According to Matthew Ball the Metaverse is best understood as ‘a quasi-successor state to the mobile internet’. This is because the Metaverse will not fundamentally replace the internet, but instead build upon and iteratively transform it.
The fixed-line internet of the 1990s and early 2000s inspired many of us to purchase our own personal computer. However, this device was largely isolated to our office, living room or bedroom. As a result, we had only occasional access to and usage of computing resources and an internet connection. The mobile internet led most humans globally to purchase their own personal computer and internet service, which meant almost everyone had continuous access to both compute and connectivity.
Metaverse iterates further by placing everyone inside an ‘embodied’, or ‘virtual’ or ‘3D’ version of the internet and on a nearly unending basis. In other words, we will constantly be ‘within’ the internet, rather than have access to it, and within the billions of interconnected computers around us, rather than occasionally reach for them, and alongside all other users and real-time.
Most commonly, the Metaverse is mis-described as virtual reality. In truth, virtual reality is merely a way to experience the Metaverse. To say VR is the Metaverse is like saying the mobile internet is an app. Note, too, that hundreds of millions are already participating in virtual worlds on a daily basis (and spending tens of billions of hours a month inside them) without VR/AR/MR/XR devices. As a corollary to the above, VR headsets aren’t the Metaverse any more than smartphones are the mobile internet.
Sometimes the Metaverse is described as a user-generated virtual world or virtual world platform. This is like saying the internet is Facebook or Geocities. Facebook is a UGC-focused social network on the internet, while Geocities made it easy to create webpages that lived on the internet. UGC experiences are just one of many experiences on the internet.
Furthermore, the Metaverse doesn’t mean a video game. Video games are purpose-specific (even when the purpose is broad, like ‘fun’), unintegrated (i.e. Call of Duty is isolated from fellow portfolio title Overwatch), temporary (i.e. each game world ‘resets’ after a match) and capped in participants (e.g. 1MM concurrent Fortnite users are in over 100,000 separated simulations. Yes, we will play games in the Metaverse, and those games may have user caps and resets, but those are games in the Metaverse, not the Metaverse itself. Overall, The Metaverse will significantly broaden the number of virtual experiences used in everyday life (i.e. well beyond video games, which have existed for decades) and in turn, expand the number of people who participate in them.
Why does the metaverse matter?
Even if the Metaverse falls short of the fantastical visions captured by science fiction authors, it is likely to produce trillions in value as a new computing platform or content medium. In its full vision, the Metaverse will become the gateway to most digital experiences, a key component of all physical ones, and the next great labour platform.
More broadly, the Metaverse stands to alter how we allocate and monetize modern resources. As more consumer spending shifts to virtual goods, services, and experiences, we’ll also see further shifts in where we live, the infrastructure that’s built, and who performs which tasks.
Millions of people are spending hours a day in virtual social spaces like Roblox and Fortnite. Interest in purely digital ownership—and the technology that proponents believe can ensure the security of persistent virtual experiences—has spiked dramatically, with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrencies making headlines. Virtual productivity platforms are growing too, with Facebook and Microsoft announcing new ways to collaborate online. Nike is even, analysts say, preparing to sell virtual sneakers. Hybrid offices, video-based education and online social communities are just a few of the ways in which more of our lives—for better or worse—is spent in digital spaces.