When is a metaverse becoming itself, who builds it and who lives in it? Join us on a wondrous tour of virtual fashion shows, real estate with Snoop Dogg and 16-year-old kids who out-earn their parents.
Conditions for a metaverse
A metaverse is when the physical and virtual worlds are combined, when one interacts with the other, when digital and real human experiences melt seamlessly into one, when boundaries between the two become fuzzy. Builders have spent the last five decades creating this new realm that is neither nor, or even both. Here is the journey from Pong to Sandbox and beyond, and here we also explore the bricks from which the new world is built today.
Birth of a pre-metaverse
Humans have been experiencing virtual worlds for a few decades now. It might have begun in 1977 with Atari’s Pong – two moving vertical lines, a flat moving sphere and the name-giving, slightly annoying pong sound. A plastic console, old TV sets and weeks of fun for the whole family. Not a metaverse yet but a first step: moving real-world play into bits and bytes.
Virtual becomes social
The virtual globe was still a flat-earth three decades later when the next step towards a metaverse was taken: virtual worlds became social and connected. Social media like Facebook are the yearbooks and friendship booklets made digital, micro blogging like Twitter is the digital bulletin board in old people’s college campus. Humans moved the next experience into the computer: interpersonal communication. Still not a metaverse, even if Meta wants you to think it is. However, apps like Tinder connect the two worlds – swipe right – and meet cute in a coffee shop downtown: the digital now crosses into the real.
… must be funny, in a rich man’s world
Money, money, money is the third and yet final layer which started roughly 13 years ago with the invention of Bitcoin. What transports money towards the metaverse is not the mere buying or selling of goods, that has been done long before. Crypto currencies mixed with a social component and an element of play allow to create a complete global universe, either open or in a closed loop. Play moved the real into the virtual, social media moved the digital into reality. Money permeates all boundaries moving back and forth rendering the question mute, where real begins and ends.
The building blocks of the Metaverse
To paraphrase Neo in the Matrix: “we need computing power. Lot’s of computing power.” The metaverse desires a massive multiplayer world, full of interactions, possible in 3D with either augmented or virtual reality elements; underlaid with a secure and decentral money layer. All components were possible for years and decades, but the combination calls for faster CPU (Intel) and GPU (Nvidia), powering cloud infrastructure (AWS, Azure, Scaleway), delivered by our favorite 5G network to our devices. What is invisible to us, drives the metaverse.
Plasticity – touch and feel and fart
A digital universe is just a piece of software without the haptics. Touch it with gloves (HaptX) like in every science fiction film ever, put a movie theater around your head with an admittedly still clunky VR headset (Oculus VR), do a Pokemon Go with AR glasses (Magic Leap) and our favorite, teleport the experience and our speechless faces of wonder with a hologram (Looking Glass) into our living rooms, kitchens or toilets. All this already exists, although the current metaverse still looks more Tetris than Ready Player One.
Virtualization tools, sweet dreams are made of this
The Unreal Engine lets software artists create ever increasingly realistic virtual worlds, mostly for games. Add 3D modeling and capture (threekit) – putting colored dots on faces and bodies, film them and add textures and fur. Anyone remember the abysmal Cats? Not only do we need an avatar to navigate the metaverse, we can now enrich our virtual likeness with useful functions such as carrying a wallet or storing one’s own NFTs – “my ape, my beeple, my legendary RAF Camora”. Last but not least can we add volumetric video to achieve a near-true three dimensional experience. Wanna watch the next Avatar in Decentraland with me and a million new friends?
Enter the Dragon – virtual worlds
The metaverse, at last. We can have it centralized and let our younger kids roam Roblox or Minecraft for nothing else than pure fun. On the decentralized edges of the universe is nothing pure. The headlines of 2022 are dominated by greed. Have you heard that Snoop Dogg bought a villa in Decentraland for half a mil? Imagine what the plots in his smoky vicinity will be worth? How about the liberation of thousands of Asian gamers who borrow money (although it’s called a “grant”) from crazy rich Americans and earn a living in Axie Infinity? Just to learn that since no new money is coming in, the job of the future has turned to badly paid slave labor for click drones.
Money doesn’t stink
Especially digital money. To grease the virtual flywheel, we invite payment providers into our wallets – credit card services, Silicon valley fruit that lets you pay with a face scan, dozens of NFT market places, myriads of crypto exchanges and even more wallet developers. Money is the hottest property in the metaverse and we see a race to our hearts (and pockets). Who will be the Big Kahuna of payments, encompassing fiat and crypto, shopping and gaming, earning and spending? Our bet is that it will neither be a classical bank nor a purely crypto based enterprise. You heard us, Paypal and Coinbase!
What to do on a rainy Friday afternoon?
The metaverse has it all. Like music? Go to a virtual concert after buying an NFT that is the ticket, merch and key to the digital VIP area in one. See a virtual fashion show? Even in Decentraland it is either Prada or nada. Still at work? Use a tool like Meeting VR or meet in the comic world of Gather for an after-work drink. Heck, you can even buy insurance in the metaverse. As well as guns as an AK-47 toting NFT project declared in the last Paris Blockchain Week: you need to defend yourself in the metaverse. Well, we don’t. For now we stick to football card games (Sorare), breeding Dragons from shooting stars (Levana) and Minecraft-meets-real-estate-listing (Sandbox). Hope to meet you there! It’s a new world.