In a nutshell:
The past year has seen the metaverse become a hot topic, with the phrase continuing to permeate pop-culture consciousness more every day. Making its way onto the radar of leading global industries keen to keep an eye on the potential of the newly emerging technology, we expect the creation and emergence of the metaverse to gain further traction as we move through 2022 and beyond. As popular as the metaverse seems, there are varying ideas of what life in an all-encompassing virtual reality will be like—or if it will even exist as we envision it.
Some believe that the metaverse is just another highly immersive way of gaming. Some view it as a booming economic arena full of untapped potential, and others think it's simply a fad that will struggle to weave a place in the fabric of future society. Whatever your opinion may be, at this point, one thing is for sure—The metaverse is a simulated digital environment where users worldwide can traverse immersive virtual spaces. In the metaverse, you'll be able to explore, populate mind-bending fantasy planets, create, socialize with friends, run errands, and work, just as you would in the physical realm. But, because the metaverse is a while away from streamlining and perfecting all of these capabilities, it remains a hypothetical and rudimentary construct still on the periphery of most people’s understanding. One which can leave many to conjure their thoughts and misconceptions about what the metaverse is, what it isn't, and what it could one day become.
We at Multiverse believe the metaverse will enhance our understanding of what we think technology is capable of. We hope that the metaverse will one day become a universally enjoyed medium—equal to all, accessible to all.
Until then, let’s clear up a few misconceptions and delve into the facts and preconceived ideas of what the metaverse is and all its future potential—or lack thereof.
Here are six misconceptions about the metaverse.
A huge misconception about the metaverse is that it's “just another form of social gaming”. Some believe it only has recreational appeal and is limited to those who enjoy jumping into vast open worlds such as Roblox. This misconception couldn't be further from the truth. While the excellence of contemporary gaming will be a central appeal and entice many into the metaverse, the gaming industry acts more like a segue by introducing people to a new realm of possibilities.
Game developers entering the metaverse will have a head start in solidifying a presence due to their success in optimizing next-gen hardware and software, having the weight of an established, loyal user base, and the overall ubiquitous mass appeal of gameplay. And so, it makes sense that the technological building blocks needed to shape the metaverse will likely borrow from those pioneered by the gaming industry. Much like how gaming from the late '90s to the early 2000s drove the rapid iteration, development, and consumer adoption of PCs and gaming software/hardware. We can expect gaming's computational capabilities within the metaverse (or lack thereof) to drive the invention of new technological components that are pivotal in constructing the metaverse.
Gaming will undoubtedly influence the metaverse with its gamification features. Still, those who think gaming will be all there is should know that it only represents the tip of the iceberg. With its sizable prospective user pool, the metaverse will be able to facilitate an extensive range of capabilities. Akin to our tangible existence, users need to feel a sense of familiarity to enjoy and adapt to life in the metaverse.
Simulating the freedoms, movements, and expressions of the physical world through the gamification of meta-environments is the ideal way to achieve this. Such as diffusing gameplay aspects into meta-architectures by including computational blueprints for navigation, customization, rendering, communication, and statistical components.
In the not-so-distant future, you'll be able to jump out from playing the latest triple-A game and into a virtual mall to shop for real-world brands, attend a Pilates class in Central Park, and even hike a mountain in Yosemite from your living room—among a plethora of other digital activities.
In these new and exciting meta-environments, we'll be able to expand the limitations of our current reality, reshaping and reimagining new ways to enjoy the metaverse's virtual planets and worlds. You could fly, teleport, travel on a flying carpet, or even explore space and time in Doctor Who’s Tardis. To an outsider's eye, this may look like a gaming experience, but in actuality, it's a way for you to move and explore just as you would in the physical world—except in spectacular virtual fashion.
Check out our article 'Stranger Than Science Fiction: How Imagination is Building The Metaverse' to delve into why we believe the success of the metaverse will hinge on our willingness to think big. But as impressive as current versions of the metaverse may be, there's still a while before seamless interoperability makes flying between star systems to pay your bills that much easier. Just remember, the metaverse is capable of much more than just gaming.
If you've ever seen The Matrix or Black Mirror, you'll probably be aware of the dystopian fear of being plugged into an all-invasive virtual reality where the sun never shines, and personal freedoms are lost. This example may be another misconception in the minds of over-imaginative metaverse skeptics. While the metaverse may one day provide a way of accommodating nearly everything we do in our daily lives (nearly being the operative word), it's wise to remember that the metaverse will serve as a virtual extension layered atop our physical existence—not a replacement of it.
But, with e-commerce rapidly replacing in-person retail as the preferred way to shop, you wouldn't be amiss in thinking it's only a matter of time before other industries follow suit, and those weekend trips to the mall become a novel act. The metaverse will not eliminate the classic pastimes enjoyed by the many. It will instead open up a world of unexplored potential that helps to facilitate the creation of new and exciting memories.
The metaverse enhances our current reality by augmenting it with tools and capabilities that reimagine everything—especially the mundane. Work obligations, productivity tasks, overwhelming paperwork, and sifting through endless instruction manuals are great examples of areas where the metaverse can assist. It certainly won't replace those priceless moments with friends and family or eliminate our human need to exercise, shower, eat and sleep.
We may soon imagine ubiquitous personal, work, social, and shopping capabilities through augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, like Meta's newly released Oculus Quest 2. Still, it's a far cry from replacing real-world experiences. The metaverse won't replace the physical world and will Instead serve as a virtual assistive tool that compliments and parallels it.
Those concerned about the natural world falling under the weight of the metaverse and a nonconsensual virtual existence can rest assured knowing that genocidal humanoids empowered by artificial intelligence (AI) do not desire to eliminate the sometimes contradictory brilliance of human beings.
We as a society are already semi-dependent on computers, tablets, and smartphones that allow us to work, socialize, shop, learn, and create in one convenient place. With the metaverse and Web 3.0 expected to extend and improve the current capabilities of Web 2.0, we shouldn't expect our reliance on these technologies to lessen as we move into the next iteration of the internet.
Despite society's collective adoption of radical new technologies (i.e., smartphones, social media, contactless payments), valid concerns and doubts about whether the metaverse will be viable for everyone still prove pervasive. Some skeptics believe metaverse accessibility via AR, and VR tech is only reserved for those in financially solid positions, those able-bodied and with the space and set-up to house VR stations that facilitate meta-immersive environments—and they wouldn't be wrong. The circumstantial disparities of varying demographics worldwide mean that not everyone can access meta-technology such as AR and VR wearables. Some may not have the finances even to afford Wifi at home— let alone the luxury of conjuring up dreams of living in a metaphysical fantasy.
Accessibility and usability are pertinent concerns hindering a total acceptance and belief in the metaverse and its many promises. Those with physical, financial, or technology restraints are just a few demographics facing barriers entering the metaverse. Companies must prioritize inclusivity and accessibility features in building the metaverse to combat this. Luckily, most major companies build their respective metaverses with inclusion and accessibility.
Joe Devon, co-founder of GAAD (Global Accessibility Awareness Day) and CEO of Diamond— an inclusive digital agency helping to build accessible experiences, sheds light on the future of accessibility within the metaverse, explaining: “Facebook, now rebranded as Meta, has a great accessibility team, Apple has a great accessibility team, and so does Microsoft. We don't always know how influential they are, but it’s those guys who are currently trying to define the standards for accessibility inside the metaverse,”
Digital accessibility expert Geoff Freed shared his thoughts on the future of metaverse accessibility via Lifewire: "There are already recommendations for making virtual worlds as accessible as possible. Digital accessibility begins with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While the "W" stands for "Web," the principles described in these guidelines also apply to non-Web technologies…." In this era of heightened social awareness, industry tech leaders are actively trying to make new technologies such as the metaverse inclusive and accessible to as many as possible.
Despite not having all the solutions right away, there is an ongoing awareness that unaddressed exclusivity issues in the metaverse will continue to foster inequality if not tackled head-on. Sharing further via Lifewire, Freed continues, "Existing recommendations and guidelines specifically for virtual worlds are constantly changing as technology evolves."
What about the digital divide between economically developed and emerging developing nations? The good news is that there is ample room for equitable development in global regions with the technological potential needed to push the metaverse global. Several notable start-ups in developing countries are propitious to the research, development, and emergence of these new technologies.
The Israeli research center StartupBlink revealed in their annual Global Startup Ecosystem Index that Lagos placed 122nd out of 1,000 cities worldwide in terms of providing an environment conducive to digital start-ups. This data indicates that a shifting trend of increased global accessibility to the research and development of new technology is on the rise. In the World Economic Forum's 2021 list of their 100 Technology Pioneers, start-ups from all over the world made the cut. Ethiopia's Cambridge Industries, El Salvador's Hugo Technologies, India's Banyan Nation, and Kenya's Sokowatch—to name a few.
The emergence of companies with their finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary digital adoption has the potential to evolve into widespread usability of Web 3.0, with the metaverse as an attainable objective. The metaverse won't be only accessible to those who can afford the latest VR and AR technology. It will also be easily accessible through traditional smartphones, laptops, and computers. With 6.64 billion people (83.72%) of the global population owning a smartphone, the likelihood of the metaverse becoming a widely adopted new iteration of the internet increases.
For example, in Cambodia, telecom companies Smart Axiata and MetFone are expected to introduce 5G into the country in partnership with Telecom Cambodia. And 2020 forecasts from CCS insight, in conjunction with an accompanying user survey, estimate global 5G connections to reach 3.6 billion in 2025—a figure expected to grow to 4.4 billion by 2027. With ambitious strides in contemporary technology adoption, it's clear that collective adoption of the metaverse and Web 3.0 is possible in time.
Cyberspace isn't inherently remote. Current iterations of the internet permeate metaphysical spaces all around the world. You could argue that cyberspace is nowhere and everywhere—concurrently, which means that the metaverse has the potential to become genuinely global when built in a way that supports technological proliferation.
And so, it's vital that those responsible for shaping and building the metaverse pursue accessibility at the research and development stage and that respective technology sectors at the forefront of innovation work to make their new and emerging technology affordable and inclusive for the many, not the few. If equality and inclusivity through affordable wearables and a wide range of comprehensive accessibility features become a reality, the road ahead may be ventured optimistically.
An impressive feature of the metaverse is its ability to host users in a decentralized environment underpinned and fortified via blockchain technology. This effectively means that decentralization through secure crypto-technology will ensure that the creation of the metaverse and Web 3.0 will not be monopolized by one entity. Instead, it will be controlled collectively and owned by those building it. While we're supposed to believe that the metaverse and Web 3.0 will be an autonomous space free of overarching corporate control, it doesn't give us a complete picture of the fabric of the metaverse..
Microsoft and Meta (Facebook) are two of the largest companies currently building their respective metaverses. You might think that they'd be the ones to pioneer and control a globalized metaverse due to their colossal size, know-how, and ability to scale. However, their size and significant financial investments don't guarantee that they'll be successful in dominating the newly emerging market. In truth, while operating on the foundation of decentralization, the metaverse will be developed, shaped, and governed by both decentralized and centralized powers. In order to pioneer and innovate the computational building blocks of the metaverse, it will need to be built by those who know technology best.
Unfortunately, techno-utopians who believe free and decentralized forces should unequivocally pioneer it will have to face the fact that today's leading technology companies will play a significant part in shaping the metaverse. The metaverse's success hinges on the continued development of key technological components over a sustained period— this typically requires centralized powers such as Meta and Microsoft investing heavily into the research and development of the metaverse.
We can't stop Meta, Apple, or Microsoft from dictating the rules and regulations of their respective metaverses. In the future, we consumers can decide if we still want to surrender our data and privacy as we've done so easily previously. Big tech companies like Meta have already collected untold data from their users over the years; to believe the same questionable practices wouldn't occur in their respective metaverses could be considered somewhat naive.
With the allure of radical new ways to socialize, work, game, and create, pulling many into the metaverse semi-permanently, everything, from what you do, what you watch, what you eat, and what you say, could be subject to totalitarian observation. Through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented (AR), and virtual reality (VR) wearable technology, the metaverse will have access to your data on a granular level; that includes the prominent use of biometric technology that recognizes your voice, face and fingerprints. Gaze analysis technology can track your iris and monitor how long you stare at a product–or even heart rate sensors that could potentially detect illness in a user before they're even aware.
In what looks like the making of a perfect storm— when the meta-dust settles, we find ourselves hooked into a monopolized metaverse where our every move is tracked, privacy is a privilege, and your data is no longer yours.
Various international bodies are responsible for enforcing data privacy laws for Web 2.0. These same forces will likely be instrumental in defining the rules of data use and privacy within the metaverse. The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has a good reputation for reforming data and privacy laws to adapt to the emergence of new and changing technology. Third nations whose data and privacy practices are comparable to the GDPR include Israel, Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. In contrast, California's Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) will govern all of Silicon Valley's big tech entities.
Defining which entities are responsible for enforcing data and privacy laws will be challenging, and some vital questions still remain. Will specific rules for data collection in one country contradict those of another? What will be the impact and result of overlapping and disparate regulatory bodies?
Whether we want to inhabit a top-down centralized metaverse depends on consumer choice. A survey conducted by Morning Consult revealed that 55% of adults in the U.S. are concerned about tracking and the misuse of their data within the metaverse. With the metaverse still in its conceptual stages, there's a chance for consumers to decide if we want to build a metaverse that adheres to antitrust, privacy, and data practices or enables ones that exploit them.
All the prospective promises of a digital utopia teased with the arrival of the metaverse prove all too valuable to let fall into apathetic hands. Amplifying voices that ask the right questions and reaffirm the need for adequate antitrust, data, and privacy regulations is one way we can ensure the metaverse doesn't become a hotbed of data extraction. Exerting your agency over relinquishing data and privacy is another way. This could mean reading data and privacy disclosures comprehensively, blocking third-party cookies, and limiting the amount of personally identifiable information (PII) you share online.
A history of merciless data collection and unethical privacy subjugation doesn't have to be repeated if we as consumers choose to venture into new avenues. The moldability of the metaverse in its current state means that the parameters surrounding its rules on data and privacy are still being set, where the only dominant presence in the metaverse's uncharted virtual environment is the immutable blockchain.
Enter blockchain. With recorded transactions on ledgers, the power behind blockchain allows metaverse users to create, trade, and monetize digital assets such as NFTs and cryptocurrency in a secure decentralized ecosystem. The best way for consumers to prevent the metaverse space from becoming a monopoly is to choose to inhabit a trusted blockchain-backed metaverse. By securing user data on private cryptographic keys, the blockchain's immutable mode of function provides a foundation for creating a metaverse that consumers can enter without the fear of being subjected to encroaching data and privacy practices.
This way, they'll ensure sovereignty over their digital assets, privacy, and data, so that third-party intermediaries cannot access and exploit user data unless given express permission. Unlike the typical data and privacy practices of centralized Web 2.0 platforms, the nature of blockchain means that halting the spread of user data on a granular scale can be achieved if we choose not to surrender the right to ethical data and privacy practices so easily.
Shaping the rules around metaverse governance will be an arduous and complex task that will likely be achieved through interdisciplinary efforts. The cross-section of data and privacy practices between private and public blockchain—and who will be responsible for defining the data privacy rules in the metaverse warrants further discussion moving forward.
Whether through individual or societal action, big tech won't have the chance to hoard insurmountable data if we advocate for a metaverse built on transparency, trust, and consensus-building.
Those who believe the metaverse and Web 3.0 will act like the invasive tentacle of an ominous corporate machine can rest assured, knowing that blockchain architecture will foster transparency and democratic distribution (if we choose to advocate for it each step of the way).
While the concept of all-encompassing virtual realities has been around since Neal Stephenson introduced the term 'metaverse' in his 1992 sci-fi novel 'Snow Crash,' the emergence of the metaverse as we understand it today is an entirely tangible possibility no longer reserved for the realm of science-fiction.
Some believe the metaverse is another iteration of virtual reality, a recreational activity enjoyed through novel wearables. There's way more to the metaverse than just virtual reality (VR). To call it such might be an oversimplification.
The metaverse isn't the newest technology or product release. It's a game-changing force born from a determination to turn fantasy into reality. The metaverse results from a combination of respective, layered technologies that bond together to create a powerful universal tool. In other words, it's a hybrid of many computational components that converge to form an interoperable digital architecture. Though, that doesn't quite quell the many valid concerns of the metaverse still being an abstract aspirational concept yet to be fully actualized.
The fruition of one true metaverse may find mainstream status if conditions are ideal. It would take a convergence of technologies and circumstances to create the opportunity for the metaverse to manifest.
While it stands firm as a culturally impactful piece of tech, the now omnipresent iPhone found unmatched global success due to the confluence of new and emerging technologies, circumstantially arising at the right time. Touchscreens, efficient processors, portable batteries, high-speed cell service, the emergence of the app store, and even Apple's advantageous marketplace positioning primed the iPhone for victory following its 2007 release.
Just as it did for the iPhone nearly two decades ago, aligning innovative technologies and developmental factors at an optimal point in time fuels the belief that the emergence of a mainstream metaverse is on the horizon. When blockchain, 3D tech, display tech, AR/VR, super high-speed internet connections, and the widespread adoption of those connections converge and align, the development of the metaverse can kick into high gear.
Perhaps the metaverse will one day change the game, a digital juggernaut combining and merging communication, entertainment, and productivity mediums as impactful as the iPhone, Playstation, or Google Workspace. The creation and actualization of the metaverse are challenging at best. It’s an unprecedented feat being actively achieved today.
It will require the collaboration of many skilled talents and professionals worldwide, including expert software and hardware engineers, 3D developers, blockchain programmers, creators, artists, cybersecurity experts, and more. The never-before-seen combination of talents like these will usher in a metaverse feasible for societal use—introducing a new technological frontier for us to explore.
It makes sense that eCommerce with enhanced retail experiences will be one of the biggest appeals drawing the masses into the metaverse. With a large percentage of the world population buying online every day, it should be no surprise that the US eCommerce market is predicted to reach over $875 billion this year. And with Grand Theft Auto V becoming the highest-grossing media title of all time, making over $6 billion since its release in 2013, we know that gaming will be highly instrumental in the metaverse's early success.
It might be the case that not every real-world sector will find the same success in the metaverse as eCommerce, gaming, and social media entities. It would be misguided to assume it's an automatic win-win for all real-world companies entering the metaverse. What makes a business successful in the physical realm may not be as viable in the virtual space. The sensory appeal of interacting with products, exploring the open worlds of triple-A games, and watching YouTube videos may not work for fragrance, travel, or fitness companies.
While these industries will still succeed in the metaverse through e-commerce, promotional, and several other purposes, they may not gain the same attention as those above. While sensory technology that allows the user to experience all five senses may one day become possible, we can’t yet replicate the distinct sensation of smelling a new perfume via virtual mediums. The metaverse doesn't eliminate our need to experience enriching, real-life moments. It's just an extension of our current reality; there to improve and enhance our impressions.
Hopefully, the metaverse opens up more opportunities for a diverse range of businesses and consumers than it does closing them.
That's why it won't be one size fits all in the metaverse. Brands will need to figure out their place as they explore undiscovered metaverse frontiers. Tasked with building camaraderie with new and existing customers, assembling their open worlds, and finding new ways to market their services and products, brands will need to use metaverse's open platform to operate to establish themselves as a solid and undeniable presence.
With the ability to take a more individualized business-to-customer approach, brands can take advantage of the personalized and interconnected capabilities of the metaverse to extend their audience reach, maintain marketplace visibility, and strengthen their customer base. Brands entering the metaverse must plan how they'll deliver their services and in which way they are to be experienced. Brands must collaborate with partners who have adequate knowledge of everything metaverse-related and know how to expand into that space successfully.
Determining and outlining what roles they'll assume and diving into the virtual arena with conviction will help brands navigate the metaverse better and take advantage of its potential.
If you enjoyed reading this article, why not check out our piece “Virtual Agents Are Becoming Major Players In The Expanding Metaverse.”