The Metaverse: a whole new world where anything you can imagine is possible. In this episode, join me, and let’s dive into the evolution of this virtual universe, from the first VR headsets to new worlds created from scratch. Let’s explore the different metaverses that are evolving rapidly, on the blockchain and off the blockchain.
The Story of the Metaverse
The word “Metaverse” was first mentioned in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 book titled “Snow Crash” the prefix “meta” means beyond and verse means “Universe”. Referring to a world far beyond the world we live in. Neal Stephenson is an American science fiction writer.
So, we can basically say that the “metaverse” is a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal, and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets. This makes me think about the movie “Ready player one” a great movie I think everyone listening to this should watch.
The way to access the metaverse is via VR and AR, both are concepts that have been around for a few years now, before the existence of the metaverses we have today. The concept of a virtual world isn’t new we have video games with thousands of virtual worlds accessible on your screens or via AR and VR, but the actual metaverse goes far beyond that. Before diving into the details of the metaverse, we need to know what is AR and VR.
AR (Augmented Reality)
Augmented reality is an experience where visual and auditory or sensory information is overlayed on the real world in which we are found. The best example is Pokémon go where players find virtual pokemons in the real world. Or Google maps, where you place your phone in certain cities and have it guide you to a specific location.
VR (Virtual Reality)
Virtual reality on the other hand is an experience where users are emersed in a virtual world using 3D headsets. An example is Facebook’s oculus VR headset or Playstation’s VR headset.
The first VR headsets were created by Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproul in 1968. The headset was so heavy that it had to be attached to the ceiling and the user interface was primitive. Back then, technology wasn’t very advanced. In the 90s Jaron Lanier and Thomas Zimmerman, former Atari employees created a company known as VPL research. This was the first company to sell VR goggles and wired gloves aimed at making its users experience a virtual reality. The company goes bankrupt a few years later and in 1999 Sun Microsystems buys the company’s patents. The least we can say is that they were ahead of their time. Though they failed, they laid the foundation for the modern AR and VR devices we have today.
MR (Mixed Reality)
Mixed reality describes the merging of the real world and computer-generated world. It is the level above VR and AR and is still in its infancy. It is a combination of AR and VR and it is much more technologically advanced than both.
How are people using the metaverse today?
Artists and celebrities have started innovating in the metaverse. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Travis Scott an American musician hosted a big concert in the metaverse. In person concerts could not be made, so he did something immersive where he transformed himself into a giant version of himself, he also transformed into a diver, went down in the sea and his audience could dive with him while he was singing what you can do in the metaverse has no limit imagine attending such a concert it’s spectacular to watch. This all took place in Fortnite (A very popular video game) though it is a video game, Fortnite’s world is considered a metaverse. There are other musicians who have hosted concerts in the metaverse like Ariana Grande, Justin Beiber etc.
Meta Horizon Worlds is a virtual universe built by Facebook, where you can hangout with friends, meet new people attend events and even play games. You can access this world with a Meta quest headset, all you need is to create your avatar and join. There are several events taking place in the meta verse, you even have concerts in there and you are free to create new things and new experiences in this world. Facebook has been doubling down on the metaverse and horizon world is the manifestation of their ambition to dominate this new industry.
Meta Horizon work rooms is another creation of Meta. It is an immersive way to meet with your colleagues, exchange ideas, brainstorm etc…. It offers features that you won’t find while meeting in the real world. For example, you could turn space in a white board to demonstrate your ideas, you can simulate working with multiple monitors in your workspace with your VR headset and many other features.
Snoop Dogg, the American rapper, created a mansion in the Sandbox metaverse (This is a metaverse different from that of Facebook, more on that later.). He also created an NFT collection in this meta verse and he even organized private parties in this metaverse.
People do so many things in the metaverse. Things I’m sure you won’t suspect there are people marrying in the metaverse, hanging out, watching movies in it and much more. Limits imposed by the Covid19 pandemic made people push the concept further, since social gatherings were forbidden.
Facebook and its metaverse
IN 2021, during the Facebook connect event, Facebook changed its name into Meta and announced it will increase its efforts in building their metaverse. During this event, Mark Zuckerber made a speech that made clear his company’s ambitions concerning the Metaverse. He mentioned that his company focuses on connecting people and not only a social media company, reason why the plan to move to the metaverse aligns with the company’s initial vision. He also made it feel like he wants to build a media that meta controls entirely, and not have to abide to the rules of the media where they are present already, like being forced to follow Apple’s rules in its media(Apple’s iOS and Appstore). Here is a quote of what he said:
“We are In 2021 and all our devices are still built around apps, not people. The experiences we’re allowed to build and use are more tightly controlled than ever. And high taxes on new creative ideas are stifling. This was not the way that we were meant to use technology.”
Anybody listening this who is familiar with deploying apps to Apple’s Appstore and its policies will quickly make a connection between what he mentioned in his speech with Apple, iOS MacOS and its Appstore. And as I said, it feels like Meta is trying to build their own medium to stop relying on those of other big tech companies.
By medium, I mean, these big tech companies have their OS (Operating system) they control entirely, and these Operating systems are the basic abstractions where users primarily interact with their devices, offering to the OS manufacturer a total control over user interaction and data. Google has Android for phones, Apple has iOS and macOS for phones and PCs, Microsoft has Windows for PCs, and facebook only has its apps and website that run on top of these Operating systems and have to ask permissions to the OS to leverage some features or collect data about the user. With its headsets and the metaverse, Meta will create its own medium they control in which users will interact directly.
Nevertheless, Meta’s interest in VR, AR and the metaverse is not something new, they bought the VR headset company back in Oculus in 2014 and have been improving on the technology rapidly. Meta also released haptic gloves (gloves that reproduce the sensation of grasping an object from the metaverse in the real world. If you’re touching an object in the metaverse, these gloves will reproduce the sensation in your hands) though these gloves were released recently, they have been working on this for years now. This and the billions of dollars meta invest in the metaverse proves how committed they are to Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the future.
The Metaverse On the blockchain
There are several decentralized metaverse projects that leverage the blockchain technology. Here are some of the most popular Metaverse projects on the blockchain.
The sandbox is according to themselves is “A virtual world where players can build, own, and monetize their gaming experiences in the Ethereum blockchain.”. It is based on the Ethereum blockchain and is a decentralized NFT gaming metaverse.
Initially, the sandbox was initially a user generated content game on mobile devices it was a success and had millions of users. It is a game similar to Minecraft and roblox. In 2018, the company behind the game decided to bring this game to the blockchain in other to be ahead of its competitors that is Minecraft and Roblox. The advantage this movement to the blockchain gave them was the ability to provide its non-tech-savvy players and creators with true ownership of their creations in the form of NFTs and also reward them for their participation (Non fungible tokens in case you don’t know what this is, I invite you to listen to my previous episodes where I defined it properly).
The sandbox metaverse is made of 3 products:
- The Vox editor that allows you to create and animate 3D objects made of pixels these are called voxel models.
- The marketplace which is an open market that allows creators to freely trade in-game tokenized assets.
- Game maker, that allows you to build, share and monetize games on their 3D gaming platform.
In addition to providing the trade of in game assets, the sandbox has its own cryptocurrency known as SAND (An ERC-20 token) this token is used in the sandbox for transactions. They also allow players to buy land in the sandbox in order to populate it with attractions and games.
What is amazing is that this works, and the sandbox has even secured partnerships with many well-established brands and companies to develop content on the platform.
This metaverse is primarily an AR metaverse with some VR features. This differentiates it from VR metaverses we’ve seen so far. They merge the physical and the virtual world into one. They aim to blur the boundaries between the real world and the virtual world. Their metaverse is made of a virtual representation of the real world we live in. They divided the earth virtually into 1.6 trillion hexagons and users of their platform can purchase these hexagons, and make virtual attractions on the land or resell the land. There are people who bought the land where the Eiffel tower, the world cup stadiums and other important attractions are found. These people either use their virtual land to create awesome experiences on it or resell the land at higher prices during an auction. The content created by users of OVR in the virtual world could be viewed in the real world by pointing your smartphone at the location where you are. It reminds me of Pokémon go. You could still use VR headsets to view this virtual world.
I like this project and it is my favorite metaverse project I really want to see it grow bigger. This metaverse is also based on the Ethereum blockchain and has its own cryptocurrency known as OVR. Every trade in the OVR metaverse is done in their cryptocurrency.
This project is still in development, and some of the features are not completely stable yet. Despite that, I’ve personally gone into it used it and it seems promising. They also provide the ability to create and trade 3D content that appears in their metaverse. And they will allow users to earn OVR tokens if they help map the real world into the metaverse this is known as Map-to-earn.
Decentraland is a virtual world, a metaverse built on the Ethereum blockchain. The users of decentraland can buy and sell land while interacting with each other and playing games within this virtual world.
The decentraland world is made of 90601 parcels of land that is about 23Km2. Users have been complaining that this metaverse is relatively small, making space scarce and buying land is expensive in this metaverse. But it could be considered a decentralized alternative to Meta’s metaverse.
Decentraland has its own cryptocurrency known as MANA. This cryptocurrency is used to facilitate the purchase of land and virtual goods and services used in decentraland. The changes and evolution of the decentraland metaverse are decided by votes made by owners of the MANA token meaning, this metaverse evolves based on what its users want and not what a central entity decides.
I think the metaverse should be a decentralized system with several companies operating it. If this metaverse becomes huge and gets mass adoption, our privacy will be leaked inevitably into the metaverse we want our data to be secured and not held by a central entity that can use it anyhow without our consent. Another important point is to note that, a central entity could have all the power and ban users in an unjustified way, based on egoistical motives. Or control public opinion by placing strategic content in strategic areas in order to fulfill their personal objective.
AI and the metaverse
Currently, we have a storm of AI agents there is a kind of AI revolution going on with ChatGPT, Bard, etc.… All over the internet, you see people talking about AI agents that can hold an actual conversation with you, summarize text, draw images, and much more. But what if these agents were to be integrated into the metaverse. What if you had AI characters in the metaverse that could guide you through quests or butlers? I think this will be great to experience.
The OVR metaverse: https://www.overthereality.ai/
The Sandbox metaverse: https://www.sandbox.game/en/