Ready Player One: What Is the Metaverse?
From socializing with other avatars and attending virtual concerts to making a living playing video games, here’s everything you need to know about the metaverse.
Updated Feb 7, 2022
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“Going outside is highly overrated” – Some kid in 2045.
The metaverse is one of the hottest trends of 2022. Even Big Tech is jumping on the wave so they don’t fade into irrelevance like the Dells and IBMs of history.
Experts predict that in the coming years, you’ll be able to visit many worlds outside of this one. I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to drop $500K on a one-way trip to Mars when I can visit any planet in the Solar System from the comfort of my home. And casual space travel doesn’t even scratch the surface of what you’ll be able to do in the metaverse.
But what is the metaverse, exactly? How do I enter the metaverse? And what does all of this metaverse talk have to do with crypto?
Buckle up, I’m about to show you how deep the metaverse rabbit hole goes.
What is the metaverse?
What is the metaverse?
Defining the metaverse in terms we can understand today is no easy task. For reference, that’s like trying to explain the social impact of the internet to a local mom-and-pop in the 1960s. No one actually knows how the metaverse will reshape our lives, so take the following predictions with a grain of salt.
Similar to how the internet lets us access different websites through a browser, the metaverse will allow us to access different 3D virtual worlds through augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
As such, the metaverse is defined by these key features:
- Persistent: It continues to exist and evolve even when you’re not interacting with it.
- Decentralized: It isn’t owned by any one organization, but freely accessible to everyone.
- Interoperable: Users can travel and transfer their items between different platforms and applications.
- Immersive: It engages all your human senses to the point of being indistinguishable from reality.
- Transactional: Users will be able to buy and sell virtual items like avatars, clothing, land, and experiences.
- Social: Users will be able to do immersive activities together, like attending a concert or even hitching a ride to the moon.
Who created the Metaverse?
Kidding. He did coin the term metaverse in his 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash, but that’s about it. From then on, movies like TRON, The Matrix and Ready Player One have introduced audiences to the idea of immersive, 3D virtual worlds.
These days, traditional tech giants like Meta (formerly Facebook) and blockchain organizations like Enjin are leading the way in metaverse development. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg is so bullish on the metaverse that he’s staking his company’s whole future on it. I have a simple rule when it comes to these things: don’t bet against billionaires.
What does the metaverse have to do with crypto and NFTs?
Three technological ingredients are required to create a metaverse. There's the internet, for starters, so that users can communicate over remote distances. Then comes immersive technologies that fool our senses of sight, sound and touch. Someday we’ll simulate taste and smell too. But what does crypto bring to the virtual table?
Well, the blockchain tech within crypto is what gives the metaverse its decentralized, interoperable and transactional features:
- Blockchain is transparent and open, so everyone can access and develop stuff with it.
- Blockchain technology allows for creating scarce digital assets like cryptocurrencies and NFTs, which we can use to transfer monetary value, prove identity and ownership, and even vote.
Is the Metaverse even real yet?
Is the Metaverse even real yet?
Not exactly. Metaverse companies today are just following the advice of venture capitalist Paul Graham: “Live in the future, then build what’s missing”.
The closest thing we have to the metaverse today are video games, specifically simulation games (e.g. The Sims) and massively multiplayer online games (e.g. Fortnite). Right now though, users can only interact with these virtual spaces by staring at a screen and pressing some buttons. But tomorrow’s users will be able to step inside of the metaverse to work, play, shop and socialize just like we do in the real world.
What can I do in the Metaverse right now?
Sure, the metaverse is a ways off. But the above mentioned use cases aren’t pure speculation either. There are live applications already delivering on some of these promises, like:
Five years ago, remote work was a niche pursuit. But in the wake of the 2020 pandemic, remote work suddenly became a reality for many of us, and the metaverse is only accelerating this trend. Look no further than Meta offering VR for business meetings with Horizon Workrooms, and the crypto exchange Binance opening an office in the Portals metaverse. Makes you wonder if Crypto.com was just better off building a virtual arena instead of paying $700 million for Staples Center (now Crypto.com Arena).
Hell, your future job might even be Metaverse-related. Who needs a McDonalds gig when Axie Infinity players are earning $400 a month on average? Soon enough, you’ll be sitting at your 3D desk right across from Dwight’s avatar. And yes, he has beet-stained teeth too.
Games, music, art and gambling are where most of the action is currently happening. Allow me to rattle off some notable examples.
- Play-to-earn games like Splinter Lands, Alien Worlds, Katana and Crazy Defense Heroes have millions of monthly users.
- For a night out on the town, users can visit hot spots like the Atari Casino and Sugarclub in Decentraland.
- Virtual museums like Sotheby’s in Decentraland and DFC Fransisco Carolinum on Crypto Voxels attract thousands of visitors.
- Legacy brands are jumping into the NFT space too. For instance, last year Gucci unveiled a virtual art installation called the Gucci Garden on the Roblox platform.
- I’m sure you’ve heard of the record-breaking virtual concerts on Fortnite by Travis Scott, Ariana Grande and Marshmello.
Not to mention OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace, was doing over $300 million in volume at the peak of the NFT craze in 2021.
There’s a new class of investment fund that is exclusively focused on Metaverse properties. Tokens.com is one of the biggest names in the space. Last year they made headlines for their $2.4 million acquisition of 116 land parcels in Decentraland. The virtual real estate market is still in its infancy, but investors already have the option to start generating passive income by renting out these properties.
With the metaverse incorporating most aspects of life into one shared virtual space, it truly does have something for everyone
How can I join the Metaverse?
First things first, take this red pill.
But in all seriousness, you don’t need much to use the metaverse applications available today. You can play games like Axie Infinity, Farmer’s World and Binemon with as little as a smartphone. You don’t need a spec’d out gaming computer to render virtual worlds like Decentraland and The Sandbox either.
But if you’re willing to splurge a bit to get the immersive experience, then you’ll need to get your hands on a VR headset. That is, until Apple comes out with their rumored AR glasses later this year. Let’s just hope it doesn’t look as dorky as Google Glass. I digress.
When it comes to choosing a VR headset, everyone has their own preferences—especially around comfort, so don’t skimp out doing your own research. With that said, these are the top three VR brands on the market in order of popularity:
- Meta Quest 2
- Playstation VR
- Valve Index
Fill in the blank
We’re still … away from a fully operational metaverse..
When will the Metaverse launch?
When will the Metaverse launch?
For context, here are just a few of the technical hurdles we have to overcome to make the metaverse a reality:
- Internet access: Almost half of the global population still isn’t online. Not to mention, internet speeds vary wildly across regions.
- Virtual reality sickness: Some people experience symptoms like nausea and dizziness inside of virtual environments.
- Blockchain trilemma: Blockchain projects still haven’t figured out a way to be decentralized, secure and scalable at the same time.
Unlike Elon’s self-driving promises, which have become a meme at this point, I’m not going to make wild predictions about how soon the metaverse will be here. Only time will tell.