Welcome to the metaverse | The week in the UK

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Where did the idea come from?

Science fiction. In Snow accident, cult sci-fi novel by Neal Stephenson from 1992, the Metaverse is a 3D virtual reality world where people can go to escape a dystopian reality: a vast online game in which people’s avatars roam as they interact with each other, accessing online services, going to virtual nightclubs and virtual sword fights. Tech companies today use the term to mean different things, but basically it refers to virtual spaces where you can collaborate and socialize with other people who are not in the same physical space as you. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg describes the metaverse as “an Internet you find yourself in, rather than just watching.”

Why is the metaverse in the news?

It hit the headlines in July, when Zuckerberg said that over the next five years, “I expect people to go from [Facebook] mainly as a social media company to see us as a metaverse company ”. Facebook already owns Oculus, one of the leading manufacturers of virtual reality headsets. It is also developing Horizon Workrooms: these are virtual meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 50 people where, using Oculus headsets, you and the cartoony avatars of your colleagues can meet, chat and gesture. Even more ambitious is Horizon Worlds, a virtual world that is both a social network and a gaming platform, within which users can meet, play games and also create new game worlds. Going forward, says Zuckerberg, “you’re going to be able to do whatever you can on the Internet today, as well as some things that don’t make sense on the Internet today, like dancing.”

Hasn’t all of this already been publicized?

Online worlds have been around for decades, and Second life, launched in 2003, was presented at the time as a step towards Matrix-style virtual reality. Some of the biggest online games today, such as Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft, already have many metaverse-like features. Enthusiasts report virtual concert by electronic musician Marshmello staged inside Fortnite in 2019, in the presence of ten million players.

However, technology is now opening up new avenues, both in terms of virtual reality and “augmented” reality: Facebook hopes that its new connected glasses will put before your eyes a whole computer universe, mixing real and digital worlds. Just as smartphones have taken the internet from our desks to our pockets, with all kinds of ripple effects on business and society, so it is argued, new platforms will once again change the way we do business. to live. The metaverse, says The Verge, a tech blog, is “partly a dream for the future,” and partly a way to summarize the changes already underway.

How long will it take?

“Many of these products won’t be fully realized for the next ten to 15 years,” says Andrew Bosworth, who heads Facebook Reality Labs. There are a lot of technical hurdles to overcome if you want to get a Snow accident-style online world operational. Along with huge inputs of raw computing power and plenty of virtual reality headsets, a functioning metaverse will require innovations in everything from broadband networks to software protocols. The holy grail is that virtual worlds should feel “persistent” (ie they don’t freeze or end); must offer a feeling of real “presence” in the virtual world; and should provide “interoperability” of data and digital assets.

What is interoperability?

The ability of different computer systems to work together, as they do on the web. Today, tech brands often don’t let their properties mix: Microsoft Xbox owners usually can’t play games online with a Sony PlayStation owner. However, the popularity of metaverse-type games such as Fortnite meant Microsoft and Sony had to bend the rules. Fortnite is also one of the few places where rival IP brands – Batman and Star Wars, for example – are allowed to mix. These are the kinds of developments that metaverse supporters want to see happen everywhere. The idea is that all of your digital goods should be portable across different platforms, perhaps through the use of non-fungible tokens, aka NFT. “If you buy a virtual shirt in Metaverse Platform A,” says The Verge, you should be able to “exchange the same shirt in Metaverse Platforms B to Z”.

How will it change your life if you don’t play video games?

Thanks to the pandemic, almost all of us are familiar with the notion of working and socializing online and the limitations of video platforms such as Zoom. In theory, the Metaverse offers massive upgrades on all of this. Add in a fully functioning digital economy where users can buy – and get paid to create – things inside the world, and it’s a futuristic tech dream or nightmare, depending on the taste. Its supporters are enthusiastic about its breathtaking possibilities and economic opportunities. Critics see it as a “virtual reality with must-see ads” model. Either way, big brands are already thinking about their metaverse strategies.

What is there for Facebook?

Obviously, it wants to be on the cutting edge of technology, and with more users and user-generated content than any other platform in the world, it’s well positioned to navigate a future shaped like a metaverse. At the same time, Facebook’s army of lobbyists are keen on massaging its battered reputation. Cynics suggest that rebranding as a “metaverse business” allows Facebook to disassociate itself from social media woes and distract from its battles with competition authorities and regulators in the Western world. In Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision, the Washington Post suggests, “people could play games, trade cryptocurrency payments, attend meetings – and, perhaps more importantly, see Facebook cool again.” .

NFT in the metamonde

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are digital certificates of ownership or authenticity. They rose to fame in March when one of them, conferring rights to a digital collage by the artist known as Beeple, sold for $ 69.3 million at Christie’s. (The buyer was a metaverse enthusiast and cryptocurrency investor known as MetaKovan.) Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are often the subject of metaverse speculation. Both use an underlying technology – blockchain ledgers – that eliminates the need for a company or authority to guarantee them: ideal for tech-libertarians and “interoperability” enthusiasts.

The best existing example of a metaverse project using NFTs is an online game called Infinite Axis, launched by a Vietnamese company in 2018. It is a Pokemon-like a trading and fighting game: to play you buy axies, axolotl type creatures, scanned in NFT. If you are successful in raising and fighting them, you amass in-game currency which can be exchanged for cryptocurrency. Forbes reports that people in developing countries – mainly the Philippines – “play Infinite Axis as their main source of income in areas where banking services are difficult to access and often expensive ”. The game has an annual turnover of approximately $ 1.5 billion.


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