My first contact with technology was with an i486 that my family got me when I was 15. It was love at first sight. From that moment on, my bond with tech devices has been quite strong. And it became even stronger when I connected to the Internet for the first time. I remember that at that time people were already talking about how we would “live” on the Internet in the future. And not just in the way we do it now, but literally live in a virtual reality where we would be able to do everything we do in the real world, but virtually. Just like in some science fiction works such as Ready Player One.
Many years have gone by since people first began to envision such a future, and although we are not there yet, I’m starting to feel that we are actually headed in that direction. For the first time ever, several of the most powerful tech companies are pondering this virtual world, which everyone now calls “the metaverse”. Facebook, Epic Games—the creator of Fortnite—, and Microsoft are just a few of them.
So, what is the metaverse all about? It’s a virtual world to which we would have access via headsets and glasses, and which would allow us to connect with friends, relatives, and colleagues, to play video games and work, and even to travel. We could do pretty much anything we can think of.
But, of course, not all companies have the same vision. Their approaches to the metaverse are quite different. Facebook, on the one hand, is trying to move our entire lives there. Everything we do in real life could eventually occur in its metaverse. Epic Games, which has already created a unique universe with Fortnite, is more focused on the potential this could have for video games. Microsoft, in turn, wants to create a metaverse where we can work.
And it’s getting real. A few days ago, Epic Games announced that it completed a $1 billion round of funding and that it will use that money to develop its vision of the metaverse. And many are quite interested in the initiative. Sony, for instance, contributed $200 million.
Zuckerberg, one of the metaverse’s main advocates, defines it as follows: “You can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content —you are in it. You’ll have different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.”
But he added one little detail that I find quite interesting. He doesn’t see the metaverse as a mere virtual reality, but rather as a world to which we can access via several devices: “It’s going to be accessible across all of our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles.” And his closing line sums it up perfectly: “I think that this is an environment where we can be together, which I think is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it.”
We have only taken the first couple of steps towards the metaverse and, as Zuck said and as all experts agree, it will take not only years of development but also very significant investments to see any results. Be that as it may, this is the first time we actually see stakeholders pulling in the same direction towards the metaverse.
There are still many questions left to answer. From an ethical point of view, is it OK for a company to own our virtual “world”? What will happen with the things we do, say, and consume in these metaverses in terms of privacy? Which devices will we use to enter? And will all people be able to afford virtual reality headsets and glasses, or will some people be left out of this world? Despite these unanswered questions, the metaverse, or at least the concept of it, is a reality.
The fact that there are so many companies with significant investment capacity and ongoing metaverse projects is quite telling.
Maybe in the future we can meet in the coffee shop of Patagonian’s metaverse offices. You never know.