You may have recently heard the term ‘Metaverse’ floating about on social media and news websites in relation to Facebook and their major rebranding efforts. The tech giants changed their name to ‘Meta’ in October 2021 in an attempt to shift the direction of the company and set their stall out for a future in which the 2-d internet becomes 3-d.
But what exactly is a metaverse mean, how does it work and will it really change our lives? In this article we explore those questions with reference to Facebook, Roblox and other examples of Metaverse products that might exist in the future.
What Is The Metaverse?
Breaking down the term, ‘Meta’ is a Greek word meaning ‘after’ or ‘beyond’, which was one of the main factors in Mark Zuckerberg’s selection for Facebook’s name change, taking the company ‘beyond’ in a new direction.
The metaverse is a concept which has been around since the 1990s, first coined by Neal Stephenson in his dystopian sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. In the book, Stephenson portrays the metaverse as a vast network of 3D virtual worlds with the sole purpose of social connection, which can be accessed through virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.
Essentially, the metaverse is a place where people can interact with each other in a virtual environment, using virtual avatars, virtual currency to buy clothes and even weapons and gear in gaming settings. According to Wired, these virtual worlds will continue to exist despite whether or not you are active within them.
Some have described a Metaverse as a 3-d version of the internet, a world enabling all the same social connections you see there, but in this case immersive so that you can jump inside it, move around and interact more like you do in the real world.
It’s important to understand that Facebook doesn’t own the term ‘Metaverse’. There are many examples of metaverses that you will find in everything from retail – where customers will be able to browse a virtual shop with help from a virtual shop assistant – to video games – we already see this in Minecraft, Fortnite and Roblox – to real estate – people are buying and selling virtual real estate with cryptocurrency now – to online gambling – the first virtual casino was launched in the 2010s and more will surely follow.
What is the Difference between The Metaverse and the Internet?
The internet is the network of every computer, mobile and server which people can use to communicate, interact with websites and buy and sell products and services. The Metaverse is an augmented version of this. The difference between the internet and the metaverse is that, while users simply browse the internet, the Metaverse allows its users to “live” in it.
To put it another way, the metaverse expands on the internet rather than competing against it; people can still interact with one another and buy goods and services, much like how social media works in our day-to-day lives, but in the metaverse, this is all accessed via virtual reality and augmented reality with the help of a VR headset – more on that in a moment.
So, as you can see, whilst the mainstream discourse around the Metaverse so far has been with Facebook in mind, the social media giant’s transition into ‘Meta’ will not constitute the whole of the metaverse, in fact, it will only make up a small portion of it, allowing other companies to build upon the metaverse using their own methods.
Ok, that makes sense. But what then, is Roblox?
Roblox is one of the best examples of a successfully executed metaverse gaming product available to experience right now.
The genius Roblox though is that at its core, it is an online gaming platform designed to put the creative onus on its players. Unlike most conventional online video games which come with their own preset modes and levels, Roblox relies on the creators, i.e. the players themselves, to create and populate their platform with various modes and games. It is a fully immersive and social experience in which players interact and form strong bonds.
Speaking to Emerging Tech Brew, Roblox’s chief business officer, Craig Donato, emphasises that there is still much more innovation to occur within the social side of the metaverse, building a game which transports players into different worlds while simultaneously sharing that experience with friends, which is something Roblox is focusing on rather than branching off into VR and AR.
Alongside creating their own games and worlds, users have the ability to develop their own avatar, allowing them to forge their own separate identity to that of the one in the real world.
Roblox also has an in-game economy via their currency called “Robux”, giving its users the ability to barter, buy and sell products to each other in-game. Community developers, i.e. creators who generate and foster communities within the game, can also be paid in Robux.
The use of virtual currencies within the Roblox environment is interesting. And one industry that is very likely to see an opportunity for growth here is online gambling. Always ready to enhance the power of new technologies, casino operators have already envisaged Metaverse casinos. Indeed, a brand called Slots Million created the first VR casino many years ago but it was too soon in the evolution of VR for it to be a success. But now, with the growth of bitcoin gambling, the high profile of Facebook’s Meta brand and cheaper VR headsets, will we all soon be playing the latest slots with no deposit free spins and live dealer tables under the watch of a virtual pit boss? It is surely a future that can’t be far away!
What is Facebook Horizon and why are they creating it?
Ok, back to Facebook and their own take on the Metaverse …
Facebook Horizon is the first major step towards Meta’s overarching goal of creating a metaverse. Essentially, it aims to build upon Roblox’s idea of a platform called “Horizon Worlds” which consists of user-generated content but with a primary focus on Virtual Reality.
Currently, Meta’s goal is focused on one area of life: work. Their aim is to create a workspace environment which exists in VR called Facebook’s Horizons Workrooms, an evolution of existing softwares which allow for business meetings and conferences. Think Zoom but with Avatars!
The snag here is, to access Facebook Horizon with your colleagues, and all of its features, you will need a virtual reality headset, specifically an Oculus Quest 2.
Which brings us to …
What are VR headsets?
VR headsets are going to be the crucial bit of kit required to make this whole Metaverse thing into (virtual) reality!
A virtual reality headset (or VR headset) is a head-mounted device that is positioned across the user’s eyes and displays a virtual world/environment for the wearer. You may have seen them at tech shows, on the TV comedy Red Dwarf back in the 1990s, or on rare occasions, someone wearing one in public, playing a game whilst on the train or a bus for example.
The headsets include stereoscopic images for each eye, head-motion trackers and also stereo sound, in order to make the VR experience as immersive as possible.
Whilst VR headsets are most commonly currently used for gaming, as with Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms for example, they will soon have more uses outside of gaming and we will all need one if we want to inhabit the new Metaverse(s).
So, there you have it. The future of the internet is the Metaverse, a virtual 3-d world made up of lots of smaller Metaverses owned and operated by everyone from retail, real estate and video game operators, to social media giants like Facebook. A fully immersive universe may be some time away but it’s getting closer all the time, so be prepared with your headset on and your mind ready to be blown!