The metaverse concept clearly means very different things to different people. What exists right now is a series of embryonic digital spaces
It may not be entirely random that 2021 was the year that people started talking seriously about the metaverse. During the pandemic, so many things have gone digital by necessity – from socialising to shopping to work – that it sometimes felt as if we were halfway into a metaverse already.
Actually we’re not there yet, or even close. Defined loosely, the metaverse is an all-digital layer of reality that floats above, around, and throughout the features of the real world – or, in some definitions, is entirely separate of it. Author Neal Stephenson is most often credited with inventing the concept in his novel Snow Crash. But the metaverse of Snow Crash was partly satirical and partly dystopian, and, with any luck, not where we’re headed. Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One presented a metaverse (“the OASIS”) that was escapist and nostalgic.
The metaverse concept clearly means very different things to different people. What exists right now is a series of embryonic digital spaces, such as Facebook’s Horizon, Epic Games’ Fortnite, Roblox’s digital space for gaming and game creation, and the blockchain-based digital world Decentraland – all of which have clear borders, different rules and objectives, and differing rates of growth.
To get a broader read on this diversity of opinions, Fast Company magazine asked thought leaders from a variety of disciplines and industries a simple two-part question: What will the metaverse look like, and how will it be used? Their answers provide a clearer picture of what the metaverse may turn out to be – and what it probably won’t be.
A FEW DEFINITIONS
TIFFANY ROLFE, CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER, GLOBAL BRANDING AND MARKETING FIRM R/GA
AR so far seems to be the simplest way to transition us into the metaverse. But we’ll continue to see attempts to push more into VR with headsets … and once we are comfortable wearing our powerful phones over our faces, it’s game over. Or rather, game on. There will be different layers of realities that we can all be experiencing, even in the same environment or physical space. We’re already doing that with our phones to a certain extent — passively in a physical environment while mentally in a digital one. But we’ll see more experiences beyond your phone, where our whole bodies are fully engaged, and that’s where the metaverse starts to get interesting — we genuinely begin to explore and live in these alternate realities simultaneously.
RONY ABOVITZ, FOUNDER, MAGIC LEAP
I believe that the Xverse will be a wild, organic, and amazing outgrowth of what we think of today as the internet and web. When you see images and diagrams of the internet today, it looks like a biologic construct, full of neuron-like connections and the emergence of proto life. No one entity will control the Xverse (or should), although many will try. It will have legacy parts that look and feel like the web today, but it will have new nodes and capabilities that will look and feel like the Ready Player One Oasis (amazing gaming worlds), immersion leaking into our world (like my Magicverse concept), and every imaginable permutation of these. I feel that the Xverse will have gradients of sentience and autonomy, and we will have the emergence of synthetic life (things Sun and Thunder is working on) and a multitude of amazing worlds to explore. Building a world will become something everyone can do (like building a webpage or a blog) and people will be able to share richer parts of their external and inner lives at incredibly high speed across the planet.
MATTHEW BALL, CEO OF VENTURE CAPITAL AND ADVISORY FIRM EPYLLION INDUSTRIES
The brilliant thing about platform changes of this magnitude is its unpredictability. We can say blanket statements like participate in an AR world, spend more time wearing VR headsets, and own more virtual goods. But innovation is recursive. Some brilliant technology is created which inspires more innovation, leading to new behaviours, unlocking new use cases. Suddenly, something no one thought we needed – like a persistent, real-time rendered simulacrum of the world – will feel essential. No amount of internet speculation in the 1990s would have led to you to TikTok remixes on the Billboard 100, r/WallStreetBets and YOLO options, or Bored Apes Yacht Club
YAT SIU, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN OF GAMING AND BLOCKCHAIN COMPANY ANIMOCA BRANDS
Reality will exist on a spectrum ranging from physical to virtual (VR), but a significant chunk of our time will be spent somewhere between those extremes, in some form of augmented reality (AR). Augmented reality will be a normal part of daily life. Virtual companions will provide information, commentary, updates and advice on matters relevant to you at that point in time, including your assets and activities, in both virtual and real spaces. These facets of reality will not compete, but instead will enhance each other. For example, VR will involve you in physical world activities, while products and events in the real world will direct you to virtual environments. These new technologies will require fundamental shifts in thinking. For example, today we see AR as a link to a virtual world, perhaps as a way to escape or enhance the physical world. But in the future, AR will serve as a pathway back to the real world, allowing users to take breaks from full virtual immersion –maybe to eat or exercise – without completely disconnecting.
TYLER ISHIDA, DEPUTY PRESIDENT OF CONSUMER BUSINESS GROUP SONY ELECTRONICS
The metaverse may appear as real as ‘real life’ for those participating, thanks to the level of resolution and quality of today’s technology. It’s all pointing toward a more immersive entertainment experience that engages all senses, while staying true to the creator’s intent. I can see the consumer entertainment aspects of the metaverse becoming the main driver, and there are plenty of other applications I can easily picture: education and research, industrial, even IT and security. I know first-hand that we have the display, image, and key sensor technology available today, and other ways we can engage within the metaverse are coming online quickly.
NOT FULLY VIRTUAL
JOHN HANKE, CEO OF POKÉMON GO CREATOR NIANTIC
We imagine the metaverse as reality made better, a world infused with magic, stories, and functionality at the intersection of the digital and physical worlds. Through it, we think there is the potential to make people and society better by nudging us to get out, exercise, and rediscover the physical world around us.
CAROLINA ARGUELLES NAVAS, GLOBAL PRODUCT MARKETING, AUGMENTED REALITY, SNAP
Rather than building the “metaverse,” a separate and fully virtual reality that is disconnected from the physical world, we are focused on augmenting reality, not replacing it. We believe AR – or computing overlaid on the world around us – has a smoother path to mass adoption, but will also be better for the world than a fully virtual world. From reimagining entertainment to redefining the way we shop, AR is already changing the way we live our daily lives, and there are countless creative and useful experiences yet to be invented.
A PLACE FOR BUSINESS
VISHAL SHAH, VP OF METAVERSE, FACEBOOK
The metaverse is a set of virtual three-dimensional spaces where you can share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together. It will be inherently social; you’ll be able to hang out with friends, collaborate with colleagues, learn, shop and create – among other things. The metaverse isn’t just VR! Those spaces will connect to AR glasses and to 2D spaces like Instagram. And most importantly, there will be a real sense of continuity where the things you buy are always available to you. Today, much of what you buy on the internet is inside a single app, website, or game. You might buy a custom skin for your gaming avatar, but you can’t take it with you when you move to a new space. In the future, you’ll be able to buy goods and services and have them available to you in the metaverse more broadly – and for creators, this can open up new ways to build a meaningful business.
Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan’s work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others
This article was published on Fast Company