Communication and the way we interface with one another is constantly evolving. Only 30 years ago everyone communicated through snail mail and land line telephones. Today, more than 90% of Americans are connected to the internet via at least one personal device. Back then, it was hard to imagine the possibility of an average person being able to have real-time video calls to anyone around the world, and access to a wide range of retail products shipped to our homes without leaving the comfort of our couch.
Now it is the 2020s and it’s time to discover the next revolution in the way we communicate. Major companies are investing in this massive integrated space where everyone can go virtually to talk to people and socialize, hold meetings, shop and do other activities, or even build their own worlds. You put on virtual reality (VR) headsets or augmented reality (AR) glasses, and then poof, you are in this whole new digital world where everyone builds a life through avatars and integrates their real lives there.
That science fiction scenario you imagine from movies like Ready Player One is here now and it is expanding fast.
What is the Metaverse?
The term “metaverse” came from a sci-fi novel by author Neal Stephenson, referring to a space where users create their characters in a digital universe and spend time in it to explore, socialize, fight and save the world from villains – an escape from boring day-to-day life.
Today, metaverse is not a single space, and typically refers to digital realms in the gaming industry. Players can be absorbed and immersed in virtual worlds to play, be entertained and meet with other players and friends, and even attend concerts. It encompasses all of the current digital environments such as social media, massive multiplayer online games, VR and AR.
In our previous blog, we discussed how metaverse can be accessed through devices such as VR headsets and AR glasses that would open up to many types of content and experiences in different virtual communities, games, marketplaces, messaging apps and so on, powered by advanced technologies.
This whole digital ecosystem is now being explored by major tech giants, trying to get a piece of the metaverse pie and control the virtual future. Let’s look at their investments, metaplans, their own versions of metaverse, and what our digital future might look like.
The Metaverse Giants
One of the earliest existing metaverse virtual worlds, Decentraland is a decentralized 3D virtual world where people can own and develop their own virtual lan, and wander or interact with the community built by other users. The world uses “MANA” cryptocurrency, which can be bought via exchanging Ethereum, as it operates on the Ethereum blockchain.
Players can do real world-like activities in Decentraland: you can buy virtual lands, attend in-game events or job fairs, play games to earn wearable items as NFTs that you can buy or sell, visit clubs, museums, malls, parks and digital art galleries, buy digital art NFTs, go to casinos and try winning crypto, shop for virtual outfits, or even order real-world pizza to be delivered to your home.
Since its launch in 2017 and public opening in February 2020, it attracted major brands to build their virtual in-game outlets such as Samsung, Walmart, and recently, JPMorgan and Skechers. Because of the in-game real estate boom, land prices in Decentraland are rapidly appreciating by the day.
We attended their first in-game conference last November 2021. Check the video to see what the world looks like:
Like Decentraland, Sandbox is also a decentralized gaming virtual world where you can also buy virtual lands, visit shops, malls and parks, as well as attend events. It started as a mobile game in 2012, and was acquired by NFT investment giant Animoca Brands in 2018, turning it into a blockchain-based 3D open world game. It uses the Ethereum-based token SAND for its in-game cryptocurrency.
Sandbox boasts 2 million users to date. It gained popularity from its partnerships with brands and celebrities such as Adidas, Warner Music Group, Snoop Dog, The Smurfs, and The Walking Dead.
3. Facebook (or Meta)
Facebook introduced a virtual world you can dive into where your home can be modified to your liking, and meetings can be fun, interactive and animated. There is a dynamic mix of VR and AR that allows you to meet and talk to people in real- time, even in the real world. You can play games, be creative and build your own space where people can gather and converge. People can enjoy it as far as the imagination can go.
Meta uses Oculus Quest VR headsets to access the world. In the future, it will use Nazare AR glasses which are currently in development.
Meta is still in its infancy stages, but in 5 to 10 years the company expects to have every aspect mainstream, including avatars, home space, teleporting, interoperability, privacy and safety, virtual goods, and natural interfaces.
4. Epic Games
Epic Games, the maker of games Assassin’s Creed and Genshin Impact, is developing its own “Epic Games Megaverse”. The company raised $1 billion in April 2021 and is collaborating with various gaming firms for the development of a metaverse out of its battle royale game Fortnite, which already made use of metaverse concepts early in its development.
The company plans to have user generated content at the forefront of their virtual world, leveraging the creator economy. It will enable players to use a single avatar in a game to be immediately recognized in various multiple worlds or games inside its metaverse.
Theis company behind Pokemon Go, the first massive AR phenomenon, has a unique but interesting take on the metaverse. Niantic is developing on AR that will get people to go outside and enhance daily life – making a “real world metaverse”.
Through its Lightship platform, the company plans to infuse reality with data, services and interactive creations. They envision Pokemons living among us, visible through AR glasses. You get in-game content and experiences through enhancement of real world maps such as Google Maps or GPS. It is focused on deepening social relationships through enjoyable AR adventures for family and friends.
Niantic is working with Qualcomm to craft their own AR glasses. It also acquired web-based AR developer 8th Wall to help with building its AR vision.
Microsoft is building Mesh, a work-centric metaverse that aims to revolutionize the way we do work using VR and AR, or as the company calls it, “mixed reality”. The firm introduced Mesh and its own HoloLens in March 2021. Mesh allows the users to access Microsoft’s work apps such as Windows, Microsoft Teams and other VR services, while HoloLens enhances work through holographic experiences. It will encourage collaborative work wherever you are in the world.
The company said Mesh for Microsoft Teams will be rolled out for businesses and developers in the first half of 2022.
Microsoft is also working on a gaming metaverse after closing a $69-billion landmark deal in January 2022 to acquire Activision Blizzard, the maker of Call of Duty and Candy Crush. The company set its sights on an open virtual world where “people can build their own metaverse worlds.”
Others in the Running (Towards Metaverse)
Other than the six companies mentioned, there are also other big firms that expressed their desire to build their own metaverse.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook ambiguously stated the company is interested in the space, mainly in AR, and has been investing accordingly. The firm has 14,000 AR apps which is expected to rise with this investment.
- Disney plans to take storytelling to the next level through the metaverse. It recently appointed an executive to lead its metaverse strategy.
- Nvidia will help in creating the work-focused Omniverse platform, where creators can collaborate and work together on 3D design and simulation.
We are at the very beginning of the metaverse era. It will take years, even decades, for the components of the metaverse to be revealed and to fully realize the technology in its totality.
At present, the major entries in the metaverse are focused on gaming. But whatever virtual environments and technologies might surface in the future, as individuals and tech developers, we at Gigster continue to work with leading metaverse and blockchain brands to develop and bring value to this new world.