Everyone loves the idea of a virtual world. Someplace where they can break from reality and do (almost) whatever they want, free of the confines of annoying details like physics or being nice. It’s why videogames have become so incredibly popular yet the virtual world of somewhere like Fallout and the true vision of a metaverse are very different ends of the digital spectrum. Because these metaverse’s creators are imagining aren’t concerned with fairy-tale lands with quests to go on, these are fully functioning ecosystems with economies, entertainment and logistics like the real world, just without physical restrictions. Sound daunting, well it is so hold on tight?
Introducing worlds within worlds
This idea is nothing new and has often appeared in pop culture, whether it’s The Matrix with the rather sinister human simulation theory to the gamer-friendly Oasis which featured in Ready Player One.
Nowadays, fantasy is becoming reality and in doing so gaining notoriety thanks to prominent figureheads such as Epic Games’ Tim Sweeny continually dropping in the metaverse buzzword. But what do these alternate digital realities really offer and why are they gaining such prominence of late?
While the basic idea behind the metaverse is a shared virtual space that mirrors the real world where you can hang out with friends or attend a gig, as this sector grows so does the competition and there are plenty vying for your time. You may think the internet already provides everything you need in this regard yet virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) takes this to a whole new level. For the first time, you can literally step inside the metaverse, buy a digital item that you can interact with and then sell on if you so wish.
The core feature of any metaverse is its ability to socialise with friends and strangers alike, joining them at a bar for a virtual drink and catch up or making new friends with a shared love of Star Wars. All without the physical limitations of travel, an important factor when the world is gripped by a pandemic and likely one of the reasons why this subject has grown to such prominence of late.
However, just like the real world these digital realms also have to deal with similar problems, creating safe and secure spaces where everyone feels comfortable coming back to, day in and out. Videogames may offer players the chance to be good or evil but an online virtual world cannot allow guests to be derogatory or discriminatory towards one another. Otherwise, it creates a negative environment nobody will want to be a part of.
Solutions to this are already widespread and continually improving. Most common is simply blocking another user or reporting them, apps like VRChat for example allow you to highlight someone and mute them. While in Museum of Other Realities (MOR) which regularly host festivals – like XR3 currently – has a bubble feature where only people within that sphere can communicate.
Whichever world you join you’ll want to be entertained and that’s going to be one of the biggest marketing opportunities to attract new users.
From attending digital festivals, exhibitions, movie premieres or enjoying some multiplayer videogame mayhem the possibilities are endless. And the competition is already getting fierce before some of the worlds have even launched.
As mentioned places like MOR allow you to visit film festivals like Tribeca or Cannes XR, whilst Sansar has gone down the music route hosting Splendour XR and the Lost Horizon music festivals. Sensorium Galaxy, on the other hand, hasn’t even arrived yet it’s already lining up an all-star cast of DJ’s including David Guetta and Carl Cox to perform, all fully motion-captured.
This also opens up interesting opportunities for brands to reach existing and new audiences. Banner ads and pop-ups will be a thing of the past here, with companies able to explore new interactive ways of communicating their products, creating events you can attend or having an actual object sat there in front of you.
All of this will inevitably lead to the creation of digital culture, where users will want to clothe their avatars in certain apparel or join groups which appeal to their politics or ethics. You could one day see people protesting in a metaverse about social injustice, climate change, pollution of the oceans, political suppression and much more.
And just as current cultural trends would enter the fray so would new ones spring up entirely inside these worlds.
All of this inevitably fuels a digital ecosystem full of buying potential. Casual users might want to buy a new skin or wardrobe for their avatar, whereas those serious about investing in the metaverse can buy virtual property, businesses and even land to build upon.
Again, this is already underway mainly supported by cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to facilitate a safe and secure method of conducting transactions. Somnium Space for example launched in 2018 conducting a land sale with locations split down into ‘parcels’, each with a different value depending on their size. This used the Ethereum blockchain, allowing buyers to then sell assets on marketplaces like Opensea.
Having this type of commercial ecosystem allows creators to make money, building digital items which can be minted into NFT’s (Non-Fungible Tokens) to be sold at auction. NFT’s have exploded in the past year, some selling for millions.
Metaverse commerce will also create a hierarchy where people won’t be able to afford land in a prized location or a new pair of limited edition sneakers. That opens the door for high-end brands to step in and serve a clientele who demand only the rarest items.
The future virtual dream
All of this is just the tip of a virtual iceberg as the digital and the real intertwine, as new worlds are created and new innovations appear. We’re really just at the beginning of this journey into immersive, social XR worlds and there’s still plenty more to discuss across all of these subjects mentioned and more – we’ve not even started on immersive full-body and facial tracking!
So VRFocus will be continuing to dive deep into the XR metaverse, looking at those universes that are forging ahead, the creators behind them as well as what the near and far-flung future holds. Hopefully, to prepare yourself you’ll join us on this tech-filled ride.