“The most unique element of the metaverse is that it has more definitions than anything else, yet it is still incredibly vague and opaque.”
This wry observation by Tom Ffiske, Immersive Wire, shows you’re not alone if you’re baffled by this significant, non-physical entity looming on the horizon.
Originally coined in the 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash, the term “metaverse” is increasingly intruding in our reality today. As it continues to evolve, fundamental questions remain including what the metaverse will look like, how it will be accessed, and what impact it will have on society as we know it. Some liken the future to Ready Player One where we’d spend most of our time working within a VR world; others feel the metaverse is simply a new way to depict how we interact with technology and the internet as a whole.
“I believe the Metaverse is the next chapter of the internet.” This was Zuckerberg’s big statement. But what does that really mean?
Over the coming months you’ll see multiple definitions of what “the metaverse” will be. This is to be expected – it’s new, and pioneering companies are still exploring it themselves. However, tangible results are starting to surface, so we can begin to see what it could look like.
Let’s unpack the fundamentals together – right here, right now.
What is the Metaverse?
‘The metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.’
We like this clever definition by Matthew Ball. It supersedes the differences in definitions given by Microsoft and Meta (aka Facebook) and highlights how ‘we will constantly be ‘within’ the internet, rather than have access to it.’ Meta primarily focuses on the social element – about connecting people together more effectively; while Microsoft focuses on the business-to-business aspect – aspiring for workers to collaborate effectively to reach their productive potential. Essentially where the metaverse differs from current reality is that it moves from an app-based model where we step in and out of walled gardens each with their own styles and rules, to a one-world model which can be freely explored.
On the social side, the metaverse could become a virtual space on the internet that allows people to communicate and socialise virtually, play virtual games, buy virtual clothes for your virtual holiday, sell things like digital artwork and NFTs, virtual houses and virtual cars – and so on. Fundamentally you would be ‘living’ in a 3D virtual world. Your physical self would still be sat on a sofa at home, but you would engage with life virtually. What’s more, in the metaverse you can transform who you are, your appearance, your abilities and what interests you have through creating your own avatar. It will be accessed through a virtual headset, as this is the best way to fully engage with a virtual space. But it’s also possible to engage through other electronic devices like mobile and computers.
For more on this, take a look at Zuckerberg’s Metaverse introduction to possible scenarios for the Metaverse future here:
You can also watch more about it with this TED talk: “The Future of an Immersive Metaverse”
And hear Director Jay Scott-Nicholls’ take on it all right here:
What will you be able to do in the metaverse?
To say ‘everything’ could be going a bit too far, but certainly many parts of our day to day life.
- Shopping and fashion
- Gaming and exercise
- Business meetings
- Training teams
- Social engagements
- Collaboration and team working
- Concerts and events
- General home life
- Creating and trading digital artwork and assets
- Owning digital items
- Day trips and travel
The list goes on.
It’s Not Really All That New
The concept of “the metaverse” itself, of interacting with a virtual world isn’t too hard to imagine – partly because many of us are doing it already. We already have gaming sites like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox and World of Warcraft, where players can engage virtually with others within a space online. We’ve already seen people purchasing the first NFTs – the first ever SMS message is up for sale as we type. Creative agencies, like our own, are helping share brand stories and experiences through virtual means, whether on desktop, mobile or VR headset.
The part that feels most difficult to comprehend is the idea of ‘living’ in that space. It’s accepted that we can enter a virtual game wearing a VR headset, shoot some Zombies and then remove the headset before dinner’s ready. But what if we put on a VR headset first thing in the morning, we ‘walked’ to work, ‘chatted’ with someone in Starbucks as we grabbed a morning coffee before heading to the office where we ‘legitimately’ conducted a full day of work (by this point we could be wearing VR gloves that help type on ‘keyboards’, and you might have a phonebook in the virtual world to make the relevant calls). And after a full day of work, we head back to our virtual house on Virtual Reality Street, sit down with a partner or cat and discuss the day. You could even then head back out to a house party with Snoop Dogg’s avatar, carrying a brand new NFT gift for him, before heading home once more and taking your headset off so you could kip in the real world.
Cue ‘Large Exhalation’
It’s a lot to imagine, but is it possible? Yes.
So let’s say this is all going to work – who exactly owns that space, who governs it, who creates the elements – and who determines what it will be, and how it works?
Who will oversee this new world?
In recent months many of us will have heard Meta speak about the future of a metaverse, speaking in a way that it feels as if it’s theirs. The good news is, it isn’t.
Sure, there will be a focus on privacy and security policies from any company that designs a metaverse space but there will also still be a need for wider governance and accountability.
It appears, at this point, tech giants and other organisations who help create the metaverse are likely to own the sections they possess, and could charge other corporations to be part of that world – just like landowners charge shop owners to rent their buildings and space. But none are ‘in charge’. They are likely to oversee their own areas but no further. Meta for example might look at social initiatives of every day users, Microsoft could focus on businesses and how they trade and interact, and gaming sites would focus on their players’ experience in a game.
There are many questions that will need to be governed by law, here in the real world, to prevent monopolies. Questions of whether there will be any free space, any virtual-land governed by earth-based states? One thing is for sure: we can fairly confidently predict that regulation will lag far behind the pace of innovation, so there will likely be a period of wild-west style lawlessness.
Who’s making the Metaverse?
We’re entering a stage where many tech giants (i.e. the ones with capital and resources to invest in such a technological virtual revolution) are pulling together teams and resources to engineer their own version of a virtual world that could then come together in partnerships to form a metaverse. (Or if they all fall out and don’t play nicely we could see ourselves with a few metaverses that we jump between). Giants like Microsoft, Meta and Google. As the metaverse conversation gains momentum it’s likely that open source innovators will become more vocal about making it more democratic much like the internet. The question is whether they can gain any ground against the tech giants who will want to own the space.
But there are many other companies to be aware of too. Some focused on areas like gaming, fashion and NFTs – most looking to build infrastructure for the metaverse. These corporations include Nvidia, Unity, Roblox, Fortnite, Zepeto, Animal Crossing, Unreal Engine, and even Snap.
Will the metaverse succeed?
The key to the success of the metaverse is to understand our current engagement with technology and pinpoint how this virtual space can be used to improve our day to day activities – not just fill our time with more virtual things. If it can do that, ideally without compromise, it’ll be here for the long haul.
For it to work the metaverse will require a lot of manpower (designers, engineers, web developers etc.) and a whole lot of investments. It will need highly sophisticated software that is easy to navigate and use, and hardware for users to wear such as gloves and glasses that ensure a true representation of your physical self in the virtual realm. There will need to be laws and policies to determine safety, security and privacy, virtual items and content to be available to buy, sell and use, and a willingness from companies and people to engage with it – and most importantly of all – to engage with it together.
As Elon Musk would say, nothing is inevitable but with a team working together, towards a common goal, it’s definitely going in the right direction.
What’s Circus’ role in all this?
As the metaverse evolves, people will increasingly have access to – and familiarity with – immersive content and experiences, and virtual reality hardware. That means a growing audience will require virtual content, just like the work we create. So right now, our role will be to help facilitate this transition for brands and their agencies.
Although the metaverse itself will likely take the form of a 3D game world, that world will be full of experiences and content, just as is the web now. So real-world content can still find a home in the metaverse. It’s just a new way of accessing it.
For example, in recent years we’ve worked with Barclays to create a virtual recruitment tool, showcasing their head office and what it’s like to work there. In the metaverse, Barclays might create a fantasy 3D recruitment centre which people can visit virtually and access information about jobs. But if those visitors want to see a job preview, they might prefer that it was showing the real-world environments which are relevant to them (if they were still going into an office at this point). Same goes for things like university open days and product demos.
As a team we are constantly trying new technology and merging real world and 3D environments to create virtual tools and experiences. We look forward to seeing what new capabilities and applications the metaverse brings, and playing a part in bringing them to life.