Given the rebrand of Facebook to Meta in November 2021 and the subsequent hype, you might be forgiven for thinking that the term Metaverse was invented by Mark Zuckerberg but it actually predates this event by nearly 30 years.
The term originates from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, as a portmanteau of “meta” and “universe”. In the book the metaverse appeared as an urban environment along a single road running around a dark planet’s circumference which was accessed by users wearing VR goggles or visiting kiosks, connected by a global fibre optic network. Within it, users appeared as avatars.
On announcing Facebook’s rebrand, Zuckerberg stated: “We chose ‘Meta’ because it can mean ‘beyond (the word is derived from the Greek for beyond or after). The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence – like you are right there with another person or in another place. The metaverse encompasses both the social experiences and future technology”.
As we reach the midpoint of 2022, how has the metaverse fared? Well, if today’s announcement of the creation of the Metaverse Standards Forum is anything to go by – the metaverse is being taken seriously.
The press release states: “The Metaverse Standards Forum brings together leading standards organizations and companies for industry-wide cooperation on interoperability standards needed to build the open metaverse. The Forum will explore where the lack of interoperability is holding back metaverse deployment and how the work of Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) defining and evolving needed standards may be coordinated and accelerated. Open to any organization at no cost, the Forum will focus on pragmatic, action-based projects such as implementation prototyping, hackathons, plugfests, and open-source tooling to accelerate the testing and adoption of metaverse standards, while also developing consistent terminology and deployment guidelines.”
Hosted by the Khronos Group, founding organisations include Adobe, Alibaba, Epic Games, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Sony Interactive Entertainment and the World Wide Web Consortium amongst others, suggesting that the metaverse is not going to be owned by any one single entity.
And the reason is simple. The metaverse will only be viable if it is interoperable; for its users to have persistent purchases and abilities between different virtual worlds. Currently end users can only acquire virtual goods on the platform on which they were offered. In other words the first goal, or battle, for the metaverse is e-commerce. According to McKinsey this space will be worth trillions, potentially $5 trillion by 2030 (in 2021 VC and private equity funding in the metaverse reached $13bn and this figure has already been doubled in 2022).
But interoperable is not the only issue (but still a big one, given the absence of Apple from the founding group). Currently networks are too slow, computing power weak, graphics engines
need to be more powerful and we need to educate people. At the moment, the very term means different things to different people. For some it’s a gaming platform, a retail platform, for others, a digital classroom. But the consensus view, and one endorsed by Zuckerberg in particular, it’s the new internet – and internet where we become immersed in
While the definition is still fluid—and will likely continue to be for some time—the consensus view is
the metaverse is the next iteration of the internet, where it becomes something we are immersed in,
rather than just browsers.
As a concept, the metaverse can be broken down into four core building blocks: content and experiences, platforms, infrastructure and hardware, and enablers.
So are businesses starting to consider the metaverse as viable and realistic. The answer is it’s happening already.
Many brands are already experimenting: Nike has Nikeland in Roblox, Wendy’s has a environment on Horizon Worlds, Coca-Cola launched an NFT collection with OpenSea and Burberry joined forces with Mythical Games’ Blankos Block Party, a cross-platform game featuring vinyl characters. And Governments are already conceptualising services that can be offered via the metaverse to their citizens.
And of course, the home/remote working explosion post covid pandemic has effectively changed the way we work, and for many people they are already experiencing a very low grade metaverse in ‘connecting with people when you aren’t physically in the same place’.
Despite the buzz, despite the hype, and the inevitable hurdles (security, data protection, environmental issues, currency etc), the evidence suggests that planning for the metaverse, or at least keeping up to date with developments, makes real ‘metasense’.