Man made of digital pixels walking in virtual reality glasses

Part 1: What is the Metaverse and what is it made of?

What is the Metaverse – really?

Welcome to the rest of your digital life. Or at least the “next” of it!

You are about to embark on a three-part journey as we thoroughly answer the “what is the metaverse” question. Why three parts? There are three answers to that question 1) You deserve (and need to know) what’s coming and how to make it work for you; 2) It’s such a rich journey and there is a lot to cover and 3) because there is a lot to cover, I don’t want to overwhelm you by trying to get you through everything in one sitting. 

It’s all worth the read, I promise you. Anything that is going to go from $200 billion to $5 trillion in three years (as the metaverse is projected to grow)  is worth the time to understand and to know how to take advantage of that growth for yourself.

And when I say “Welcome to the rest of your digital life” — I mean it. The metaverse, and more so what drives it — Web3 —  are going to fundamentally change your digital world forever. So exciting!

Let’s start our journey together!

Part 1: What is the Metaverse and what is it made of?

Mulling About the Metaverse

Inventor Charles Kettering once said (after a fashion), “We all want to know about the future. It’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.” If you’ve been paying attention to today’s prognosticators as they predict tomorrow with FOMO breathlessness, that future time will be spent extensively in the so-called “metaverse.” 

What then is this magical place, with such import that no less than Meta (formerly Facebook) CEO Mark Zuckerberg changed his whole company’s name to reflect the “what’s next” nature of it all? The truth is there are many definitions — and many components, some of which we’ll consider here. But for the purposes of our review, let’s agree on this one:

“The metaverse is a collection of virtual worlds in which everyone in them is redefining human life without the limitations of our physical world. 

Limitations like gravity, politics, religion and preconceived notions of who and how we should be. All of this is done through ever-expanding experiences that use virtual reality and mixed reality to give us everything we need and everything that, before the metaverse, we could only imagine.  All of which are accessible to every human being via a Virtual Reality (VR) headset or PC regardless of who or where they are.”

Jason Turner

So that either sounds like a lot of what we’re already doing on the internet…or totally heady and “out there.” Either way… it’s okay. For all the many companies that now include “metaverse” in their names or mission statements, and before all the job listings require “5 to 10 years experience living in the metaverse and working for metaverse companies” — these remain early days. (There may be no greater evidence of early days than that Mark Zuckerberg recently enthused that his corner of the metaverse was about to introduce legs to its animated avatars. Bring on the virtual pants sale!)

Translation and good news: you’re not late to the party. But change is coming. For your business to be on the go (instead of left behind) — it’s time to start planning a trip into the unknown and innovative.

What’s in the Metaverse for Me?

Why the extraordinary attention on the metaverse? And — always of import to your business and your customers — “What’s in it for me?” 

In most ways the metaverse concept is a something/somewhere that doesn’t yet fully exist. On the other hand, it reflects some degree of technologies that have been in existence in one form or another for a fair bit (like virtual reality and augmented reality) — but haven’t yet found the right grounding or “killer app” to break through. 

In both cases, it has barriers to entry in terms of limited experiences and hardware that is still looking for that “buy now” price point. (The “bargain” Quest 2 was recently forced to increase its price from $299 to $399.)

Even so, the meta numbers are more than enough to fuel interest — and hunger. (But as Gordon Gecko tells us, “Is it ever enough?”) According to Facts & Factors, the global metaverse market is currently at $210 billion — with a projected $730 billion by 2028! That’s a compound annual growth rate of 23.2%. McKinsey is even more bullish — their “Value Creation in the Metaverse” report predicts $5 trillion. 

Like the metaverse itself, there’s going to be diversity in those numbers. Packed into “metaverse growth” is going to be the many, many facets of the metaverse: hardware, coding, governance, hosting, services, virtual items, virtual land, sales of physical and digital assets— and the overall customer experience. But no matter which way you slice it, there’s multiple opportunities in this brave, new virtual world.

And who will occupy this virtual world (or worlds) of demonstrably real value? Well, right now, data tells us that 83.7 million Americans use augmented reality every month. Augmented reality (AR) is when you look through a device screen (lenses or a phone) to see computer generated images projected on the real world.) By 2026, Gartner is calling for 25% of people to spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse doing their thing–from socializing, shopping, traveling to other places, utilizing virtual workspaces, conducting virtual meetings, and more. As for that 2030 benchmark? The forecasters tell us that there will be 1 billion users by 2030.

(Of note, or at least consideration: the technologies that will define this space will require user investments, such as access to high-speed internet, 5G, and increasingly higher end hardware. Where will your customers fall on this spectrum?) 

Metaverse + Web3: A Match Made in Cyberspace

It’s common to see articles about the metaverse with a nod to Web3 — or vice versa — or, worse still, conflating one for the other. But when we’re all still in learning mode, stacking new terms generally results in more obfuscation than “aha!” Are they indeed one and the same? Or are they dire competitors for our screen time and attention spans? 

Co-dependents might be a better way to think about these still “under construction” entities. Even more than augmented reality glasses, it’s Web3 that is the access to this brave new virtual world — much like how a car uses the road. Their final forms (if there are ever such a thing) will be at least a few years from now. But for this point in time, some foundational — if complex — ideas are at play that it’s worth spending some time with.

Web3 is the decentralized internet. Rather than using centralized servers owned by individuals or big corporations, blockchain and DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) provide the structure — and, ostensibly, a more democratized internet. (The name of the metaverse platform “Decentraland” may make a little more sense now.) 

No single entity can pull the plug when the servers, systems and networks where apps run from and where data is stored will be owned by the user themselves. In theory…

As for why it’s Web3? Because it’s considered the third major evolution of the internet, following the initial World Wide Web (Web1) and the user-generated web (Web2, aka social media).

The metaverse uses this infrastructure to create the virtual words and interactions we’ve described earlier, providing users their opportunities to engage with apps and services in a far more immersive way in both the physical and digital worlds. Blockchain technology, such as blockchain-based cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum and the unique digital identifiers (aka NFTs) have taken a beating in terms of value. But they continue to have huge implications in terms of working, playing, socializing and learning in this new digital economy. 

Decentraland (covered in more detail below) is itself built on the Ethereum blockchain. That metaverse uses blockchain technology to create smart contracts and autonomous rules to govern what can and cannot happen within its borders and provides democratic transparency for its community to influence how things work or need to change. 

The Bridges of Metaverse County

While we’ve been cautious to not over promise the reality of the current metaverse “in toto” — in truth there are numerous metaverse (and metaverse-like) destinations primed for a visit. Your time “out there” may be somewhere between extraordinary and “meh-be not.” But as the existing bridges between our physical and virtual worlds, they need to be understood — and experienced. There is simply no substitute for understanding the potential for your business and customers than trying-out/trying-on something for yourself. 

Here are a few of the higher-profile metaverse platforms where you might consider taking a turn with your customized avatar. (avatar (n.) an electronic image or digital identity that represents and may be manipulated by a computer user (as in a video game — or the metaverse!))

Decentraland

A pioneer in virtual worlds, Decentraland prides itself on its (virtual) landowners operating in and creating a shared space of interactive games and exploration. Users buy virtual plots of land using the coin of the realm: MANA, a cryptocurrency that uses the Ethereum blockchain. The nonprofit Decentraland Foundation oversees an ever-expanding, ever-developing map of digital designations. 

Via their digital avatars, users can buy digital art at the Crypto Valley art gallery, trade in Bartertown, and learn at Decentraland U. And because of the Ethereum backbone, the “in world” currency doesn’t stop at the borders but can be transferred as assets back to the real world. 

Interested in Decentraland? Check it out via your browser on the Decentraland homepage. Go to Decentraland.

Fortnite

Perhaps best known as just a video game — to its many players, perhaps “the game” might be better — Fortnite began as a high-profile example of the “battle royale” genre. Players drop onto an island, an open-world environment that is host to battling in a mad, energetic dash that involves picking up weapons along the way as you work your way to the center of the map. (Think next-level capture the flag — or Squid Games.) 

But alongside the battle map is a creative sandbox, where users/players can — and do — use the game’s building tools to create almost anything they want. Beyond the battle-related constructs — traps, forts and cover — this creativity has fostered more metaverse-style events. Superstars like Travis Scott and Billie Eilish have conjured Fortnite-stylized versions of themselves to perform in live music events, while brands like ITV and Carrefour supermarkets have staked early claims on forms of experiential marketing.

Join the battle on Fortnite with a download for PC, mobile, PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo Switch. Go to Fortnite.

Roblox

What began as an online gaming platform that allowed its individual users to create video games of their own, Roblox is now flexing its muscles as an early metaverse platform. Billing itself as the “ultimate virtual universe”, the combination of gaming, social media and social commerce has enticed millions to build their own spaces, and both spend and earn money. 

While anyone can sign on, Roblox has been traditionally kid focused, with more than half of all US children now having an account. An average 49.4 million users log on each day to explore its invitation to, “enable anyone to imagine, create, and have fun with friends as they explore millions of immersive 3D experiences, all built by a global community of developers.”

With a nod to the future, games on Roblox are officially called “experiences.” The diversity ranges from roleplaying, to adventure, tycoon, obstacle course, simulators, fighters — and even “just” virtual hangouts, like the classic Club Penguin. (An early chill metaverse, if ever there was one.) 

All of this is not without some controversy: there have been serious accusations of financial exploitation and even sexual harassment — troubling under any circumstances, but even more so with the children involved. (How Roblox deals with these situations is worth learning from, as this bad behavior will be in play in any metaverse — just as it is now in the “mere” internet.)

Want to try Roblox? Visit the homepage for installation on your PC or mobile device. Go to Roblox.

The Sandbox

Between 2011 and 2016, The Sandbox existed as two hit mobile video games: The Sandbox and then The Sandbox Evolution. In 2018, the developer took the User Generated Content (UGC) model so popular with its players and shifted it to a blockchain ecosystem. 

Now its users are hosting parties, exhibitions and customizing virtual real estate properties as part of a community that creates, sells, purchases and monetizes virtual reality NFTs. Best of all (and perhaps a harbinger of the bigger, bolder metaverse): creators maintain true copyright digital ownership of their creations.

The Sandbox blockchain integrates a trio of products that make it possible for even non-tech savvy users to contribute: Voxel Editor allows for creation of 3D models, including animations; Marketplace allows for the free trading of in-game digital goods; and Game Maker is for the building, sharing and monetization of the many games created within. 

Ready to get into The Sandbox? Start at its homepage. Go to Sandbox. 

Horizon Worlds

Mark “Meta” Zuckerberg jump started the whole “The Metaverse is here!” gold rush with the simple declaration that it was/is/forever shall be. And as their crown jewel, Meta Platforms offers Horizon Worlds, “a synchronous social network where creators can build engaging worlds.” 

A free app that can be experienced primarily through the company’s Quest VR headset, Horizon Worlds is a creation/exploration platform for virtual experiences that include everything from visiting friends, to playing games, to attending “cool events.” Code scripts let users easily generate their own environments. Between the options to play, attend or hang out, there are a promised 10,000 worlds and experiences to explore, such as music and comedy shows, sporting events, and “unique movie experiences.”

That said, reality may be holding Horizon Worlds back a bit. The number of users is far shy of Meta’s goals, and internal memos relate that, “stability issues, and bugs are making it too hard for our community to experience the magic of Horizon.” While it’s easy to snark on Meta (and yes, we’re doing that a bit), props to them for understanding a core principle that will need to be achieved by any/all implementations of the metaverse visions: “Simply put, for an experience to become delightful and retentive, it must first be usable and well-crafted.”

Looking for an in-person tour of Mark Zuckerberg’s virtual world – Horizon Worlds? Connect your VR headsets to the app via this link. Go to Horizon Worlds.

Want to know even more about the top 5 metaverses – how big they are, their revenue, funding, their positioning and more? Download ID Lab’s Metaverse Cheat Sheet.

Part 2: A New Strata of Insights and Engagement within the Metaverse

Part 3: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful of the Metaverse

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