Since last July, when Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s name change to Meta and Facebook’s plans to spend the next decade bringing the metaverse to life, we seem to be seeing the term “metaverse” everywhere. It has become a polarizing topic of conversation in many circles — some see it as yet another wonderful step in technological evolution but many are highly skeptical of its value.
But what is the metaverse exactly? And why should we care about it?
Let’s take a stab at an answer to the first question.
In a nutshell, the metaverse is a computing platform that brings virtual reality and a digital second life together, with virtual reality (VR) headsets and motion-sensing controllers immersing users into a 3-D environment complete with avatars, in which they can interact with other users. It has been presented as a rich digital environment that combines elements of social media, online gaming, and augmented and virtual reality.
The term metaverse is new but the two ideas that drive it — virtual reality and a digital second life — are actually quite old. Technologists had already envisioned the type of virtual life/physical reality tug o’ war the metaverse represents since the 1990s.
And there have already been major milestones in the digital second life arena since the 2000s. Thus the notion of using a computing platform to interact with others and even buy things in a virtual world has been hanging around in our collective subconscious for some time now.
And lest we forget, the ever-popular online game Fortnite also ventured into this territory in 2020 when it hosted a series of virtual concerts by Travis Scott that drew record-breaking views.
As for the answer to the second question, that one is a bit simpler.
We should care about the metaverse because those at the top of major tech corporations seem to. And a great deal too. Their major investments in this field are proof of that. Microsoft’s recent acquisition of video game giant Activision Blizzard, an acquisition deal of nearly $70 billion (yes billion, with a b), is the latest evidence.
Why does a tech giant’s takeover of a gaming company have anything to do with the metaverse? Because the infrastructure that game platforms like World of Warcraft and Minecraft have long perfected is the easiest way to build the type of metaverses these companies are shooting for. In fact, these types of multi-player games have long been described as metaverses themselves. Thus video games are going to play a key role in the development of the virtual worlds these major corporations are envisioning.
However, how they will develop is still up in the air. Proponents and detractors continue to be equally ardent in their praise and scorn so it remains to be seen how this will affect their markets. And, of course, accurate predictions have proven to be quite difficult to make in the COVID era. So it’s anybody’s guess whether the metaverse will give another dimension of any significance to the way we interact with the online world. Only time will tell if the enthusiasts are right.