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What is the Metaverse and is it worth the wait?

Imagine a 3D online world where you can teleport from your London office to a boardroom in Singapore, shop at a digital replica of your favorite clothing store, and play virtual golf with friends. For some, this coveted version of the Internet, known as the Metaverse, is the future of human interaction. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of his company to Meta Platforms Inc. and invested billions of dollars a year to dominate the “next frontier”. But it’s not clear what a unified virtual world will look like, or if people really want it.
It will combine technologies such as video conferencing, games like Minecraft and Roblox, encrypted tokens, email, virtual reality, social media, and live streaming. Just as you can create a document in Microsoft Word and send it to a colleague via Google’s Gmail to be read on an Apple iPad, elements of the Metaverse will be able to move through an ecosystem of competing products while retaining their value and functionality. For example, a digital work of art purchased from Company A as a non-fungible token (NFT) can be displayed on a virtual house wall in a game created by Company B.
work and play. Case in point: “Jane” creates a 3D avatar—a digital representation of herself—on Facebook or Microsoft Teams and uses it for virtual office meetings. After work, Jane and friends buy tickets to a virtual concert where all of their avatars appear among the hundreds of headshots in the audience. When the music ends, the band says, “Don’t forget to buy a T-shirt!” With her avatar, Jane can view the designs on the stand, as she does today on Amazon, Asos or Taobao, by paying for one. with cryptocurrency and buy the next day, wear in the virtual office every day. A colleague borrowed it from his daughter to use in a Roblox game that night, and Jane lent it to him. This scenario includes enterprise communications, live event streaming, e-commerce, and the exchange of something of value. This will only work if each vendor builds their system in such a way that assets such as avatars and shirts are compatible and portable.
Not for a few years, if ever. You can already use crypto tokens to buy “land” in browser-based virtual worlds like Decentraland, attend virtual reality meetings with vFairs, or try on clothes in Sizebay’s 3D dressing rooms. But these products are far from the cohesive, compatible world that Zuckerberg and others envisioned. While there is no shortage of investors betting on the emergence of the Metaverse, the biggest bettors are chipmakers, video game studios, and other companies whose products can thrive whether it happens or not. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in January that the company’s planned $69 billion acquisition of game maker Activision Blizzard would help build the “new Internet.” But, he added, “there won’t be, and there shouldn’t be, a single centralized metaverse.” Multiplayer games like Fortnite.
It’s hard to convince people to put on a VR headset and chat with cartoon versions of their co-workers and buddies. Zuckerberg was widely derided when he posted an original Metaverse “selfie” in August to promote Meta’s VR platform, Horizon Worlds. There’s not a ton of evidence that people working from home want to switch from regular Zoom calls to virtual reality meetings. For some, the benefits of being “in the room” are outweighed by the dizziness and nausea that comes with constant exercise. When social media platform Snap Inc. announced layoffs in September, people working on technologies that could play a role in the future metaverse were among the first to quit. Meta’s VR division has been making headsets since 2014 and is reporting big losses, with revenue only a fraction of Meta’s core advertising business. Many exchange-traded funds and mutual funds that specialize in the Metaverse-related business have plummeted in 2022 as rising interest rates encourage investors to look for companies with more predictable returns and tangible returns.
It could be a technological leap, similar to how the Internet went from static text and images on pages in the 1990s to a place where you can buy books or watch movies and then attend university lectures and collaborate on product development. It could change how people gather, interact and spend money creating unique virtual life experiences. Such a future is portrayed in science fiction (such as Neil Stevenson’s Avalanche) and in films such as The Matrix and Ready Player One. It should be noted that each of them depicts a form of dystopia.
(Details on funding related to the Metaverse have been added to Section IV. A previous version of this article corrected the spelling of author Neil Stevenson’s name in the Link Shelf section)

Post time: May-17-2023