What is the metaverse? It’s been called the Internet of virtual reality, but what does that really mean? The word itself was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash and has since taken on many different meanings. In this article, we’ll give you a brief history of the term and explain how it’s defined today—and where it might go in the future.
What exactly is virtual reality
We use terms like virtual reality and augmented reality in everyday conversation, but these phrases—and how they differ from each other—are often misunderstood. So, here’s a quick primer to get everyone on the same page:
Virtual Reality (VR) technology recreates an environment using computer-generated images, sounds, and even smells that fool your brain into thinking you’re somewhere else. Instead of watching a movie on a screen or playing a video game, you enter into another world through VR goggles.
Augmented Reality (AR) uses similar techniques to create digital environments, but instead of replacing your actual surroundings with fantastical ones, it adds something new to them.
What it means for creators
When we’re talking about virtual reality, there’s no single definition of what constitutes a metaverse. What may be true in one platform may not hold true in another. In a game like Second Life, users can create objects that other users can purchase and use within their own experiences.
For example, you could go to your favorite furniture maker’s store and buy chairs that you might use to furnish your second home. Once purchased, those items are just as much yours as any real-world object is—you can sit on them or display them on a wall as if they were physical products.
What it means for brands
When we talk about the metaverse, we don’t mean a massive interstellar sci-fi plot. The term has become synonymous with virtual reality and augmented reality due to how often it’s used to describe AR/VR experiences. But if you ask three people what they think it means, you might get two or three different answers—and that makes sense because VR, like much of tech these days, is still so new that no one can agree on an official definition.
Most commonly, people use metaverse when describing a digital space where users interact through virtual environments by creating a representation of themselves (think avatars). Think Second Life meets The Sims mixed with real-life social media interactions and 3D gaming for AR/VR.
The future potential
The term metaverse is a catch-all word that describes an immersive, interconnected virtual reality. Think of it as an Internet made entirely of VR. In a metaverse, users will be able to transport themselves and interact with other people and things in 3D environments where they can walk around, push objects and even touch them.
Imagine if you could visit your friend in London while standing right next to her or hop over to your favorite restaurant from your living room couch – that’s what we’re talking about here. The metaverse also carries with it some incredible implications for commerce: If customers could go into stores and see products in 3D and pick them up before buying, imagine how much easier (and enjoyable) online shopping would become.
When Will the Metaverse Arrive?
This one’s a little tricky because it depends on who you ask. Most people believe that we’re years away from seeing anything like Ready Player One in real life, but some experts think it could be closer than you think.
Ray Kurzweil, for example, believes VR and AR will combine to form a single platform by 2025 (the same year we’ll supposedly see a major technological singularity).
With an even shorter timeline is Steve Blum, host of Crowd Virtual – he says that we’ll have more immersive VR experiences by 2019. While many doubt these estimates are feasible given current technology limitations, there’s no denying that big things are happening right now in terms of virtual reality.
Metaverse: A Futuristic Retail Example
Let’s say, for example, you want to design a futuristic retail shop that you intend to open in 2025. It can be a clothing store, or whatever is applicable. To build your store in AR and VR, you would need an engineer to code it with 3D software; an architect to work out how big it will be and where it will go; another person to ensure construction sites are safe; someone who can sell it to potential investors—and so on.
So, while building your store may appear simple from a business perspective, behind each scene there will be a long list of people contributing their time and expertise. The future of AR and VR will not just be about developing new technology but also finding new ways to use it.
For example, if you wanted to make a virtual museum exhibit, you could use augmented reality as part of an app that allows users to visit museums around the world without leaving home.
The metaverse has already begun its evolution into our lives through apps like Pokemon Go! which lets users catch virtual creatures in real-world locations via GPS tracking (see image below). Imagine if instead of catching Pokemon at your local park, you could catch them inside your house!
That’s what we call reality enhanced by virtual content—or in other words, augmented reality. One day we might even see full-blown holograms walking down our streets!