- A pair of articles examines the concept of the metaverse from its roots in sci-fi and game platforms to its potential implications for the future.
- Despite the limitations of current VR and AR technology, the metaverse still holds great potential for the Media & Entertainment industry.
- While unable to achieve true mainstream success, Linden Lab’s Second Life, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, has had a significant impact on the idea of the metaverse.
- Casual gaming may provide an entry point for widespread metaverse adoption as demonstrated by game platforms like Roblox.
READ MORE: What Is the Metaverse, Exactly? (Wired)
The metaverse: a term that’s been tossed around by tech moguls and media giants alike, promising a revolutionary shift in how we interact with digital content, and each other. But is it the future of the internet or just a repackaging of old tech?
A recent article from Wired provides a comprehensive look at the current state of the metaverse, sifting through the hype to determine what, exactly, the metaverse is, and how it’s living up to the promise of transforming the digital world. Eric Ravenscraft explores the various interpretations of the metaverse, its role as a vehicle for tech innovation, and the current limitations of VR and AR technology. He also delves into the potential implications for the Media & Entertainment industry, suggesting that while the metaverse may still be in its early stages, it holds significant potential for the future.
Our concept of the metaverse has been shaped by sci-fi stories, as Ravenscraft points out. “The metaverse has been heavily influenced by fictional stories like Snow Crash and Ready Player One, which depict immersive VR worlds,” he writes. While narratives such as these have contributed to the hype surrounding the metaverse, painting a picture of a fully immersive digital world that has captured the public imagination, the reality still lags far behind.
Despite all the hype, there’s still a lot of confusion about what the metaverse actually is. As Ravenscraft notes, “Tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg and Satya Nadella have been promoting the metaverse as the future of the internet. However, the term has been used in various contexts, leading to confusion about its exact meaning.” This has led to a wide range of interpretations and applications of the metaverse concept, from VR social platforms to user-generated video games.
The metaverse is also being used to dress up new and existing technologies alike. According to Ravenscraft, “The metaverse has been a powerful vehicle for repackaging old tech, overselling the benefits of new tech, and capturing the imagination of speculative investors.” This has led to significant investment in metaverse-related technologies, even as the concept itself remains nebulous.
“It’s been a year and a half since Facebook announced it was rebranding to Meta and would focus its future on the upcoming ‘metaverse.’ In the time since, the term itself has eroded into near meaninglessness,” Ravenscraft writes. “Meta is building a VR social platform, Roblox is facilitating user-generated video games, and some companies are offering up little more than broken game worlds that happen to have NFTs attached.
Despite the promise of the metaverse, current VR and AR technology has significant limitations that present significant hurdles to widespread adoption. “VR headsets are still clunky and can cause motion sickness or physical discomfort when worn for too long. AR glasses face similar issues, in addition to the challenge of making them socially acceptable to wear in public,” Ravenscraft maintains.
In the face of these challenges, the metaverse still holds significant potential, particularly for M&E. From providing new platforms for content and merchandise and enhancing existing digital experiences to offering new opportunities for storytelling and creativity, the metaverse represents a vast frontier. The metaverse may still be in its early stages, but however you define it its potential to transform the digital world is clear.
But does this promise really represent an upending of life as we know it? As Ravenscraft suggests, “The real ‘metaverse’ might just be some cool VR games and digital avatars in Zoom calls, but mostly just something we still think of as the internet.”
The Metaverse in Practice
While Wired provides a broad overview of the metaverse, a recent article from Fast Company offers a more focused perspective, examining the evolution of the metaverse through the lens of Second Life. The pioneering virtual world just celebrated its 20th anniversary with hundreds of thousands a people all around the world, including “live music, DJs, dance performances, and a massive bazaar with more than 1,000 vendors hawking avatar clothing and other digital creations.”
Despite never living up to its own hype, Janko Roettgers contends that Second Life has had a significant impact on the idea of the metaverse. “Second Life has had a loyal following but never became a mainstream success,” he writes. “Its story reveals why building the metaverse is still so hard.”
Parent company Linden Lab “wanted Second Life to be a place for grown-ups, which is why it tried hard not to be confused with a video game,” but this turned out to be “a massive mistake,” according to Wagner James Au, author of the forthcoming book Making a Metaverse That Matters, “and one that other metaverse platform creators can learn from.”
Three years after the launch of Second Life, “another virtual world emerged with a much more guided approach. Roblox also empowered its users to create their own worlds, but put a heavy emphasis on casual gaming. That recipe drew a much younger, but also vastly larger, crowd: At the end of March, Roblox was used by 66 million people every single day.”
Second Life founder Philip Rosedale acknowledges that the virtual world never lived up to its own hype, but also notes that by most metrics it’s about the biggest it’s ever been. He admits, “Virtual worlds are not yet for everyone. They’re not, in fact, for a majority of people.”
Despite Second Life not becoming a mainstream success, Au points out that Second Life had the most powerful creation tools, enabling users to create anything they could imagine.
“Some of its more prolific creators used those tools to build impressive 3D environments, including detailed re-creations of real-life cities, serene Zen gardens, hip nightclubs, and post-apocalyptic wastelands. Others specialized in avatar clothing and accessories that they sold on the platform,” says Roettgers, noting that Second Life sees $650 million worth of peer-to-peer transactions every year, with 1.6 million transactions happening every single day, according to a Linden Lab spokesperson.
Roettgers points to the potential impact of Apple’s forthcoming Vision Pro headset on the growth of immersive virtual worlds. Apple, he writes, “has shied away from using the metaverse terminology (opting instead for ‘spatial computing’), but the launch of its Vision Pro headset next year will likely further accelerate the growth of immersive virtual worlds.”
Au asserts that, one way or another, Second Life is destined to leave a significant imprint on the future of the metaverse. “There is still an opportunity to grow it beyond its hardcore user base,” he says. “They’ve definitely laid the path for others to follow.”