potentially, even scalable crypto projects like IOTA or Decentraland could form the backbone. Surely, though, that would be worth a separate article.
Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time before we will see breakthroughs in terms of technology. Megacorporations like Microsoft with “Mixed Reality” or Google with “Ubiquitous Computing” have even made the merging of our reality with computers and virtual reality a corporate strategy.
Incidentally, this also expands the possibilities of the metaverse, which is often imagined as a protagonist lying on the couch wearing VR goggles. A much more natural interaction, rather to be understood as an extension, is quite conceivable.
…and its pitfalls
But right now, as the global Corona pandemic takes digitization in general and virtual interaction in particular to a whole new level, supply chain issues are hampering the tech industry.
Graphics cards that sold for 200€ three years ago now go for double that over the counter. Under normal circumstances, these graphics cards would be virtually worthless.
Even worse, though, we’ll probably have to get used to this, because our entire economy relies on the exponential effect of Moore’s Law. However, this very law is dying before our eyes.
Technologically, therefore, we definitely face major challenges.
But the network effect is also working against the metaverse, at least in relation to the “social media” target group. This is certainly one of the reasons why Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, is explicitly in favor of an open platform.
Incidentally, Sweeney still sees us at least a decade away from a possible realization.
One last note in conclusion: In almost all visions and descriptions, the metaverse is part of a dystopia and is seen as a place of refuge. Solace from dreary or cruel reality.
I hope the true realization will not prevent my and the following generations from tackling big challenges like climate change in reality as well.
What are your thoughts? Metaverse a hype or not? Feel free to let me know here in the comments or on Twitter.
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Image Source: Pixabay, Pixabay License