Let’s find out what that is, and whether Metaverse truly gains more importance today
Facebook rebranding to Meta may be absolutely unclear to those who are not familiar with Metaverse.
The term “metaverse” first appeared in the cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. The author describes Meraverse as a shared “imaginary place” that’s “made available to the public over the worldwide fibre-optics network” and virtual reality goggles. In this virtual world, developers can “build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows, special neighbourhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored, and free-combat zones where people can go to hunt and kill each other.”
The term seems to catch up and acquire more general meaning over time. Today Metaverse is understood as any persistent immersive digital space which creates a sense of presence in a realistic environment. Additionally, Metaverse might implement existing social media elements such as avatar personalisation and interaction, content creation, social reputation, etc.
Immersive effect is achieved by virtual or augmented reality tools and devices. They are the key access points to the digital universes. Metaverse also involves integration between virtual and physical spaces. Thus, when you use AR, digital augmentations appears overlaid on your physical surroundings.
In a broad sense, Metaverse is just another iteration of the Internet, being created by a network of computer and mobile nodes. Each node adds new information to the virtual environment and co-creates the infinite depth of the Metaverse. Being persistent, Metaverse never stops developing. Unlike individual cyberspaces created and used by a single computer, this digital space is shared. That means others are free to interact with the virtual landscape when and how they please, regardless of any individual actions.
Numerous entertainment and social media companies have invested in metaverse-related research and development, seeing it as a ‘next big thing’ in the technology sphere.
Currently, most components of metaverse technologies can be observed in video games, especially when it comes to massive multiplayer online gameplays. Some examples are Second Life, Fortnite, Decentraland, Roblox, and Active Worlds. Technology journalist Clive Thompson has also argued that the emergent, social-based gameplay of Minecraft represents an advanced implementation of the metaverse.
However, video games are only one way to incorporate Metaverse into our daily lives. Many companies wanting to hop onto the Metaverse train would like to expand the use of such virtual spaces to business, education, and retail services.
Thus, brands will be definitely eager to build virtual showrooms in popular Meta worlds and advertise their products and services. It has already happened to Second Life and Decentraland.
In addition, businesses can use the virtual world as a training ground. Scenario-planning could be an effective application. For instance, companies can simulate real-life management problems and assess their short-term and long-term outcomes in a near-realistic environment.
Since remote work has become more common nowadays, virtual offices with the employees’ avatars may also become an option.
Facebook is already developing a workplace part of the metaverse: Horizon Workrooms, an app that lets Oculus-wearing workers enter virtual offices and hold meetings. The Beta version is available for testing now.
Microsoft has a similar initiative called Mesh for Microsoft Teams. The solution is rolling out next year. It’s going to combine the mixed-reality capabilities of Microsoft Mesh, which allows people in different physical locations to join collaborative and shared holographic experiences, with the productivity tools of Microsoft Teams, where people can join virtual meetings, send chats, collaborate on shared documents and more.
As for education, Metaverse is able to create an immersive learning experience that will greatly enhance remote study sessions. Think about learning about historic events by observing the battles or revolutions from within, recreating them in a virtual space. Learning foreign languages may be also improved as students will immerse themselves in the digital world of the native-speaking country.
The universities best equipped with digital infrastructure and savvy human resources will emerge as the new leaders − no matter where they are, says Kwang Hyung Lee from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). He notes that KAIST students expressed their dissatisfaction with the passive and indirect learning experiences during lab classes. Advanced technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, image recognition or eye-tracking tools may help with this issue. In addition, the digital Metaverse can make quality education more inclusive, giving the chance to study from any corner of the world. KAIST is planning to test the virtual education technology at the Kenya-KAIST campus, which will open by September 2023 in the Konza Technopolis, 60km outside Nairobi.
When it comes to retail, virtual shopping venues have already been tried out in gaming metaverses. They had little utility for advertising physical products sold in brand stores. However, in Metaverse anything is possible. Thus, retailers may visualise any wildest ideas, making digital shopping fun, creative and even extreme. Shopping experiences that are not possible in the real world may become a great attraction for Metaverse retail customers.
Physical and digital may also successfully overlap in retail. Companies like Ikea are already employing AR technology to allow customers to design their physical spaces using its Studio app. Beauty giants have AR try-on tools for their cosmetic products. These separate trends should converge to become part of a single retail Metaverse.
Besides, as people would potentially spend more time in Metaverse, virtual goods will get more value. Therefore, retailers can gain profits selling virtual homes, cars, clothing and jewellery or even virtual cosmetics.
Metaverses are also a perfect space for the emerging NFT art galleries, as well as more traditional art exhibitions. Berlin’s König Galerie, Sotheby’s, Francisco Carolinum, and others have created their unique virtual galleries in Decentraland and Cryptovoxels. Displaying art in an unusual futuristic environment gives it a new twist and meaning. Virtual art museums are also emerging with collective experiences available. Group or individual excursions in bizarre artistic spaces using VR-headsets may be a great new entertainment that has no timing or spatial restrictions.