The term Metaverse first appeared in Neil Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash and has become a top industry buzzword in the last two years. Virtual reality (VR) game developers are rapidly pivoting towards the concept, and Facebook rebranded as Meta Platforms Inc. in 2021.
Reports even suggest that the metaverse could generate $1 trillion in revenue, earning $400 billion in the next four years. So, what makes the metaverse important? Why has this concept garnered so much attention from investors and innovators alike?
Understanding the Metaverse
The metaverse is defined as a unified and decentralized virtual space populated by 3D objects and avatars of human users interacting similarly to the real world.
If the experience of reading an article on the internet is similar to reading a book, then navigating a VR theme park in the Metaverse will resemble a real visit to Disneyland.
Years before Facebook’s rebranding, Decentraland came out with one of the industry’s first purpose-built Metaverse platforms. It has its own cryptocurrency token, MANA, and all token holders have a say in the platform’s decision-making process.
The Sandbox, Somnium Space, and Bloktopia are some of the other metaverse platforms available today.
Why Is the Metaverse Important?
There are eight major reasons behind the industry hype towards the Metaverse:
It could be the next internet
In a letter marking the onset of Facebook’s rebrand, Mark Zuckerberg, company Chief Executive, explained that the metaverse would be an “embodied internet,” meaning users would no longer passively consume information.
They would instead engage with data and real-time 3D (RT3D) objects. The Metaverse is also linked to the emerging concept of Web 3.0 – a decentralised, open-source version of a spatially-designed internet.
It will be entirely democratized for all users
Metaverse platforms will have a democratized architecture, meaning that no single individual, group, or organization has ownership over its operations. Anyone with a stake in the platform’s cryptocurrency will have a say in daily decision-making.
The decentralized nature of the Metaverse will entirely transform how the digital world operates. For instance, it may no longer be possible to roll out a sweeping algorithm change without user consent.
A lot of the Metaverse will be open-source
Although startups and companies are mostly building the Metaverse, a lot of its source code is available as open-source through Metaverse projects on GitHub and even VR world creation platforms like Vircadia.
Even global tech giants such as Meta have also embraced open source in a big way with its technologies for image synthesis, hierarchical visibility, AI, and others, available to developers.
It will transform how we interact with information
Today, we interact with online information in a two-dimensional format. There are texts and visuals, a 2D screen, and a passive user who enjoys limited interactivity through input peripherals that have been in use for decades.
The metaverse is the first major revolution in input-output exchanges since the invention of the mouse. A combination of hand controllers, eye tracking, and voice commands will allow users to interact with visualized data as if it were the real world.
It could transform every aspect of our lives
The main reason the Metaverse is important is due to its industry and process-agnostic nature. Like the internet, one could apply it to virtually any use case – from gaming to work, and socialization to research.
It has the potential to transform every aspect of our lives, both in our professional and personal spheres. The Metaverse has already hosted weddings and is home to entire office campuses.
It will have major implications for accessibility
The Metaverse could make the internet more accessible to all and has particularly important implications for those living with a disability. For example, users with mobility impairment in the lower limbs can move around freely inside the Metaverse through different forms of gestures.
AI-based captioning and auto-translation could also help overcome hearing impairment and language barriers. However, more research is required for these solutions, and VR hardware has to factor in accessibility needs.
The Metaverse could advance scientific research
The Metaverse could leapfrog scientific research by several years, especially in healthcare, aerospace, manufacturing, and a host of other fields.
For instance, professionals in the pharmaceutical field can simulate the molecular structure of a vaccine in 3D, and then meet with project stakeholders in a VR environment. The Metaverse can fast-track approvals, boost error detection, and increase success rates.
It can become the universal digital destination
The Metaverse could eventually become a digital destination where all of us “hang out,” just like with social media today. It will determine friendships, relationships, and interpersonal dynamics, and could enable people from across the world to meet face-to-face without having to travel.
As a result, brands and marketers could also leverage the Metaverse for high-traffic advertising.
Challenges to the Rise of the Metaverse
To realize its full potential, the Metaverse needs to overcome the following challenges:
- Internet penetration is still too low – Most of the platform’s functions rely on the cloud and internet connectivity. However, internet penetration remains low in most parts of the world except for North America and Northern Europe.
- VR headsets are yet to become lightweight and ergonomic – Headsets are yet to reach the lightweight and ergonomic standards set by our favorite consumer device, the smartphone, and are not portable or suitable enough for prolonged use.
- Remote collaboration has only recently become mature – The metaverse takes remote collaboration to the next level, allowing users to meet face-to-face digitally. However, remote collaboration has only recently become mainstream and most organizations may not be ready for adoption.
- Advanced VR gear remains expensive – Apart from consumer headsets in the sub-$500 range, equipment like omnidirectional treadmills is extremely costly, placing the Metaverse out of the reach of many users.
For these reasons, enterprises will be the first to explore the importance of the Metaverse and will invest in disruptive hardware and software platforms, even as the industry matures for consumer use.