Even though the Metaverse may not live up to the fantasies of science fiction writers, it will likely produce trillions of dollars as a new computing platform and content medium. The Metaverse, in its full vision, becomes the gateway for most digital experiences. It is also a key component of all physical experiences and the next great labor platform.
It is obvious that being a key player, if you don’t call it a driver, in such a system can be of great value. While there isn’t an “owner” of the Internet, nearly all the top Internet companies are among the top 10 most valuable publicly traded companies on the planet. The Metaverse may be a functional “successor”, but with greater reach, more time spent and more commercial activity. There will likely be more economic upside. The Metaverse will offer the same variety of opportunities as the web, with new companies, products, and services able to handle everything, from payment processing to identity verification to hiring, content creation, security and so on. Many incumbents today are likely to be pushed aside.
The Metaverse, more broadly speaking, will change how we allocate and monetize our modern resources. As the scarcity of real-estate and labor waned , developed economies transformed over time. The Metaverse will allow potential laborers to take part in the “high-value” economy through virtual labor. We’ll see more shifts in the places we live, how we use our infrastructure, and who does what tasks as consumers shift to virtual goods, experiences, and services. Take, for instance, ” Gold Farming“. Soon after the in-game trading economies were established, many “players”, often in higher-income countries and employed by larger companies, would spend their day collecting digital resources to sell inside or outside of the game. These sales were usually to West-based players with higher incomes. This “labor”, while it is often repetitive and menial and only limited to a handful of applications, will continue to grow in value and diversity as the Metaverse.
CHAPTER 3 – BUILDING THE MEETAVERSE
To make the Metaverse work, it will need a multitude of new technologies, protocols and companies. It won’t be created immediately; there won’t be a “Before Metaverse”, nor “After Metaverse.” It will emerge slowly over time as various products, services and capabilities combine and merge. It is helpful to consider three essential elements that must be in place.
One way I think of these three areas is from a procedural perspective, using the Book of Genesis. First, one must create the universe (“concurrency architecture”), then one must define the laws of physics (“standards” and protocols”), then fill it with worthwhile and evolving content (“content”) that resists selection pressures. God doesn’t create or design the world like a miniature model. He allows one to expand on a mostly empty tableau. (
The technology is not available at the foundational level for hundreds of millions of people to share a synchronized experience. Take Fortnite‘s 2019 Marshmello performance. The event was witnessed by an astonishing 11MM people. They did not perform the feat together. There were actually more than 100,000 Marshmello concerts, each one slightly out of sync, and the number of participants was limited to 100. Epic could probably do more today than this, but not into hundreds of thousands, let alone millions.
The Metaverse requires infrastructure that is not currently available. Furthermore, the Internet was never intended for this kind of experience. It was created to transfer files between computers. The Internet’s underlying systems revolve around one server communicating with another server or an end user device. Today, this model is still in use. This model continues today. Text chats were the first pseudo-synchronous program. However, you are still pushing static data to a server in order to pull the most recent information when/where/how/as required. The Internet was not designed to allow for continuous (or persistent) communication. Nor can it be used for persistent communication that is synchronized in real-time with countless other people.
The Metaverse is more like video conferencing or video games to operate. These experiences are possible because they use persistent connections to update one another in real-time with a level of accuracy and precision that other programs don’t usually need. They don’t have high levels of concurrency. Most video chat programs can only handle a handful of people. Once you reach 50, you will need to broadcast a broadcast to your viewers rather than sharing a two-way connection. These conversations do not have to be live, and they are not.
This is why battle royale is so popular in video games. It’s not possible to play with other players live. Some games that have the highest concurrencies, like Second Life and Warcraft were around for over twenty years. However, these games essentially spoofed the experience through “sharding” and dividing users into different “worlds”, and servers. Eve Online can have over 100,000 players technically, but they are divided across different galaxies (i.e. Server nodes. A player can only interact with a handful of other players at a time. Travelling to another galaxy requires disconnecting from one server to load another. The game can narratively “hide” this by forcing players to run at light speed to cross the vastness. The system was slow to a crawl when Eve Online reached battles that involved hundreds of players. This was because the gameplay mechanic relied on ship-based, large-scale combat. These slowdowns would not have been possible if it were a fast-twitch game like Rocket League and Call of Duty.
Many companies have been working tirelessly to resolve this problem, including the Improbable. This is a huge computational challenge that challenges the fundamental design/intent behind the Internet.
Standards and Protocols, and Their Adoption
Standards and protocols are the basis of how the Internet works today. These include file loading, visual presentation, communication, graphics, data, etc. These include everything from consumer-recognizable .GIFs filetypes to the websocket protocol that underlies almost every form of real-time communication between a browser and other servers on the internet.
A wider, more complex and resilient set of S&Ps will be required for the Metaverse. We will need to reduce the number of standards we have and create a smaller set for each function due to interoperability and live sync experiences. There are many image file formats available today, such as.GIF and.JPEG. While the web is built today on open standards, a lot of it is proprietary and closed. Although they use similar technologies, Amazon, Facebook and Google are not designed to be integrated into each other. Just as Ford’s wheels don’t fit on a GM chassis, so are Google and Facebook. These companies are also resistant to sharing data or cross-integrating their systems. These moves may increase the overall value and utility of the “digital economic”, but they also reduce their network effects, which are extremely valuable, and make it easier for users to move their digital lives around.
It will take years and be extremely difficult. The more interoperable and valuable the Metaverse, the harder it is to reach industry consensus on topics like data security, data persistence and forward compatible code evolution. The Metaverse will also require new rules to control censorship, communications, regulation enforcement, tax reporting, prevention of online radicalization and other challenges we are still grappling with.
Although the establishment of standards involves actual meetings, negotiations, debates, standards for the Metaverse will not be established in advance. The standard process is more messy and organic. Meetings and opinions can change on an ad-hoc basis.
To make a meta analogy of the Metaverse, think SimCity. The “Mayor”, i.e. In ideal circumstances, the “Mayor” (i.e. player) would design their mega-metropolis and then build from day one. As in real life, however, it is not possible to just build a city of 10 million people in the game. Start with a small community and then optimize it for its needs (e.g. You start with a small town and optimize for it first (e.g., where are the schools, roads, utilities, etc. You build around it as it grows. Sometimes you will need to tear down or replace “old” sections. Other times, only when there is a problem (insufficient power supply) or a disaster (a fire). However, unlike SimCity there will not be one mayor. Their desires and motivations will often clash.
We don’t know what the Metaverse will require, nor how existing standards will be transferred over. It is important to think about how Metaverse emerges and not only around any technological standard.
The On-Ramp’ Experience
The standards for the Metaverse cannot be simply “declared”, so consumers and businesses will not accept a proto-Metaverse just because it is available.
Take into account the real world. A mall that can accommodate a hundred thousand people, or a hundred shops does not necessarily attract a single customer or brand. To meet existing commercial and civilian needs, “Town Squares” are created organically from existing infrastructure and behaviors. Any place of worship, whether it be a bar, basement or park, museum, or merry-go round, is visited because of what or who is already there and not because it is a place in itself.
Digital experiences are no different. Facebook, the largest social network in the world, failed to succeed because it declared it would be a “social networking” but rather because it started as a campus hot or not, and then evolved into a digital yearbook, photo-sharing, and messaging service. The Metaverse must be “populated”, not just “populable”. This population will then fill this digital world with content and things to do.
Fortnite is not a videogame or interactive experience. Fortnite started as a game. But it quickly became a social space. Its users log in not to play, per se, but rather to connect with their virtual and real world friends. In the 1970s and 2010s, teenagers used to come home from school and spend three hours on the phone. They talk to each other on Fortnite but not about Fortnite. They talk about movies, school, sports, news and other topics. Fortnite does not have an IP or story – the plot is how it happens and who is there.
Fortnite has also been rapidly evolving into a platform through which brands, IP and stories can express themselves. This includes the live Marshmello concert last year. These examples have expanded rapidly since. Star Wars released a short clip of the highly-anticipated film in Fortnite, as part of an in-game audience interactive event. This included a live mocap interview and a live mocap with J.J. Abrams. This event was explicitly mentioned in the film’s opening minutes. Weezer created a custom island for fans where they could listen first to their new album while dancing with other “players”. Fortnite also has several “limited-time modes” that feature the likes Nike’s Air Jordan or Lionsgate’s John Wick movie series. These “LTMs” can transform Fortnite into a miniature virtual world. This allows the player to change the look, feel, and items of the game. This includes the universe of Borderlands, Batman’s hometown in Gotham, as well as the old west.
Fortnite, which is one of few places where DC and Marvel’s IP intersects, is a good example of this. In Gotham City you can wear the costume of a Marvel character while interacting with people wearing NFL uniforms. This has never happened before. It will be crucial to the Metaverse.
A whole sub-economy has been created on Fortnite where players can create (and monetize!) their own content. This could be as simple as digital outfits (“skins”) and dances (“emotes”), or more complex. It has quickly expanded to create new games and experiences with Fortnite’s engine, assets and aesthetics. It includes simple treasure hunts to immersive mashups of the Brothers Grimm and parkour culture to a 10-hour scifi story that spans multiple dimensions, timelines. Actually, Fortnite‘s Creative Mode feels almost like a protometaverse. A player can load their avatar, which they use in all Fortnite-related activities. Once they land in the lobby, they have access to thousands of “doors”, (i.e. Space-time rifts allow players to travel to thousands of worlds, with as many as 99 other players.
This speaks to Donald Mustard’s longer-term vision for the game. Fortnite may not be the Metaverse but it is close in spirit to one and it is obvious how the “game” might eventually support one.