There’s more to the metaverse than Meta

Niklas Bakos is the founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Adverty.

Facebook’s early attempt to catch the wave of the metaverse has put this next iteration of the internet on the lips of the wider world – either as a strange, wondrous future mash-up of virtual and hybrid experiences and economic possibilities, or as just another sinister Big Tech plot to rule the world.

Let’s put it in the first of those two boxes for now.

Named by Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, the metaverse is generally defined as a shared, decentralised digital space that enables us to live, work and play in interconnected virtual dimensions.

Not just another word for VR or AR or cryptocurrencies or immersive gaming worlds, the metaverse will include all of the above and a lot more, enabling any virtual experience you could possibly imagine.

In his video introduction to the metaverse, Zuckerberg pictures card games in space and 3D street art. But realistically, depictions of the metaverse often fail to capture its social, professional and commercial possibilities in a way that really brings to life why we might want a virtual experience, or pay real money for a digital item.

Digital sneakerheads 

Here’s another attempt. In the metaverse, a trainer brand might charge you extra for virtual shoes in NFT form when it sells you physical ones. Maybe you bought both pairs after trying them on in a virtual store using a wearable device and paid in cryptocurrency.

Since you own them offline and online, your avatar can wear them when you go with your friends to a virtual music festival, or in some future equivalent of Fortnite or Roblox.

Mostly, the hype cycle around the metaverse involves products and infrastructure that don’t quite exist yet.

Sometime after the real shoes wear out, you might want to sell the virtual pair on, because they were a limited edition and now they’re in high demand.

You make some money back, and because the whole transaction took place on the blockchain, the brand can take its own cut of the resale value.

In this one example, we have a new economic model for creators, a new way of trying on clothes, hyper-personalisation of the gaming experience, a new forum for live entertainment, a breakdown of the wall between physical and virtual belongings – and, of course, the possibility of immortal trainers.

In the gaming world, some aspects of the metaverse are already familiar. The idea of playing and socialising in a virtual space is an important part of this vision of the future.

So is the crypto-based digital economy we already see sprouting in blockchain-based play-to-earn games such as Axie Infinity or Sorare. And though it has fallen well out of fashion, the immersive world-building of Second Life is a clear low-tech precursor of the type of metaverse Zuckerberg describes.

Open ecosystems

No single company will build the metaverse, which will be a huge, decentralised network of worlds and experiences, and Facebook – now Meta – isn’t exactly out on its own in positioning itself for the coming shift.

Epic Games has assembled a $1 billion war chest to back its own developments, CEO Tim Sweeney picturing “an online playground where users could join friends to play a multiplayer game like Epic’s “Fortnite” one moment, watch a movie via Netflix the next, and then bring their friends to test drive a new car that’s crafted exactly the same in the real world as it would be in this virtual one.”

Microsoft is also on the case, and used a trial version of Teams with digital avatars to onboard new staff during lockdown. And former Google CEO Eric Schmidt believes the metaverse can be a Big Tech game-changer, potentially giving well-placed, as-yet-unknown start-ups the leverage to disrupt today’s big players. “Sometimes, the start-ups grow into the next big company,” he reminded Bloomberg.

Mostly, the hype cycle around the metaverse involves products and infrastructure that don’t quite exist yet.

To render genuinely compelling environments, we need quantum computing, mature blockchain technology, stable cryptocurrencies and protocols around NFTs.

The goggles, headsets, haptic interfaces and digital skins we will presumably use haven’t been made yet. Red Dead Redemption 2 was eight years in development. Building an entire, decentralised virtual world, one with its own economic systems, takes time.

But that doesn’t mean elements of the technology that will make the metaverse don’t already exist. My own company, Adverty, creates In-Play™ advertising formats, and holds patents on technology to prove the viewability of ads in Metaverse experiences. We can easily implant our technology in billboards on virtual shopping streets, on blimps above 3D concerts, or anywhere an advert might reside.

That’s our own little corner of the coming metaverse. And in the years to come, every other technology provider, every brand, every interested individual, will find their own.


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