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Today we are exploring more of the Metaverse, trying to shed some light on what is it and more importantly thinking through when it might get here. Like our other 101 pieces, we aim to scratch the surface here to tee up what we’ll be writing about in the coming weeks!
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The Metaverse has been all the hype for the last couple of years. It entered the mainstream in ~2020 in the wake of the pandemic when we were all staying at home and staring at our screens. All of a sudden it felt like every company had a Metaverse strategy, the number of mentions of the word “Metaverse” skyrocketed on earnings calls, media outlets, Twitter and in general on the Internet.
Yet when you ask anyone from everyday people to the so-called experts, what is the metaverse, we get back less than desirable answers.
People fumble to define what the Metaverse is… but it seems like we are all scrambling to understand it, build it, invest in it, and participate in it.
Every time we hear a definition of the Metaverse, it feels like we are dancing around the clear definition… it’s on the tip of our tongue… ever so close… yet so far.
So… what is the Metaverse?
What is the Metaverse? 🔍
After diving into the rabbit hole for months and reading a lot (admittedly maybe too much) content on the Metaverse, Matthew Ball’s definition is one of the most comprehensive out there.
(As always with these 101 pieces, we highly suggest Matthew Ball’s writing as a follow up to this piece. See here. He also recently launched a book that is worth the read).
Matthew Ball defines it as:
“The Metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”
You may be reading this and say… so… video games?
And this is where defining the Metaverse gets challenging.
If you run the “digital worlds in video games” against the definition above, certainly the 3D virtual world part is true… but it’s all the other parts of the definition that “digital worlds in video games” fails to meet today.
If the Metaverse is just rendered 3D virtual worlds, then it would just stop at video games… but it’s much more than that.
The entire definition of Metaverse above allows us to recreate our entire in real life (IRL) experience in a virtual (digital) world.
Wait… Doesn’t video games already do that?
Short answer is no (at least not today).
To understand this, let’s look at a few examples:
IRL when we meet with each other, we do not “lag” or “freeze,” but in virtual worlds and digital experiences today (e.g. video games or Zoom calls) we do lag, so that doesn’t mirror our real world experience.
In the real world, humans are free to physically go anywhere in the sense that it doesn’t break any laws of physics… but in the virtual worlds today we cannot go anywhere we want, we can only go wherever we want in the sandbox provided by the creators of said virtual world. Your character in say Fortnite cannot travel to a map in World of Warcraft.
In the real world, you can make any choice freely and have this “individual sense of presence,” but in the virtual worlds today we cannot do whatever we want in them. Video games have gotten pretty good at giving the player the illusion of endless choice, but in reality a player can only choose amongst a set of actions pre-programmed by the creator.
In the real world, we have a sense of identity and reputation, in the virtual world that same sense of identity and reputation is just starting to scratch the surface.
Basically, the Metaverse defined by Matthew Ball can be seen as the mature and (close to) “final” version of the concept, whereas the virtual worlds we have today are nascent and barely scratching the surface — i.e. today we have 3D virtual worlds that lack many of the characteristics in Ball’s definition.
A lot of innovation building blocks need to take shape before the Metaverse can exist. The Metaverse is not any one piece of innovation but rather an amalgamation of different innovations that come together to enable it.
When Metaverse? 🕰
But like any big innovation, it’s not simply a yesterday versus today kind of instantaneous change. We don’t go from the Metaverse not existing today to then all of a sudden, the Metaverse existing tomorrow.
Rather, the Metaverse is a spectrum.
If at the beginning there was no Metaverse and in some future there is a fully mature metaverse, we are in the messy and uncertain middle right now. This is why we think when Metaverse is a more interesting question.
Bits and pieces and different elements of the Metaverse are already here and those bits and pieces are catalysts for Metaverse adoption and growth… When technology innovations surface, we tend to shine a spotlight on the technology itself. Most innovations are certainly technological ones, but driving the acceptance and adoption of those innovations largely depend on (a change in) human behaviors.
In this sense, the Metaverse feels inevitable because our behaviors are already moving us towards a digital first life. We are already glued to our screens all day… our phones and computers … do we think we are going to go back to a world with less screens? (Even if that’s what we wanted, it’s easier said than done.)
Most businesses are already conducting business in a digital world. We’ve been communicating over electronic means (email, instant messaging, etc) for decades and now we’ve decreased the amount of in person meetings in favor of online meetings over software like Zoom.
Gamers for decades have been spending time engaging with other players in digital worlds and gaming as a market is only growing.
And the Pandemic accelerated the adoption of all of these digital behaviors and much more.
This means at some point, our behaviors and life will become so digital that we will need a better experience than what exists today. Most of our digital world today as we mentioned in our last article, is 2D and static.
Wait, wait… you are telling me that because we are doing more Zoom calls, we’ll all one day spend all/most of our time in some virtual world?
Well, it’s not just Zoom calls or going to meetings digitally, it’s all the other behaviors that have become digital over the years and decades. Things like shopping online and digital commerce, to things like learning online instead of physically in a school… to all the things we write about at Life in Color like digital reputation and using our NFTs as Avatars and different groups of people forming endless sub-cultures on the Internet.
From spending all this time online, we likely formed the concept of a “digital place” in our minds already. It’s just not a “physical” place we place we can log onto yet… As new technologies and innovations surfaces, we’ll get higher fidelity experiences, products and services that further enable and evolve these digital experiences into this digital-physical place called the Metaverse.
For the Metaverse to take form, there is an entire stack of things that need be enabled. All the building blocks need to reach a certain point of maturity that they will come together to become the Metaverse that Ball described.
Everything in that stack can be boiled down to technology and human behavior.
With technology, we are asking can it be done? Is the Metaverse possible?
With human behavior, we are asking do we want it? Do we want the Metaverse?
The harder question to answer is which one leads to the other? Does technology change human behavior or does human behavior change technology?
It’s probably more of a circular relationship than linear and they reinforce each other: when it’s possible to have more 3D, social and engaging experiences online and in the Metaverse we’ll find new ways to have and enjoy these 3D, social and engaging experiences, which will entice more builders to build more unique 3D, social and engaging experiences.
So on and so forth.
That’s why the Metaverse feels inevitable, albeit everyone may disagree on the timeframe.
Whether we want to admit it or not, most of the world has been on this long march towards digitization and a digital first world, the Metaverse is just the next logical step.
After all humans evolve and push frontiers… that’s sort of what we are good at.
So… When Metaverse? 🕰
Obviously, we don’t know and no one really knows. What we do know is that we are already on the path and again we are in the messy middle between two points of certainty (a world without the Metaverse and a world with a fully matured Metaverse).
Maybe we are in version 1.0 or version 0.1… but that point isn’t important.
Innovation is happening across all sectors that are creating the necessary building blocks to enable the Metaverse… and things are starting to cross pollinate. It’s interesting and fun to have a platform like Roblox which allows you to design your own digital worlds within a framework. And it’s fun to have NFT JPEGs that people see as digital art but also represent digital property rights.
But it’s even more interesting when both exists and you might get someone who builds a Roblox-like platform with embedded digital property rights through NFTs.
Yes, the Metaverse is nascent. Today we are at a Minimum Viable Metaverse (at best).
What is more important is that the path towards the Metaverse is accelerating!
In the early days, compounding is hard to see and appreciate, we often only appreciate compounding once we’ve hit the exponential part of the curve. Hindsight is 20/20.
Why Metaverse? 🤔
This is one of the harder philosophical questions to answer: why is the Metaverse even important?
One word: Imagination.
But more on that next time.
For now just know we are (already) on this journey.
Admittedly, we are early and that’s why we say GM (“good morning” for the uninitiated).