What is the metaverse as it stands and where is it going?

Written by Charlie Swan

Cover photo: Ready Player One

Credit: iStock via The Washington Post
Credit: Ewan White

The newest buzzword in the tech space is gaining a lot of traction as various big names have said that they plan on being part of the metaverse, including but not limited to: Facebook, Epic Games, Nvidia and Microsoft. Clearly with this level of production going into the development of the metaverse, then there must be something to it. But what exactly is the metaverse anyway?

The term ‘Metaverse’ initially came from the 1992 novel Snow Crash, which depicts a world where society is split in 2, a digital world and the real one. The metaverse as it stands in our society is the concept of a platform above all others, where you can hop from game to game while still carrying over aspects of your character, like your cosmetics for example. The most mainstream depiction of the metaverse is Ready Player One, which shows a world where players can go from fighting on a battlefield to shopping in a mall, all in the same virtual world. While some aspects of Ready Player One are clearly not realistic to the idea of the metaverse in our world, the core concepts of the ‘Oasis’ do illustrate how a metaverse would function.

The logistics of every part of the function of the metaverse would be impossible to outline in a single article, but I will attempt to clear it up as much as possible. On the most basic level, there needs to be servers running for every instance of every game or ‘experience’ in the metaverse. Companies like Facebook and Microsoft are already planning on being part of this, but obviously are a long way from being ready. Next is the market of the metaverse, which needs to be able to trade every digital asset you can think of - from game objects to NFTs, everything needs to be sellable on the market (even protocols and modules that the markets could use themselves). The market could exist digitally in terms of being an experience in the metaverse, and also exist outside of the metaverse itself. The main items being traded on the metaverse market for an average gamer would generally be cosmetics. Another key item being sold on the metaverse market would be items for certain games. To understand this part properly, you need to understand how protocols would exist in the metaverse.

The idea of the metaverse is that everyone can choose what avatar they want, and by extension who they are digitally. The issue with this becomes apparent with competitive gaming though. For example, let's say you have bought a new iron giant skin (much like the one in Ready Player One) and now you want to play CSGO with it. The problem with this is that your skin is too big to fit within the nature of that game, and as such would ruin the experience. The solution for this is protocols. What I mean by this is your digital skin could be made with certain competitive games in mind, and if it follows the protocols associated with that kind of competitive game, it can be used competitively in that world to its full extent, with no changes to the skin required. This means you actually could be the iron giant in a massive battlefield and the experience would actually be balanced for everyone. How these protocols would work is currently beyond anyone’s knowledge, but, through the wealth being poured into metaverse’s development, I’m sure someone will figure it out. The beauty of this system as well is that protocols can then be sold on the market to other people that want to make an asset or maybe even a game with that protocol. Some assets might follow multiple protocols as well, though this seems unlikely.

When I say everything can be sold in the metaverse market, I mean everything. Digital or real, it can all be on there. For example, you could go to a digital real estate agent’s to find a new house, or perhaps to purchase a digital home they’ve constructed virtually. Or you can buy tickets to an exclusive virtual music festival. The possibilities of this market are endless. Another key part of the integrity of the market is how blockchain helps it. If you want to buy a virtual cosmetic, you can look at the history of it and from that work out how valuable and exclusive it is.

As the metaverse is the combination of gaming and the larger virtual world, a very important question to ask is can you get paid for playing video games in the metaverse? Well, with everything being tradeable on the market, you can. If you play lots of tycoon games then you could then sell the currency (or products?) you have amassed in your virtual game to then sell on the market.

The metaverse isn’t going to pop into existence any time soon, but with much of the tech world looking into it, it is most definitely going to reshape the world we live in, both in the virtual and real realm.