20 Apr

What is the Metaverse? (And Why Should You Care?)

By Matt Fickenworth, Account Associate

Is it just us, or is the digital world transforming every week? The constant evolution of social media, AI, and VR are just a few of the pivotal pieces in the story of change over the last few months. And one of the most confusing, challenging topics to grasp? The metaverse.

If you haven’t heard, Facebook rebranded to Meta last October. While there were pokes of fun at them across the world (even Iceland got in on it), the change represents a very significant, modern and innovative idea: the plan to change the world through the metaverse. You see, Meta has had some problems recently: they dropped quarterly user growth for the first time ever in their 18-year history, Apple’s privacy changes present new obstacles, and, well, competitors are out-competing them (mainly this one guy named TikTok). And Meta’s answers to those problems? The metaverse.

But what is the metaverse, exactly?

Now, that’s a great question. It’s the future of the internet (according to top tech CEOs). It’s a video game. It’s a social experience. It’s the next office space. It’s all that, and much more.

Let’s take a step back to the origins. The word “metaverse” describes a fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.” In today’s day, metaverse is essentially a broad shift in how we interact with technology. And that means virtual reality, augmented reality, a digital economy (yes – users can create, buy, and sell goods in the metaverse), virtual identities and avatars, and much, much more. If you’re still confused, check out Meta’s breakdown of the metaverse.

If you take one thing away from what the metaverse is, it’s this: the metaverse will be a virtual world that parallels our lives in real life.

Does Meta “own” the metaverse?

No, they don’t. Meta, Microsoft, Google, Apple, Sony, Epic Games, and a bunch of other companies are working on projects within the metaverse. Meta is insistent on interoperability, meaning if you have an avatar on Facebook, you should be able to use it on a Microsoft platform – which suggests a single metaverse. But, that also presents many problems – personal privacy, company privacy, company revenue/share, regulations, and much more. And while Meta doesn’t necessarily own the metaverse, they’ve committed the most resources to their projects.

What does the metaverse look like as we speak?

Let’s just say if you don’t have a VR headset, you’re going to have trouble accessing the main parts of the metaverse. A once well-known brand, Oculus, is now a subsidiary to Meta and plays a crucial role in the transition to the metaverse with their virtual reality headsets. But VR headsets present their own issues: a hefty price tag and motion sickness. And the workaround seems to be holograms – but that tech won’t be widely available to the public anytime soon.

What does it mean for the future?

Talking about the metaverse is a little like talking about the Internet in the 1970s – there’s lots of creative innovation, but it’s in the early stages of development, which leads to no one really knowing what the reality actually is. Even Zuckerberg said the fully realized metaverse is still 10-15 years away from being a reality (maybe he’s downplaying it so Meta can beat expectations, but we’ll never know). And it doesn’t help that there’s an awful lot of marketing hype surrounding the metaverse – hype that’s created lofty expectations and heavy anticipation.

However, that’s not holding companies back from preparing for the metaverse. Walmart made waves in the media with their metaverse arrangements and Nike’s recent acquisition pushed them further in the buildup. And while the development of the metaverse sounds nice, how do we know there will be a desire to use the metaverse? Will people want to use VR/AR to be in an office meeting? To buy their next outfit? It might be years before we get those answers.