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What Is the Metaverse, and How Does It Work?

Updated: April 27,2022

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In recent years, the term "metaverse," which is a mix of the words "meta" and "universe,” can be seen all over the Internet. It’s perceived as the tech world’s major buzzword and creates no small confusion among the general public.

Is it a video game or Web 3.0? Does it exist yet, and how do we access it? These are some of the many questions relating to this topic. Most importantly, what is the metaverse going to do for us?

The answer to that is relatively complex, but we’ll try to break it down by defining the term, explaining the technology behind it, and giving some examples of modern metaverses.

What Is the Metaverse?

The word “metaverse” was created by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash. In the future, which is described as a 21st-century dystopia, the metaverse is everywhere. Users live inside a virtual reality universe, a digital marketplace parallel to the actual world. Its inhabitants have their own 3D avatars and VR goggles, which is a bit similar to what we’re seeing now (the beginnings of it, at least). 

So, what exactly is the metaverse? It’s described as a shared virtual-reality space where people can interact with the digital world and engage with one another through custom avatars. In this 3D model of the Internet, your virtual life is just as important as your real, physical one. 

As a result, users can buy and sell products and real estate using cryptocurrency, attend various events and business meetings, play games, and socialize with others; in short, they should be able to do pretty much everything they can in the physical world. 

What is Metaverse Technology?

Metaverse spaces can be accessed using a variety of devices, such as PCs and smartphones, and using the virtual world, virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality technologies. Understanding the difference between these is important because the tools used to enter the metaverse will ultimately shape it.  

Virtual worlds and extended reality are not only restricted to gaming, even though nearly half of the virtual reality market is held by the gaming and entertainment industries. Their use and expansion to other domains, like medicine or education, go hand-in-hand with the evolution of the metaverse.

Virtual Worlds

A virtual world is a computer-simulated environment where users, represented through custom avatars, can interact with each other while also exploring the universe. A good example of real-time communication and action in virtual spaces can be seen in most massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft. 

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality is a simulated experience in which a computerized environment entirely replaces the current surroundings through images, sounds, and other sensations. A VR headset or similar equipment is needed to look around and interact with the virtual space and the objects within it.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality is an immersive experience where real-world objects and environments are modified through digital sensory enhancements. The real-time interactions, merging of real and virtual items and environments, and their 3D representations are all elements of augmented reality.

Mixed Reality (MR)

A hybrid of both the digital and physical worlds, mixed reality allows for intuitive and organic interactions between computers, human beings, and their surroundings. Mixed reality does not entirely take place in either the digital or the real world.

How Do I Access the Metaverse?

Ideally, a true metaverse is accessed via a single gateway, which is why some claim that it doesn’t exist in its whole but rather in parts. The necessary infrastructure and technology for that aren’t in place just yet. 

A ‘true’ metaverse would also imply having the ability to transfer your digital avatar and belongings from one platform to another, which is still impossible. But contrary to some beliefs, metaverse spaces are not solely accessible through extended reality technologies.

So, how to get on the metaverse? You can use a number of platforms to get inside the metaverse, like Second Life, Fortnite, Decentraland, or Horizon Worlds. Some of its features are also accessible through gaming consoles, computers, and smartphones. 

AR glasses, VR headsets, and motion-sensor controllers are recommended for more immersive and enhanced virtual experiences.

VR headsets are available at prices ranging from very affordable to enthusiast-level tech. ​​Although the Google Cardboard is inexpensive, it does not provide the same level of quality immersive experiences as other more serious pieces of VR technology. 

Midrange solutions such as Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 make VR more accessible, but high-end sets such as the Valve Index VR still cost as much as a decent gaming PC. Many believe that the AR industry will outperform the VR market in terms of income, and the main reason is its wider application and lower entry barrier in terms of user costs.

Current Examples of Metaverse Platforms

Real-world examples may provide more understanding of how the metaverse might improve (or deteriorate) our society and where it’s headed in the future.

Microsoft

The tech giant is concentrated on improving and adapting existing technological tools for the metaverse. Their Microsoft Mesh platform combines extended reality with mixed reality technologies and can also be accessed via PCs or smartphones, not just through a VR headset. 

The company showcased its plans on integrating Microsoft Teams with the metaverse by introducing virtual avatars and holograms into workspaces, allowing for more immersive virtual meetings.

The popular Minecraft could also be viewed as a metaverse video game due to its highly customizable universe, gameplay, and social nature. Interestingly enough, Microsoft is also working on an AR Hololens 2 headgear in collaboration with the US Army.  

Meta

In 2021, Facebook changed its name to Meta and completely rebranded itself, prompting many questions, such as what is the Facebook metaverse. The company bought the virtual reality equipment manufacturer Oculus in 2014 and continues to make significant investments in VR tech to this day. 

The Horizon Worlds platform, which is still in beta, is how the company envisions our virtual world’s future; a virtual reality social networking platform where users’ avatars can engage, work collaboratively, and travel while relying heavily on VR technology.

Epic Games

Epic Games is most known for creating the highly successful game Fortnite. The company introduced immersive social events in the game, such as song premieres, movie trailers, parties, and concerts held by Travis Scott and Ariana Grande, which were attended by a large number of people in this metaverse.

The company is developing its free cloud-based program that allows anybody to quickly and easily construct lifelike digital humans called MetaHuman Creator. In future open-world simulations and games, this may be how users design their digital counterparts. 

Roblox Corporation

Roblox is an online game platform created in 2004. Although it’s not a game, users can develop their own games and play games created by others. Some games, such as Bloxburg, offer role-playing options, where players may create work environments, build houses, and adjust various roleplay settings.

Recently, players have also gotten the option to buy accessories and clothes for their virtual avatars. After partnering with Vans World, Roblox has built Vans World, a virtual skateboarding park. There, users can skate in their new Vans clothing. Though the platform is mainly used by the younger generations, one of the company’s goals is to expand to older audiences.

Second Life

Created by Linden Lab in 2003, Second Life was once a popular online massive role-playing multiplayer game but still has a decent user base to this day. Players live in a virtual world and take on any roles they wish through their virtual avatars. They can socialize, go to parties or job meetings, basically anything they can do in real life, which is why this game is considered a prime example of a metaverse. 

Players can even trade with one another and create their own content, as the game has its own virtual economy and a currency that can be exchanged with real-world money, although not (yet) by using blockchain.          

Is the Metaverse Safe?

One of the main subjects of debate about the metaverse is whether or not it’s possible to establish a secure and safe virtual environment. 

Although the concept of living a parallel digital life in a shared metaverse might seem appealing, many security experts think there are reasons to be worried since these technologies could easily be used as surveillance tools by various companies and government agencies. 

User data, such as their current location, hand and eye movement, and other information, could be tracked and used for malicious purposes. In addition to this, there have been reports of verbal and sexual harassment inside the metaverse, creating even more reasons for concern. 

For these technologies to be developed safely and responsibly, a legal framework needs to be established. Since no one is really accountable for their acts inside the metaverse yet, that is not an easy task.

Besides security issues, another danger of living in the metaverse could include potential mental health issues and an addiction to virtual reality. Players have also reported feeling sick due to using VR and AR gear for prolonged periods of time.

Final Thoughts

The metaverse, as a concept, appeals to a lot of people, but notably giant IT corporations, which were the first to jump on the bandwagon with serious investments. Some even think that most people will live inside the metaverse within a decade, in some form or another.

However, a lot of work remains to be done. The lack of interoperability between existing metaverse platforms and the accessibility of required hardware represent some of the key challenges with the metaverse today.

Of course, the lack of safety and the legal framework surrounding these platforms also poses an issue. What is the metaverse going to become like in the future? Will the tech be as readily embraced by the broader community as it was by IT companies and tech enthusiasts? That remains to be seen.

FAQ

Is the metaverse real?

A shared metaverse virtual reality doesn’t exist yet, but rather just portions of it. We might even be a decade away from this concept becoming a reality. However, popular tech companies such as Microsoft, Epic Games, and Meta are working toward developing parts that could one day become components of an interconnected metaverse. As such, it’s on the way to becoming real, so to speak.

What do you use the metaverse for?

The metaverse can be used for many different activities. Inside it, the users can play VR games, purchase and sell real estate, attend various social events, socialize and forge new connections, shop for products (virtual or real), organize business meetings, work with their colleagues, and more.

What is a metaverse company?

A metaverse company concentrates on creating new features and immersive technologies that allow users to interact with one another more efficiently in the digital environment. Such companies include the Roblox Corporation, Microsoft, Epic Games, Meta, and NVIDIA.

How do you join the metaverse?

At this point, there is no single portal that can offer users entrance to the metaverse. Users can, however, access it through a variety of platforms and with the help of AR and VR headsets. Some of these platforms include Roblox, Fortnite, Horizon Worlds, Second Life, and Decentraland.

What is metaverse?

Metaverse, which combines the words “meta” and “universe,” is a shared virtual-reality environment where users can engage with a computer-generated world and other users. It’s essentially a multitude of digital 3D universes that exist in parallel to the real world and can typically be accessed with the help of virtual and augmented reality devices.   

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Jovan
ABOUT AUTHOR
Jovan

With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.

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