Since computing became popular, the concept of virtual reality has been present in popular culture. However, technology was not sufficiently advanced to imagine a virtual world parallel to the physical one. Today, however, innovations such as 5G or Artificial Intelligence make it easier to imagine a much more advanced virtual reality, which will take the form of a metaverse.
In the past, the concept of a metaverse was nothing more than a term used in science fiction. While Mark Zuckerberg’s recent projects have popularized this concept, many Internet users still have questions about what the metaverse is. In this article, we answer that question, explaining what the metaverse consists of and how it will be applied in the context of Facebook and video games like Fortnite.
What is metaverse?
The concept of metaverse is closely related to the idea of virtual reality. To understand this, it is useful to think of cinema or video games as virtual worlds in which the viewer or player can “immerse themselves” to some degree. However, they have obvious limitations: the cinema does not allow interactivity, while video games need a device that serves as an interface to control our character or avatar within the virtual reality of the video game.
The metaverse takes things a step further: similar to the Internet but with more interactive features and, above all, greater immersion. Through 3D glasses, the metaverse allows users to enter virtual reality and interact with it as if it were a physical environment. Advances in 3D image modeling and programming already allow the creation of credible interactive worlds that serve as the setting and representation of this metaverse: a three-dimensional world in which we can interact at the same level as in reality.
As we have mentioned, these ideas are relatively recent. In fact, the concept of virtual reality dates back to the 80s: the term was coined by computer scientist Jaron Lanier in reference to the first applications of the technology to create models in contexts such as the automobile industry, airlines or NASA. The metaverse idea is even closer to us. It was used for the first time in Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novel Snow Crash.
Metaverses and virtual worlds
Metaverses and virtual worlds have many application possibilities. Numerous companies are currently working on projects to create virtual worlds and merge physical and digital realities.
The last idea, called augmented reality, has already been put into practice with huge success, such as Niantic’s Pokémon Go game. Using augmented reality on a mobile device, digital figures can be viewed in the middle of a real physical environment. Companies like Snap or Microsoft have also embarked on augmented reality projects. The Microsoft Teams remote meeting software is expected to start using digital avatars soon, enabling much more realistic and interactive conferencing between parties.
The entertainment sector will also be dramatically influenced by the metaverse. For example, the online casino industry has also set its sights on this technology. Online casinos are very likely to emerge in the next few years in which the interaction with roulette or poker will be virtually identical to that experienced in a real casino.
Metaverses in video games
In the entertainment industry, video games are the ones that have given importance to the concept of the metaverse. In particular, massive online video games are examples of a metaverse whose reality remains active even after disconnection. This is the case of video games like Second Life or World of Warcraft, in which players can interact through virtual avatars.
The most prominent company for the use of the metaverse is Epic Games, responsible for the fighting video game Fortnite. Players don’t just fight through virtual figures – they also socialize through audio and video software and chat tools like Discord. All of these tools create a world that is completely parallel to physical reality in which users can interact in a shared environment.
Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse
Mark Zuckerberg has been one of the entrepreneurs most interested in developing the metaverse through Facebook. Since his purchase of the Oculus virtual reality headsets in 2014, Zuckerberg has focused on acquiring other companies focused on virtual reality. As the recent name change of his company to Meta indicates, Zuckerberg is betting on the metaverse as a competitive advantage over other platforms that have gained ground over Facebook, such as YouTube or Tiktok.
The metaverse of Facebook aims to become the most advanced platform in virtual reality, in which communications through social networks will be replaced by interactions much more similar to reality. There are still a number of obstacles to achieving this, for example the effect called the “valley of unreality”: virtual avatars do not become fully credible, generating a disturbing effect.
Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse aims to attract 1 billion users by 2030, which will require devices to be cheaper than they are today. He will also have to contend with the 30-minute limit that the average user can tolerate wearing virtual glasses, no matter how realistic the digital environment is.
The key can be found in the lower cost of acquisition, and in the creation of attractive content to compete with video games and other social platforms. In any case, the fight for online popularity will certainly bring important technological advances that will make the metaverse an increasingly solid reality.