The word Metaverse has taken the world by storm, yet there’s much that is unknown or unsaid. Vaishnavi Venkataraman digs deeper into what this hyper-virtual world is all about and if this is the new future
On October 21, 2021, social media fans went berserk after Facebook rebranded itself as Meta. Although this was not the first time the term Metaverse was used, it was the first time we started experiencing a ‘new’ world.
A GRAPHICALLY-RICH WORLD
Imagine a graphically-rich world where people can exist, work, eat, play, shop, and do pretty much everything from their couch in the physical world. This is the Metaverse.
The term Metaverse was described in Neal Stephenson’s Novel Snow Crash, in the 90s. Later on, several companies developed online communities based on this concept. In brief, the Metaverse can be described as the evolution or the next generation of the internet. Interaction with other people is one of the main characteristics of the Metaverse. People can appear in the form of 3D avatars in the form of robots, virtual agents, or even manifestations of artificial intelligence.
In the metaverse, people use digital avatars to represent themselves, communicate with each other, and form communities. Digital currency is used to buy goods like weapons for gaming, clothes, and other such commodities. Users can also travel into this digital world without any actual goal, using a virtual reality headset and controllers.
METAVERSE VS INTERNET
The internet is a place where users can communicate with each other, interact on websites, and buy or sell goods and services.
The metaverse builds on the internet in the sense that it creates a virtual world that mimics the aspects of a normal, physical world. This is done using technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), AI, social media, and digital currency. People use the internet to ‘browse’, whereas people can actually ‘live’ in the metaverse.
Meta’s entry into the metaverse did not start with its rebranding in 2021. It started in 2019, with the launch of Horizon Worlds, formerly known as Facebook Horizon. This led to a stupendous rise in the monthly user base of Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues.
It was not too long before Silicon Valley business, Microsoft also jumped on the bandwagon. Governments are also planning a relatively static presence on the internet… for example, Barbados plans to set up a diplomatic embassy in the metaverse. The growth of the metaverse is slowly gaining momentum and several businesses are now opting to step foot into the future of the future.
India’s TATA Tea also went the Meta way earlier this year. The company hosted a full-fledged Holi celebration in the metaverse, where people could appear in any avatar and enjoy the festival of colours.
Businesses aside, celebrities aren’t shying away from taking the plunge. Paris Hilton has created a virtual island on Roblox known as Paris World, where fans can raid her wardrobe and purchase outfits.
The first-ever concert of the future was held on 20 October. Arab singers Ragheb Alama and Saad Lamjarred performed in the metaverse, delivering a unique interactive experience in their futuristic avatars. The stars were present in the concert as avatars and also went live to answer fan questions.
The concept of the metaverse has also made its way into other areas like films, tourism, and sports. Here’s a low-down on how these businesses have incorporated metaverse.
METAVERSE IN FILMS
Over the past few years, Visual communication has witnessed a steady boom. This is because of the development in technology, which has now provided platforms where visual art can not only be viewed but also experienced. Long ago, filmmaking was a strenuous process that involved a whole lot of people and high-end equipment. However, with iPhones and mirrorless cameras on the rise, the process of filmmaking no longer remains the same.
In a similar way in which inexpensive cameras and high-end phones made filmmaking easier, the metaverse can redefine the way films are made, distributed, and interacted with.
THE METAVERSED FILM INDUSTRY
Filmmaking involves four main categories- cast, crew, sets, and gear. Metaverse has the potential to erase all these categories. To begin with, using the metaverse, you can bring alive any location. This also means you don’t have to block multiple locations for the shoot. In the metaverse, any location you wish for can become a reality.
Secondly, the actors can be replaced with any form. Besides this, real actors can also be captured in real life and finally be placed within a 3D virtual environment.
Third, crew. You practically need one person to shoot the actual actor and a team of programmers for the post-production. This will also reduce large-sized crews, which has been a norm for years now.
And lastly, you won’t need expensive gear to capture live action. All you need is ample lighting for the character and a green screen and viola, your character and set are ready to roll.
Well, while this may all sound easy, it might still involve a lot of money. Employing talented artists and making a one-of-a-kind film will also come with a cost, be it in reality or the metaverse.
METAVERSE IN TOURISM
At a time when the pandemic was at its peak, people turned to VR experiences. Travellers could go on a virtual vacation, from the comfort of their homes. In the case of virtual reality, virtual elements are overlaid the real world. The metaverse will act as a substitute for an in-person visit or can help prepare for an upcoming trip.
Travellers can plan holidays and decide where they would probably travel and spend their time and money, by using the metaverse for virtual tours of hotels, places, and experiences.
Furthermore, the metaverse can also enhance the booking experience. Booking through a website comes with certain restrictions. But, booking in the metaverse might be more like visiting a hotel or a place, asking questions to agents, negotiating deals, and finally making payment more easily. Even after travellers reach their destination, they will be able to make alterations, order food, look up deals, etc via the metaverse.
The metaverse could pose a threat to the travel industry. If people were able to visit new places in a virtual 3D space, they might not choose to travel physically. But there’s still a long time to go, we believe, before the metaverse entirely takes over the travel space.
In an interview with the YouTube channel ‘The Babylon Bee’, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla said that he is not impressed by the Metaverse and is not seeing us disappearing into a hyper-virtual world anytime soon. “I don’t know if I necessarily buy into this Metaverse stuff, although people talk to me a lot about it,” he added.
METAVERSE IN SPORTS
Imagine stepping into a sports arena where you can create your own sports avatar, watch matches, train, buy sports equipment or participate in a game- this is what metaverse would mean for sports fans.
Metaverse would provide a much more immersive watching experience. For instance, participants in the Metaverse Sports Arena would be able to take pictures with sports stars, and chat with their favourite sports personalities, while enjoying a panoramic view of the arena. They can also zoom into any part of the stadium, run alongside players, join the cheerleaders, or just enjoy the game with their friends, who might physically be miles away.
Once again, this might sound like a never-attainable vision, but the metaverse is one step closer than you might think. The Manchester City club recently announced that the Etihad Stadium will be virtually recreated in the Metaverse. This will permit football fans to watch live matches, without physically being present in stadiums. Experts reveal that metaverse is set to become the reality for sports fans and this may transform the sporting industry as we know it.
● Negates Physical Distance
Metaverse brings together people from across the globe. Furthermore, the metaverse will also act as a platform for like-minded people, allowing you to make new friends, within the comfort of your home.
● Immersive Experience
Imagine 3D getting an upgrade! That’s the metaverse for you. Apart from providing an immersive experience in terms of tourism, sports, or filming, metaverse will also open up opportunities for personal and business ventures. You can play games, exercise, socialize, and even hold business meetings in a realistic setting with lifelike avatars.
● Positive Impact On Cryptocurrencies
Cryptocurrency will play a major role in the metaverse, through blockchain technology providing transparency, trust, and security. NFTs are a token of ownership for digital and physical assets and the metaverse will enable owners the privilege to move their assets between various worlds.
● Privacy & Security Issues
Privacy has always been a big issue on the internet, as people are unaware of their data being collected. And considering Facebook’s history with privacy, this could be a major concern.
● Virtual Bullying
Bullying, cybercrimes, and cyber-attacks are inevitably some of the dark sides of the metaverse. This could lead to greater cyber-attacks, with little to no screen to look away from. However, there’s nothing much that can be done about it correctly, but as the metaverse develops it is hoped that newer and more innovative methods of addressing this issue will come into being.
● Losing Connection With The Physical World
The virtual world is like an addiction. Once you’re in there, you can lose all track of time and even lose connection with the physical world. Think of our mobile phone addictions and imagine how it could be to have an immersion experience of another world.
While the basic framework of Metaverse has been around for years, a true metaverse world, where lifelike interactions will take place, is still years away. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in his ‘Year in review’ blog noted that most people don’t have the right VR goggles or motion capture gloves to accurately capture their body motion, voice, or expression. He, however, did predict that we aren’t very far from virtual meetings, where people will appear as digital avatars.
What the metaverse holds for our collective futures is still a big of a mystery. Twenty years ago, we hadn’t heard of Facebook or Instagram, but look at us today. Suddenly influencers are the thing to be… As our world continues to unfold in new and exciting ways and technology takes us into the future in giant leaps and bounds, one can’t help but remember the ancient Innuit curse, “May you live in interesting times.”