You, Me and the Metaverse – part 2
Is the metaverse just a smokescreen for Facebook trying to divert from their whistleblowing scandal? Always possible. In my opinion, the topic stands on its own merit. It is critical enough to make headlines, with or without Facebook, memes and trolling.
What is the metaverse? After analysis, this is a workable definition:
“The metaverse is the technological, financial and physical framework which allows all online and offline worlds to (co)exist and seamlessly interact, including the rules and protocols that govern it.”
Why bother about it?
We talk big money, today and tomorrow
Obviously, we talk big money, be it in stock valuations, overall revenues, ARPU or cashflow. The metaverse is already making big bucks today, powering both direct spending and subscriptions. True, it is still mainly applicable in the game space. Whether you look at the revenue of Epic Games or the pull of items sales in Fortnite, it is hard to ignore.
Many companies about to do an IPO came up with the latest FOTM (Flavour of the Month) title of “metaverse company”. Fair play to them, they are certainly worth a look at, both as companies and as being part of the building blocks of the metaverse. To be honest, except if you have NO digital footprint, anyone can say that they are a metaverse company, either as an enabler or user.
A timeline that stretches far over the horizon
To understand the potential, it is worth having a look at what a fully deployed metaverse will likely be and what it will enable.
1. The metaverse will become invisible
Each of the components of the metaverse will continue to grow organically. Their performance will be better and faster, forever more seamless and accessible to the point of becoming invisible, like the Cloud today to our photo collections. The metaverse will be integrated seamlessly, so that you do not have to literally plug in or out.
2. It will support a truly global ecosystem with a highly personalised approach
The metaverse will have as much a macro as a micro impact.
At the heart of it, the metaverse has to define the relative value of everything in its environment. Without such a definition, how to optimise broadband speed, prioritise information, exchange items, connect people, etc??
On the one hand, this will accelerate the consolidation of an ecosystem of truly global brands with a universal message across all on and offline worlds. We see this happening already with IP (content) franchises (e.g. Marvel or Games Workshop). These global brands will still have to create a narrative that goes beyond legacy and transcend their current technical limitations. At the same time, these global brands need to find a way to become totally personalised too. Afterall, products and services can already be customised and tailored, today. The metaverse can give us both an impression of total integration or individual recognition, as we prefer, when we prefer.. like in an MMO.
3. The metaverse is omnipresent
By its nature, the metaverse is ubiquitous as it builds, defines and powers the very infrastructure of all the universes we enjoy.
4. The metaverse will become a noosphere
Due to the evolutions of software, hardware, interfaces and AI, it will be ever more pervasive. The metaverse will influence our options themselves, thus driving the potential choices we are offered. It will eventually become – technology helping – a noosphere, i.e. a world where information flows around us.
Today, we are pretty much sensing the world through our 5 animal senses, using dedicated “sensors”. Tomorrow, as we move through multiple universes, the metaverse will offer new sensors and therefore new senses too. It is literally humanity defining.
Yes! I’d love to subscribe to your newsletter
5. The metaverse will have different degrees of immersion, by law or by choice
All of the above is a 2-way street. The question is, and will continue to be, how much of our individuality we are ready to relinquish. This has been the root of the catastrophic scenarios pushed by science-fiction. This is indeed a highly personal question, touching on personal cultural, sociological, religious and philosophical choices.
It is rather probable that, given a choice, some of us will be fully immersed in their own multiverse powered by the metaverse. On the other hand, some will opt to be immersed in only a few universes. Finally, some will try and decouple from it. After all, the Amish society thrived for a long time. However, this scenario is highly improbable and will remain the exception. Taking our most common interface tools as an example, decoupling practically means living without any communication device (e.g. smartphones), and the lifestyles that they created. Even the Amish community is split over it.
All of this has very far-reaching consequences
The set of rules and the tools that eventually governs and builds the metaverse will ultimately define life for us as individuals, as societies and as humankind. The metaverse will “simply” set the rules for what we are, what we want to be, and ultimately what we can and cannot do.
For this reason, it is far from a FOTM topic. The debate on the metaverse is key.
The metaverse will define us
The metaverse is not only a techy discussion. It will define us.
Quick question for you…
Today, towards your network, do you actually look like the picture you forgot to update on LinkedIn? Do you look like the holiday pic you have on Facebook? What about the monthly curated/shopped/filtered Instagram profile photo…, does that look like you? Do you look like the person you see in the mirror without your glasses on? In a word, do you look like you?
Actually, you are all of them, simultaneously. You are simultaneously existing in each of these universes concurrently, whether logged-in or not.
WHAT THE METAVERSE IS NOT
The metaverse should not be reduced to analogies and metaphors
In the recent barrage of articles, memes, interviews, TV programs, newspapers and magazines, you probably have read a lot of comparisons, analogies, but rarely definitions – if at all. Analogies are all fine, but if chosen poorly, they can be misleading.
For me, as a user of technology, a tech enthusiast, an IT analyst and a fairly adequate online gamer, the metaverse is and will be at the heart of everything. So let’s define, among these analogies, what it is definitely not, what is a part of it, and what is a partial metaphor for the metaverse.
The philosopher Jean Baudrillard described the modern experience of living in simultaneous realities “hyper-reality”. Hyper-reality means recognising the difference between a real life and another unreal or at least artificial “life”. We evolve in a modern multiverse that blends the boundaries. I called this Unareality in a previous article. In a Unareality, we experience a seamless multiverse through the current metaverse. Neither hyperreality nor unareality are the metaverse.
Not software. Not hardware. Not internet.
The metaverse is not the Internet of Things, neither is it the meshing of information exchanges between appliances that constitute our digital infrastructure. These are information protocols.
The metaverse is not a list of software’s, companies, hardware or stocks. You don’t define reality by listing planets or geographies, or even galaxies. You cannot set arbitrary boundaries to make it more palpable and palatable.
Talking to your family via a WhatsApp group chat is not a happening occurring in a separate reality. It takes place in Meta (formerly known as Facebook, the company), correct, but not in the metaverse. Meta provides the rules that underpin how and with how many people you can talk concurrently within a WhatsApp group, and for how long. The wider metaverse covers all basic communication rules and protocols regardless of the app used.
Cross usage of franchises is cool and all, but it is a part of what a metaverse can allow. It is not the metaverse, however much I look forward to whip out a BFG to nuke a dragon in Final Fantasy XXXV.
The metaverse is not Fortnite or Roblox, whichever way they market themselves. It is not Second Life, however easy it is to call up ancient news and recycle old titles.
Both are titans of digital real estate, granted.
Fortnite revenue is impressive (5 Bn in 2020). The community is massive, with 80 million active users, i.e. 4 millions users a day! Yes, it also sells tons of merchandise, including frequent real-life or IP tie-ins to other universes. Check out any newspaper stands for the stickler albums. Even better, pop in and buy a batman skin for your next fight.
Roblox has 160+ million players – an online country bigger than Russia. They outlived and succeeded when no other than Lego threw in the gauntlet early.
Both are big. But Global?
Don’t misunderstand me, I love games and I love these games. I do appreciate the success of Fortnite, Roblox, Overwatch and consorts. They have certainly great monetisation credentials and can sell skins and tie-ins. They are absolutely good at creating addictive environments. Look at the reactions when Roblox was offline for 3 days. They are good at creating real life tie-ins. So is Meta.
Yes, there was the online concert of Ariana Grande within the Fortnite universe, and it did attract 12.3 million spectators. In Bree, in 2008, I attended and participated in concerts in Lord of the Rings online. And Mr T did a World of Warcraft commercial.. in 2007. So did Ozzy Osborne, Jean Claude Vandamme… Having Ariana or IRL stars perform is definitely respectable but hardly revolutionary.
To the numbers now. 10 millions onliners, even 150 millions at a stretch, is a fraction compared to the sheer amount of people using face recognition, touch cards or even NFC phones to pay. This is today. All this technology is already linked to a proto-metaverse.
What we miss are different multiverses crossing over. That is still marginal.
Not limited or constrained.
It cannot be limited to often sketchily understood game environments or technologies. The topic is just truly too important to be reduced to Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, Fortnite or Roblox, only because that is what your kid/nephew/roommate are playing. It is neither Animal Crossing, nor the Sims or even Tetris, however much you played it to kill time in lockdown.
Not a 3D simulation.
Finally, the metaverse is definitely not just an “immersive” environment set up to compensate for disappointing realities. It links up but is not haptic suits, VR helmets or AR Pokémon Go games. It does not need them.
How would I know that? Look at the amount of time you did use 3D glasses? How did the sales of vest simulating real-life bullet impact First Person Shooter games? How about the vibrating car chairs for driving sims? Just asking, as I actually never saw nor heard anyone using any of the above. So, moving on.
THE TRUE MAGIC OF THE METAVERSE
The true magic of the metaverse is the seamless crossovers between universes.
In the book (and film) Ready Player One, players access their avatars through “full experience” haptic suits. Interestingly, we are not speaking about “one world” (say, a space warzone) here. The key novelty element is that the players can port their avatars through the multiple worlds. The metaverse in the novel lets the lead characters Parzival and Aech switch through worlds seamlessly, while carrying items, quests and even values … and bring these back into the real world. Like gravity.
Immersion into other universes through mechanical and technological interfaces, is a recurrent trope.
Sounds slightly magical?
Let’s bring it closer to home. Are you wearing a smartwatch? Do you check how many steps you walked today? Where is this information stored, processed, compiled? Congratulation, you have a digital interface with your skinsuit.
To create these overlaps, I would rather rely on creators such as Sid Meier of Civilisation, or the guys from Eve Online. Both harnessed the delicate balance between enjoyment, creativity, individuality, respect, and monetization. They know probably more about what the metaverse should look like in general.
The metaverse is the set of rules and tools, that builds the fabric of the simultaneous multiverses. Not the individual parts or events.
“The metaverse is the technological, financial and physical framework which allows all online and offline worlds to (co)exist and interact seamlessly, including the the rules and protocols that govern it.”
It does sound intriguing enough, and quite rightly so, because it will ultimately define reality and the individuals within it. It would be sad to reduce such a potential to a meme or a strange topic concerning strange people.
The metaverse is potentially a marvel that will redefine reality as we understand it.
If not, indeed, a fabric understood and led by the few.
Either way, it is.