What is the Metaverse?
In the past few years, “metaverse” has risen to the top among tech-related buzzwords. It’s a portmanteau of “meta” and the word “universe,” – and the expression is used to describe a future version of the Internet that some expect will replace our current browser-based online world.
Supposedly, this futuristic iteration will consist of virtually augmented and VR-based environments with full 3D rendering. But is this vision for the Internet’s future another flying car pipedream, or is it achievable in practice? What would it look like, and how would crypto and Web 3.0 technologies integrate with this proposed metaverse?
We’ll explore all of these questions in-depth below!
Since the first inception of the metaverse concept, it has been interpreted in various ways. Today, the term refers to a potential online space that will become the next step in the evolution of the Internet – a virtual space where people will play, socialize, and even work; all in the form of virtual avatars.
Crucially, the spaces occupied by those avatars will be shared and continuous – unlike a Zoom call, they won’t disappear when you’re done using them for the day. The best way to understand this description is to look at some virtual worlds in multiplayer gaming, like Second Life, Minecraft, or Roblox.
History of the Metaverse
The word itself traces its origins to a 1992 sci-fi novel called Snow Crash, written by Neal Stephenson. Subsequently, the idea would become popularized by various movies, novels, and games – most recently, Ready Player One. That novel is said to have inspired the creation of the Oculus Rift, the groundbreaking VR headset now owned by Zuckerberg’s Meta.
However, the first interactive online virtual world came in 2003 in the form of Second Life. After that, MMORPGs, shooters, and games like Roblox and Minecraft would also be referred to as metaverses. The same can be said for the popular shooter Fortnite, which has already hosted virtual concerts by real-life celebrities like Ariana Grande and Travis Scott.
The pandemic has further increased this concept’s popularity – after two years of intermittent lockdowns, people have started thinking about a virtual, remote future.
Metaverse – Current State Of Affairs
While Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, has also banked on a future powered by AR (augmented reality) experiences – one proponent of a Metaverse future has invested more in the idea than anyone else: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
In fact, he is so convinced in this future version of the Internet that he has changed his company name from Facebook to Meta – cementing the company’s focus on building the metaverse.
Zuckerberg’s idea for the Metaverse is an immersive experience that combines various existing technologies – mobile devices, cloud servers, personal computers, and VR headsets. A platform built on all of these technologies is supposed to support a 3D virtual world, which people can access through VR headsets or glasses.
This is the main reason Meta purchased Oculus Rift in the first place and why Apple, Sony, and myriad other tech companies have been working on their mixed-reality technologies.
Whichever version of the Metaverse prevails, one theme remains constant – this virtual world will run parallel to our actual, physical lives. It will contain digital buildings, parks, and neighborhoods in a single world or across different ones.
Some visions of the metaverse don’t include a fully virtual environment like the one Meta seems to be building. Instead, these are AR overlays for the physical world.
Of course, some naysayers remain vocal about the impractical nature of the metaverse – at least in the forms in which it is currently being suggested. Many of them are quick to discuss the cumbersome nature of VR headsets.
Also, the current version of the Internet isn’t perfect either – cyberbullying, misinformation and hate speech are all still present, and we haven’t found a way to eradicate them yet. Some experts believe that these issues would have to be solved before the world is introduced to an even more free-for-all digital environment.
Types of the Metaverse
There are already plenty of companies working on their metaverse or at least metaverse-adjacent products.
The company formerly known as Facebook – Meta Platforms – has invested heavily in a virtual platform for social interactions. And they’ve leveraged their ownership of the VR equipment manufacturer Oculus in the process.
However, it’s important to note that Meta’s version of the future is still far off – we only have general speculations about their approach to technology issues like server capacity and rendering on such a large scale.
On the other hand, Microsoft has invested in a more grounded version of the Metaverse in the form of their augmented reality platform called Mesh. It allows users to interact with AR environments without dealing with any additional VR headsets or other hardware – it’s all done via their laptop or smartphone. In the future, Microsoft also intends to create a version of Microsoft Teams in the metaverse, enabling remote workers to host immersive virtual meetings.
Of course, gaming is the only place where we’ve had the chance to experience a metaverse in practice. And Roblox is one of the most popular virtual worlds for gamers, especially the youngest ones. In the future, Roblox intends to expand to wider virtual worlds with entertainment for adults as well.
NVIDIA also has a few metaverse projects in the pipeline – their Omniverse platform is already used to connect and render 3D digital worlds. Right now, it’s being used to run simulations of factories and other complex buildings during construction projects.
It could be argued that Snapchat is one of the pioneers of augmented reality, at least among mainstream tech companies – they’re the ones who have popularized AR filters in the first place. And they’re looking to expand this vision (quite literally) with their AR glasses, intended to augment people’s experiences in interesting ways outside the Snapchat app.
Various companies focused on medical learning are also working on augmented reality and virtual reality products. In the healthcare education industry, simulating surgical and patient interactions would be a game-changer for students – allowing them to practice any technique safely.
Crypto and the Metaverse
Regardless of what version of the metaverse becomes the predominant one, there are some concerns – mainly, the fact that the company behind it will control this “new Internet” far tighter than any company could hope to monopolize the Internet of today.
So far, all early virtual worlds we’ve had the chance to try are controlled, owned, and ultimately shut down by companies. There’s no hope for a democratic, free virtual world if it stems from such a premise.
That’s why the concept of a crypto-powered, blockchain-based metaverse is becoming increasingly appealing to experts, investors, and the general public.
First of all, a crypto metaverse would be decentralized by default – all of its components would be based on blockchain technology. In practice, this sets the concept of a blockchain metaverse apart from the others right away – traditional business structures wouldn’t be able to extract value and impose their rules in the same way.
All participants will have a more equitable experience – which could drive engagement. And a blockchain base would also be the best guarantee for longevity – all participants could have an ownership share. And if the metaverse creators would want to walk away and shut it down, the platform could still exist perpetually.
User ownership also leads us to the equally important point of user governance – the future of this digital world could be decided through governance tokens and decentralized autonomous organizations. This would be democratic voting at its best, unencumbered with representatives and traditional trappings of a physical democratic state.
Finally, blockchain technology would quickly solve the issue of economic value and transactions in the Metaverse. We already have cryptocurrencies that were created for this type of decentralized digital society, such as The Sandbox’s SAND token, Decentraland’s MANA, or Yuga Labs’ Bored Ape Yacht Club APE token. All items in these worlds could in theory function like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – digital but still unique to the users that own them. Your avatar owns a Tuxedo designed by Lady Gaga, your VIking owns an ancient Battle-Axe… And users wants to be able to mint these items, sell or trade them, and even potentially bring them from one game like fortnite, into another metaverse like Sandbox or Decentraland.
This would also allow users who own different metaverse tokens, digital real estate, and other virtual items to trade them on real-life NFT marketplaces – connecting the real-world economy with the virtual Metaverse one.
Role of Decentralized Networks in the Metaverse
Blockchains provide excellent interconnectivity – but they aren’t the solution to the fragmented ecosystem problem, at least not on their own. Blockchains are highly secure environments – but they’re still mutually disconnected.
And this leads us to secure blockchain oracles, which we need to bridge that gap – such as Chainlink. These decentralized oracle networks support smart contracts that can interact with services and data in the real world – in other words, they bridge the divide between blockchain ecosystems and everything that exists outside of them.
Blockchains can easily communicate with one another and the other, more traditional systems and technologies that power the entire metaverse experience – all through Chainlink. And in a secure, transparent, and efficient way.
This idea doesn’t exist in opposition to the mainstream metaverse projects currently dominating the VR and AR landscape. For example, if HoloLens (from Microsoft) and Meta’s future VR headset end up sharing the market and creating their own metaverses, blockchains could be their underlying structure that supports decentralization, ownership over digital goods, and a common virtual environment.
And Chainlink could be the connection point for blockchain, Meta, and HoloLens – all three technologies could participate in information and value transfers, resulting in one giant and immersive metaverse experience. Plus, that experience would be easily linked to the real world.
Investment Opportunities In The Metaverse
While the alternate-reality metaverse that tech giants are trying to build is still a long way out, the NFT market is already seeing a lot of promising individual projects that establish their own tiny metaverses through digital private property, such as land and other scarces goods.
They’re not necessarily extensive centralized Facebook type ‘digital worlds’ like Second Life–such as what Meta is trying to build–but instead, decentralized blockchain-based platforms and applications that may very well become the globe-spanning digital-world foundation that Facebook and instagram represented for Web 2.
One such example is Decentraland – a VR world where you can create a humanoid avatar, buy up digital properties, and traverse the virtual world.
People have already started making money by flipping virtual land in that digital world – and they’ve made a hefty income in the process. It’s no wonder, considering every piece of land in Decentraland is up for sale – except for roads and plazas, which are public property.
Some plots of land here have been sold for more than they would be in the real world… And it’s all possible because, should Decentraland (or the Sandbox) take off, that land could be used as a virtual venue for music events, art exhibits, and even casinos.
Decentraland isn’t the only investment opportunity among blockchain metaverses either – CryptoVoxels has also been gaining steam, largely due to its Minecraft-esque blocky visuals Of course, if you’re looking for something even more realistic, Upland might be the better choice. It’s a digital world that mirrors our real one, with real-world locations and addresses.
All in all, plenty of creative people are coming up with new and exciting digital spaces based on blockchain technology. And any one of them could be the seed of the big metaverse everyone is expecting and working towards.
The Future of The Metaverse
If you got the impression that “metaverse” is a pretty nebulous term, you wouldn’t be wrong – even in its most basic state, it could still years away. And the same can be said for NFTs, Play-to-Earn games (such as Axie Infinity (AXS) and crypto-driven dApps that could be the foundation of that metaverse.
According to Facebook, the first version of their Metaverse is still anywhere between five and ten years away. Building the prerequisite infrastructure will take years, even when all of the technology is solid. Then, we’ll have to establish new forms of online etiquette for such a bold new frontier – along with platform interoperability (linke to our Interop. Blog post), stability, and a lot more.
While VR technology has been around for at least a decade in gaming, it’s still far from mainstream – and AR headsets like the Google Glass are still not ready. The Metaverse won’t be enjoyable if it’s not a super-polished virtual environment, and that takes time.
Still, business opportunities related to the metaverse are already on the horizon. The likes of JP Morgan and Bloomberg estimate that this market could be worth anything between $800 billion and a trillion dollars in the next couple of years – of course, provided the technology pans out.
In just a few years, the concept of the Metaverse went from being a much-ridiculed sci-fi vision of the future to a tangible reality. Sure, it’s still in the early phases of development regardless of whose project you look at – but it’s already clear that the stage has been set for the next big tech race.
And while it’s still impossible to determine what kind of virtual reality the Metaverse will be – we can already spot large investments, backers, creators, builders, and future users that may make it less virtual, and more of a reality.
Are you interested in owning cryptocurrency with future potential within in this digital space? Consider researching GALA, AXS, MANA and SAND, all available on NDAX. Most importantly, always remember to DYOR (do your own research)!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide investment, legal, accounting, tax or any other advice and should not be relied on in that or any other regard. The information contained herein is for information purposes only and is not to be construed as an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of cryptocurrencies or otherwise.