What is Metaverse? What is the hype around Metaverse?

The Metaverse has been the buzzword since Facebook decided to rename its company as Meta. In less than 6 months since the launch, 500+ apps have already started using the term “metaverse“. The Metaverse has generated strong interest that mega tech corporations have publicly stated their intentions to invest heavily in it. Some have already described the Metaverse as the next big thing, similar to the internet. So, what exactly is the Metaverse, and why should anyone care? Is it just a fad or a trendy application that will be good for a few days? Let us find out.

What exactly is the Metaverse?

The word “metaverse” is derived from two words, the first word “meta” and the second part ‘verse,” which comes from “universe.” As per ancient Greek, the word “meta” means “beyond,” “after,” or “behind.” Metaverse effectively means, going beyond the current universe of reality.  Its concept is to bring people together in a 3D virtual space, where users can interact with each other. As Mark Zuckerberg mentions in his narration, it is a way to connect people through telepresence, in a new virtual universe.

Star Wars and Metaverse

To explain the metaverse further, I will use an example from one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, Star Wars. Star Wars has in many ways depicted the future of technology. Importantly, they have been a source of inspiration for the advent of technology.

Nevertheless, Star Wars depicted various members of the council of JEDI connecting virtually. Only a few members would be present physically in these meetings. Whereas other members who are geographically separated would be present virtually. However, when you look at the whole meeting room, it would appear that all members are co-located. The ones present virtually would be in the form of a holographic image. These holographic 3D portrayals using telepresence are the closest reference to the Metaverse. In contrast to the video calls of today, which are 2D in nature, in the new metaverse, people will be able to have their own 3D avatars. These avatars could be different from their real-life appearances. 

Ready Player One and Metaverse

Another relevant example would be from the movie Ready Player One. The concept of the movie was based on a Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming Simulation (MMOGS). This movie, based in 2045, talks about a virtual world called “Oasis.” Users could “Go” to Oasis, wearing their virtual reality equipment on their faces and hands. Users could also have better interaction by wearing a full-body immersion suit called ‘Hamster Ball”. By wearing this equipment, users could feel the tactile sensations as well. Users had their own avatars, with coins as their earnings and way of life for many. Users of these games come out of the game only for sleep and basic routine activities. 

Image courtesy of Ready Player One, equipment used to enter Metaverse called Oasis

Underlying technology

The visuals depicted in the presentation (link to Mark’s speech), Metaverse, will be your telepresence using the advancements in telecommunication technologies. Some of the significant technologies include virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that you experience while wearing a VR headset. An example of VR is visiting a forest while being at your desk, wearing a VR headset.

AR and VR for Metaverse

Augmented reality is an interactive experience of the real-world environment. An example of AR would be trying out which color would suit best on walls or how to position a chair in your drawing room, using your mobile screen. The ongoing deployment of 5G should aid the cause of the metaverse and enable higher quality communication. Without these technologies, the Metaverse would have continued to be a sci-fi concept. It is important to note that users are expected to use various devices like VR headsets or mobile devices. (In the future, there may be the possibility of device usage being eliminated)

To a large extent, though, the Metaverse can be termed as the updated version of the internet. Like the internet, Metaverse will also allow you to create digital/virtual profiles. It will be synchronous and live. More importantly, it will be a fully functioning economy in itself. the Metaverse is expected to be a pioneer of the next frontier in commerce, like the internet opened up opportunities for commerce and trade. Microsoft has been very gung ho about the Metaverse and has planned several significant investments. Let’s look at what the companies are planning to do in the Metaverse.

Mega-Tech in the Metaverse

Before we discuss various initiatives by companies in the Metaverse, let me clarify one important aspect. The term “metaverse” is used by the company Meta (previously known as Facebook). The virtual universe they have created is called the Metaverse. Each corporation could create its own virtual universe and could name it anything other than the metaverse. For simplicity’s sake, let’s continue to use the term “metaverse.”

Microsoft and Metaverse

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes that his company will be at the forefront of metaverse development. It is important to note that Microsoft has been focused on providing tools and technologies around professional work. When they started with Windows in the early 1970s, founder Bill Gates predicted that everyone would own a computer one day. While that prediction was not taken so seriously then, it turned out to be a reality after a couple of decades. The primary reason for this prediction coming true was that users who used Microsoft products at work realized how much more value there was as compared to using the traditional methods.

With the COVID situation in the last two years and most employees working from home; human interaction has been limited to video and audio calls. The Metaverse presents an opportunity to collaborate at a new level, closer to reality. If the hybrid model of work continues for a while, companies might opt for a metaverse-based way of working. Microsoft is betting big on cross-collaboration using this metaverse technology. Microsoft, with the plan to foray big into the Metaverse, acquired Activision Blizzard, a gaming company, for close to 70 billion USD. This acquisition is expected to help them gain strong technological advancement in graphic avatar designing.

Samsung and Google, have also invested heavily in the concept of the metaverse.

Gaming and Metaverse

On the other hand, Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, have been closer to the metaverse even before others arrived. Fortnite as a game allows the players to collaborate virtually. They do conduct some concerts as well within the game. They have also built their own cryptocurrency. The gaming and entertainment industries lead the way when it comes to providing a path of innovation and experiment in technology.

So all in all, the metaverse should become the reality of the future from an industry standpoint. However, the question and concern remain: will Metaverse be widely accepted by end-users?

Will Metaverse be the New Normal?

If Microsoft’s plan works and corporates accept this way of working, the question is how frequently end-users will use this functionality. Most users, even today, prefer to keep videos “OFF” while working virtually. In such a scenario, expecting end-users to wear a VR headset and probably a few more pieces of equipment may be a steep ask. When the world is trying to move away from meetings and utilize more tools, so that users do not have “Zoom Call fatigue,” the Metaverse may add to the fatigue. Metaverse is a new technology altogether, with a decent learning curve. There are also concerns over data, even with the existing applications by some of the mega tech houses. The Metaverse may not comfort them, and they might give it a skip.

As per an article published by Bloomberg, Facebook, by creating Metaverse, is trying to create a solution for a problem that does not exist. Practically, users can still connect with one another over traditional 2D calls. Metaverse might become a fad too. But don’t we all remember the classic article suggesting, why the Internet is a fad? This article is referred to as one of the worst predictions in history.

Let’s go back to our example of movies. Ready Player One showed that users did not own much in real life. Instead, users were fully focused on their virtual life. They lived a not-so-great life in the real world. More importantly, tech companies controlled and governed the real world. This is apprehension for many, that Metaverse could be the step in the direction of making life more virtual than ever before. Importantly, it could lead to the degeneration of the real-life we are currently living in.

Image of the internet is a fad article

Parting thoughts

So, sitting in the year 2022, it may be difficult to predict the uptake of the Metaverse. At this point, it appears more practical that Metaverse will gain acceptance as corporates begin to use it for their employees. Eventually, when users become more comfortable, they might adopt this technology in their household, similar to the Windows example we saw before.

Much like they missed the mobile revolution, companies like Microsoft have realized the value of losing out on a significant paradigm shift. Though they were the early innovators and predictors of this technology, a similar case may happen here. We may see the rise of new technology giants, some of the existing ones could become laggards, and some of the existing giants may take it to the next level. But certainly, till the time the Metaverse is tested by these companies, it is here to stay.

Also Read – An Indian enterprise leading by example in the Fintech space

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