READ MORE: Making the Metaverse (Media.Monks)
The metaverse is coming and it means business. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard. In the coming years, advances in wireless connectivity, cloud computing and incrementally smaller GPUs will bring the metaverse closer to reality. But first we need to adapt to the process of virtualization, in which the digital world and interactions with it are perceived as being just as real as the physical world.
Here are 10 clues about how we’re going to get there.
First let’s just explore that idea of virtualization a bit more. It’s not the way the industry normally thinks of virtualization in terms of adapting monolith hardware into software stacks running on standardized machines. No. Virtualization is the next age of transformation.
The metaverse may be a wild frontier, but here at NAB Amplify we’ve got you covered! Hand-selected from our archives, here are some of the essential insights you’ll need to expand your knowledge base and confidently explore the new horizons ahead:
- What Is the Metaverse and Why Should You Care?
- Avatar to Web3: An A-Z Compendium of the Metaverse
- The Metaverse is Coming To Get You. Is That a Bad Thing?
- Don’t Expect the Metaverse to Happen Overnight
- A Framework for the Metaverse from Hardware to Hollywood and Everything in Between
Virtualization, as outlined by marketing group Media.monks, profoundly transforming how people connect with each other in ways that supersede activities in the physical world. Virtualization is not virtual reality. VR is one of many ways through which people experience the byproduct of virtualization. Virtualization’s focus, according to the agency, is to put emotion into the code.
“This process has led to the creation of distinct, immersive environments that offer a glimpse of what the metaverse will look like: a persistent ecosystem combining embodied experiences ranging from a ‘digital twin’ of the real world to more fantastical experiences and environments that are only possible in digital. It’s not a fad or a temporary reaction to a global pandemic. It’s a tectonic shift and it’s inevitable.”
READ MORE: Making the Metaverse (Media.Monks)
The fundamental difference between the internet as we know it now and the “next” internet to come is that we can access it in 3D and that it will be built on a decentralized data architecture. Instead of passively scrolling through information on a flat surface, we can interact with objects and information just as we do in the real world.
1. AR Hardware is Coming
While consumers are familiar with AR on mobile devices, its potential has barely been scratched. The strongest, most detailed experiences can be data-heavy, requiring the download of an app to activate (often challenging). And while smaller AR experiences enjoyed through social apps are certainly engaging, they come with a file size limit. Web-based AR is making AR more accessible, opening the technology to uses beyond social but all eyes are on the next-generation of smart glasses.
The next version of Snap Spectacles will let wearers see their surroundings in AR. Facebook is developing its own AR-enabled pair, Project Aria. Apple is rumored to be developing its own AR goggles and VR headset.
“Apple’s strength has long been to introduce new hardware to its smooth, interconnected ecosystem — carving a use case for devices that had previously failed to attain true mainstream adoption. Apple didn’t invent the tablet or the smart watch, but it certainly made them fashionable. It will be interesting to see how a move into AR and VR hardware will shake up the scene.”
2. Challenges in Integration Remain
A key characteristic of the metaverse is interoperability, or the seamless connection between digital experiences. How will people transition from one world to another, and will they be able to bring digital assets (like purchased outfits) with them? Today’s tech platforms function as walled gardens that, save for APIs, inhibit interoperability.
Geert Eichhorn, Innovation Director at Media.Monks, likens it to the development of public space shared by and accessible for all: “Walled gardens make no sense when you’re trying to build a park. Open standards must be created to lay the foundations for the metaverse as a living, interconnected virtual world.”
Looking at you Facebook, Apple.
3. Control Changes Hands
Already, there has been a shift from passive consumption to active engagement as consumers become heroes of their own stories and makers of their own worlds. We see this particularly in gaming, with players desiring some sort of interactivity (building, exploring and playing in user-created worlds) within the digital environment. The act of building even becomes an end unto itself, because the main activity is the social component of participating with others. Even traditionally passive events like concert-going have become active. The Ariana Grande Rift Tour concert in Fortnite wasn’t just a performance to watch; it was effectively a game filled with levels for attendees to explore, accompanied by music. Opting into these experiences has also become more accepted as a primary, not secondary, mass leisure activity.
That’s because the metaverse is being built for the younger generation. 75% of people attended a virtual event throughout the pandemic, including 90% of those part of Gen Z. 88% of them said they will continue attending virtual events, even after in-person ones fully return. This trend will challenge media companies to fundamentally reimagine how people want to interact on digital platforms.
4. Virtual Becomes Real
Increasingly realistic avatars and ‘metahumans’ will take the role of hosting events and experiences. CGI and developer tools like Unity and Unreal Engine can enable highly realistic brand ambassadors who host and engage in CEO and board presentations (across many time zones and languages), participate in meet and greet events, perform virtual concerts and even deliver personalized messages for hardcore fans.
While VR has done well to create a sense of presence and immersion without photorealism, leaps in graphics processing further blur the boundary between physical and virtual worlds. The development of increasingly realistic avatars and digital environments mean media organizations can extend across platforms and worlds — or risk becoming shunned by a digital-native audience.
5. The Fabrication of Virtually Everything
AR will drape a new world onto the extant one in a ‘mirror world’ that matches our own. This new layer will add contextual information, give access to exclusive offers and invitations and identify people. In many ways, this technology already exists and is being used; Google’s Earth Cloud Anchors allow developers to tie virtual objects to a specific geographical location that can be viewed via AR when a user is in its proximity. We might think of AR as an opportunity for the metaverse to intersect with our own. You might visit an exclusive, virtual pop-up shop in a city center to browse for digital objects using AR — then port those purchases into the virtual world. This will give rise to an entire industry of services catering to the fabrication of virtual goods and services.
6. New Identities
In the metaverse, avatar creation offers people an even greater — and more accessible — chance to assume new roles or personages. Skins, or avatars, in gaming platforms like Fortnite are compelling because they allow users to digitally become characters such as Batman, celebrities like Travis Scott and many other identities. On other platforms, people can design their own avatars — both photoreal or fantastic — to freely present as any gender they identify with or adopt any physical trait they desire.
‘Normal’ social constructs and qualifiers no longer apply, giving people the opportunities to portray an idealized self. Fox’s new series, Alter Ego, plays with this idea by inviting contestants to perform as avatars rendered in real time. Powered by Unreal Engine and advanced camera-tracking technologies, the avatars transform singers into new identities. For some, these new identities help to reveal their true selves, overcoming challenges like stage fright.
It’s important to consider how this technology may change the way we see other people — or ourselves. In the pursuit of an ‘ideal’ representation of the self, who gets to decide what ‘ideal’ looks like? Media.Monks even asks if will avatars erase the presence of those living with certain disabilities (that is, every one will be equal online).
7. Currencies Go Digital
Those in Gen Z don’t remember a time before online shopping existed. Nearly half (48%) of them have a money or payment app on their phones right now, and only 54% visited a bank branch in the past month, compared to 70% of Millennials.
But could businesses mint their own digital currencies? Traditional logic held that governments were the most solid and wealthiest entities in the world, responsible for tax collection and distribution, and hence were the logical issuers of currency. No longer. Switzerland’s GDP is about $850 billion. But UBS and Credit Suisse both have a market capitalization of about $1 trillion. Who is to say that the country is more ‘stable’ than its largest corporate entities?
In an ecosystem like the metaverse, where virtual payment is an absolute necessity, we can expect to see multiple versions of currencies issued. By 2022, Facebook’s Libra coin will re-emerge as Diem, a blockchain-based payment system minted by the Diem Association. In addition to digital currencies issued by private companies (or even digital alternatives to government-issued currency, like digital yuan), cryptocurrencies will likely become the foundational monetary system of the metaverse. Built on blockchain technology (an anonymous ledger of every trade), cryptocurrencies are seen by many as more transparent to fiat currencies managed by a central bank. This technology is also foundational to the trading and ownership of NFTs, unique virtual assets that will rise in popularity and practicality with the metaverse.
8. Asia Leads on 5G
The build out of 5G is an essential component of what some call the Fourth Industrial Revolution and it’s ultra low latency and souped up bandwidth is core to delivering on the interactivity of the metaverse. Europe is off to slow start. In the U.S, 5G penetration is 15% and expected to rise to 50% by 2025. China aims to achieve 5G penetration of 56% by then. Some countries are already looking at connectivity that will succeed 5G. The South Korean government has a five-year plan to spend U$193 million on deploying the world’s first commercial ‘6G’ network in 2028 and will develop the core standards and technologies within the next five years.
If the metaverse does become the successor to the internet, who builds it (and how) becomes extremely important to the future of the economy and society — and so far, China is leading in its enablement. Chinese ‘super app’ WeChat has 1.24 billion monthly active users, hosts ‘mini apps’ that are each accessed within the platform, boasts a huge customer base, a rich commercial ecosystem and an essential ingredient for making a metaverse: interoperability between brands and experiences. Media.Monk’s advice: A rise in connectivity and an interoperable ecosystem of brand experiences show that global brands cannot ignore Asian markets. Establish a presence early and be prepared to stick to it.
9. Rich Data Opportunities
While the nature of engagement changes with the metaverse, so will the kinds of data gained by platforms and brands. Consider the amount of data a VR headset could collect: they typically track body movements 90 times per second to display the scene appropriately, and high-end systems record 18 types of movements across the head and hands. Spending 20 minutes in a VR simulation leaves just under 2 million unique recordings of body language. Add in the microphone and external cameras, and it’s not just your actions that can be recorded — it’s also your environment. This directly leads to concern for privacy using XR technology or indeed data privacy across the metaverse.
10. Regulations Must Be Put in Place
Anonymity online is a double-edged sword; the very same technologies that some find liberating have also raised significant challenges for society, from trolling to illegal activity. Blockchain technology, for example, enables the anonymous trade of contraband. Encrypted networks, which provide safe and private communication, provide a space for organized crime to collaborate. Pervasive illegality using emerging technologies will post challenges in how they are regulated around the world. Platforms already wield great power in dictating who can use their platforms and to what end. Who will be the police force of the metaverse?