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What is the metaverse? We bring details

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Metaverse is currently a marketing catchphrase that is often mentioned in the business, technology and financial worlds. Precisely because of its frequent and varied use, its definition is vague, confusing and often altered by the intentions of the people who use it. It didn't take long to get the Croatian version of the word – metaverse.

Imagine a virtual world where people live, work and interact with each other, all from the comfort of their own home in the real world. This is an example of a metaverse. The metaverse is considered the next step in the evolution of the Internet. It will take many forms, including gaming, online communities, business meetings. In all these activities, people will communicate with each other using avatars that will represent them in the virtual world.

History of the Metaverse

The concept of the metaverse as well as the word was coined and first used by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 dystopian book Snow Crash to describe the virtual world we find in the story. It's about a world where your technical skills, that is, the sophistication of your avatar, represent a status symbol. Another example of a status symbol in that world is access to certain, otherwise forbidden areas — a predecessor to today's requirements that some sites have, for example, when you can't access content if you haven't registered on the site or paid for before.

Another book that helped push the idea of the metaverse is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline from 2011. A film of the same name was also made after this book. The story is also dystopian, and in it, people run away from real problems into a virtual world called Oasis. In the story, people access the metaverse using virtual reality visors and haptic (touch) gloves with which they can receive and touch objects within the world.

What is a metaverse?

The metaverse implies a graphically rich virtual world with a certain degree of credibility in which people can work, play, shop, socialize – in short, do the things they normally do in everyday real life. Proponents of the metaverse idea consider the concept of presence as a defining factor. For them, with the metaverse, it's important that you feel like you're really there and that you have the feeling that other people are really there with you.

Today, versions of the metaverse already exist in the form of video games. But there is one definition of metaverse that goes a step beyond classical virtual reality as we know it. This definition does not actually provide a direct explanation of what the metaverse is, but rather explains why many people think this concept is important. This definition actually looks back in time and takes the technologies that are all around us today, like the internet and smartphones, and assumes that it will be necessary to create a metaverse as the next step in the evolution of these technologies, to take their places when the time comes. Matthew Ball, who wrote extensively about the metaverse, described the metaverse as "the successor to the mobile Internet."

What is the difference between the metaverse and the Internet?

The Internet is a network consisting of billions of computers, millions of servers and other electronic devices. Once they jump online, online, internet users can interact with each other, browse pages, buy and sell things and various services, and more.

The metaverse is not competition with the Internet. She's not competing with him. The metaverse is built on the Internet. In it, users exist in the virtual world that mimics certain aspects of the real world using technologies such as virtual reality ( VR), refined reality (AR),AI (artificial intelligence), social media and digital i.e. cryptocurrency. The Internet is something that people search for, and the metaverse is something that people, to a certain level, can live in.

Even governments could expand their reach into the metaverse. For example, while the governments of many countries have a rather static presence on the internet, the government of Barbados plans to open its diplomatic embassy in the metaverse. More specifically, in the online world of Decentraland.

The growth of the Internet has triggered a variety of services that are currently leading the way to creating a metaverse.

"In gaming, you see Roblox, Minecraft and other various immersive video games — even Zoom – hinting at what the metaverse is actually designed for," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies. "On social media today, you even have the digital presence that can be expected in the metaverse."

He also says it is doubtful what the ultimate form of the metaverse will actually look like. Will it be open to all, like the Internet? Will there be more of a closed experience that will control a couple of larger companies?

"Bigger players all want to be early movers and want to impose their ecosystem as the main one," says Bajarin.

Ultimately, only time can tell what the metaverse will look like in the future, and we can only try to make the best assumption with the data we have.

Is metaverse something new?

In short: no. We've already seen that the expression itself has existed for the last 30 years, and not just in fiction. For some time now, the idea of the metaverse has been instilled in visions of the future of various corporations. During the first explosion in VR popularity in the 1990s, British supermarket chain Sainsbury's recorded a VR shopping demo that is very similar to walmart's video from 2017.
Sainsbury's concept of virtual shopping
Walrmart's idea of virtual shopping

In addition to various marketing campaigns and conceptual demonstrations, virtual worlds like the metaverse actually have been around for almost as long as the metaverse in fiction. Such one of the most famous virtual worlds and the world that probably came closest to the idea of the metaverse is Second Life; Online multimedia platform launched in 2003.

Second Life looks very similar to the various MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) from the early 2000s, like WOW (World of Warcraft), only aspects of the game from Second Life were dropped. There are no fights, quests, stories, awards and other aspects of the game. He fulfills various other roles that were conceived as the future of the metaverse. Users are introduced to their avatars and can do whatever they want in Second Life, from holding business meetings to going out to clubs. Users also have the opportunity to produce their content that they can later trade with each other. Within Second Life there is a separate, internal economy with its own separate currency that can be exchanged for real money. Second Life is actually one textbook example of the metaverse.

You can read more about Second Life here.

Why is there so much talk about the metaverse all of a sudden?

There are a couple of important factors that have pushed the metaverse to the forefront of the tech industry and their plans for the future.

One is that a pair of technologies closely related to the metaverse have matured over the past few years. Virtual reality (VR) is the main one of them. Vr has evolved into something that is no longer just conceptual, but commercially available technology, since the 1990s, when its more serious development began and at the time Stephenson wrote his book Snow Crash. Today, the widely available VR hedsets of good quality, including standalone hedsets like the Meta Quest 2 hedset.

Another factor is blockchain, a technology that has enabled the existence of cryptocurrencies and NFTs.

How do NFTs fit into the metaverse?

Nonfungible tokens or NFTs play a major role in the usefulness and popularity of the metaverse. It is a secured type of digital asset that is based on the same blockchain as the cryptocurrency it is attached to. Instead of the currency itself, nft can represent a work of art, song or digital real estate. NFT actually gives its owner proof of ownership of digital assets that can be traded within the metaverse.

Metaverse Properties is the world's first digital real estate agency. The company strives to promote the purchase and rental of land in several different virtual worlds like Decentraland, Sandbox, Somnium and Upland. Among the various offers it is possible to find commercial places, art galleries, family homes and various places for socializing.

"NFTs and blockchain form the foundation of digital ownership," said Nick Donarski, director of ORE Systems, an online community of gamers, streamers, youtubers and game developers. "An individual's ownership of their real identity will be transferred to the metaverse, and NFTs will be the medium that will transport them there."

Isn't metaverse just another video game?

In short: Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Microsoft, for example, thinks gaming is the future of the metaverse. When they bought Activision Blizzard, Ceo of Microsoft, Satya Nadella stated: "When we consider our vision of the metaverse we believe that there will not really be one single, centralized metaverse, and it shouldn't. We need to support various metaverse platforms. In gaming, we see the metaverse as a set of communities and individuals connected into powerful content franchises, available on all devices."

Nadella hereby outlined a vision of the metaverse that is quite different from the vision pushed by Ball and Zuckerberg. In its version, metaverses represent a plural and we can find them all around us; it's about communities formed around virtual worlds where people want to spend time – like World of Warcraft.

MOORPGs like WOW are related to the metaverse in their form, if not function.But there are also more related analogues to the metaverse that are more popular with children. For example, in Roblox or Fortnite, your avatar, your presence, how you create your avatar, and your social connection are more important than just playing a game (or games, when it comes to Roblox as well).

Roblox is a fairly free platform, comparable to Second Life, where people can create their own games and content and can develop their desires and aspirations as in the real world – they can make a name for themselves and make money from it. On the other hand, various major events have already been organized in Fortnite a couple of times, such as travis Scott's 2020 concert, which attracted more than 45 million viewers. Such events represent the closest picture of the experience that the metaverse could provide us with in the future.

What hinders the development of the metaverse?

Currently, the biggest obstacle to the development of the idea of the metaverse as put forward by Zuckerberg and Ball is interoperability or, in other words, standardization. Namely, it is the idea of enabling the transition of your avatar and digital ownership from one virtual world or game to another. Interoperability is a key step in the development of the metaverse because it is necessary for the metaverse to really become the next step in the development of the Internet, and it is precisely the establishment of interoperability that seems almost impossible for now. Mainly due to technical difficulties; how to transfer various objects and virtual assets from one graphics engine to another and how to display these objects in very different hardware configurations (some users will have computers, some VR hedsets, some maybe cell phones).

There are also various legal and commercial problems that are not so easy to solve. It is very difficult and complicated to exchange and forward intellectual property rights, which will be necessary if we are to have the ability to transfer property and objects from one world to another. It is difficult to negotiate with a large number of companies and reach an agreement that everyone will be satisfied with; it's also hard to convince companies not to lock in on their content and make it exclusive, which then completely throws the whole concept of interoperability into the water.

Another big thing about metaverse development is users. It's worth noting how much people really want something like this. The appeal of these worlds in science fiction is obvious, since in most such works (such as Snow Crash, Ready Player One or even The Matrix) virtual worlds are usually portrayed as something that people use to escape from the dystopian reality in which they find themselves, which is not the case with us at the moment (we sincerely hope that it will remain so), so it's currently questionable how many people actually want to spend time in the virtual world instead of the real one.

The technical side of the story should also be mentioned. Namely, the technology by which we access the metaverse should be comfortable and convenient to use. It should also be portable, like smartphones. If we fail to meet these requirements, then the metaverse is practically a step backwards compared to the mobile Internet, which it should actually replace.

How close is the idea of the metaverse to realization?

Although the ability to browse and explore virtual worlds has been present and available for several years, the true metaverse, which provides real-world interactions and communication in the virtual world will not be possible for years to come. Most people don't own a VR headset and haptic gloves that could detail their movements and gestures into the virtual world.

But as far as the business world is concerned, things are a little different there. Bill Gates, in his annual review in his blog post , predicts that most companies and businesses, over the next two to three years, will move their virtual meetings from classic 2D media to virtual worlds and metaverses in which employees and participants will be introduced to their 3D avatars.