What is the Metaverse and how does it work?
April 15, 2022
The Metaverse as a topic is gaining ground in the gaming sector, but its potential is vast, especially in the context of Web 3.0.
Let’s define all the senses in which we can understand the Metaverse and its applications.
The origin of the Metaverse
The term Metaverse originated from Neal Stephenson’s book, Snow Crash. This is a “post-cyberpunk” science fiction novel, having come out in ’92.
It is a dystopian novel, but also very forward-looking, as is often the case. It is set in a world where the Mafia has become a multinational corporation, distributing its pizzas through swarms of delivery men riding hyper-fast vehicles.
In parallel, there is the so-called Metaverse, which everyone accesses through public portals, moving around with their avatars.
The narration alternates between reality and the Metaverse, as our present does.
What is the Metaverse today?
The metaverse is the set of online and connected experiences. The protagonist, the player, is connected to an online platform that allows social, economic and creative interactions in real-time. It is a multiverse of possibilities, taking shape.
But the Metaverse can be defined in different ways, from different perspectives. The Metaverse is made up of the companies working in it, virtual reality devices, interfaces, the content and the experience of the Metaverse itself.
Let us look at these dimensions one by one.
1. The tools to access the Metaverse
The first level is the infrastructure: it is fundamental to develop the technologies that help us connect to virtual reality without technical impediments.
We are referring to an infrastructure that allows for a very powerful internet connection, what 6G will be. In the micro, we are talking about tools such as smart glasses and smartphones that are increasingly compact and efficient.
2. Human Interface
The tools to access the Metaverse will be increasingly personalised and easy to use, to make the experience truly immersive. Artificial intelligence and edge computing will help us in this, as we will see in the next step.
The beginning of this technology is, for example, Oculus Quest, a virtual reality goggle created by Meta, which allows you to control some games even with your hands, without the need for controllers. There is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of comfort, built-in memory, wireless power and much more.
While decentralisation versus centralisation of systems is a spectrum, access to the metaverse and web 3.0, in general, requires the decentralisation of computational processes.
Moving computation from a central cloud to end-points such as smart devices is called edge computing, and makes data processing much more scalable. A group of central servers would not be able to handle the exponential increase in data that occurs every day on the network.
This means decentralising only one aspect of the system.
If we are talking about power, in fact, the issue is that the metaverse aims to become as big as the internet, perhaps to replace the internet. We know that the internet is diverse and hardly belongs to or is controlled by one entity. It is true, however, that there are large monopolies or oligopolies that control huge slices of the network.
This gives us an indication of the degree of decentralisation that the internet and the metaverse may have.
The excessive control that the Big 5 now have over the internet and information is a problem for different parts of society. A healthy market should give more room for competition between different providers.
4. Spatial computing
Spatial computing is a new type of computing that allows smart devices and people to collaborate in space. It requires a combination of artificial intelligence, augmented reality in human interfaces, the Internet of Things to monitor smart objects, motion and space sensors, and automatic object and face recognition as the technological basis.
Spatial computing applies e.g. in the ‘micro‘ to robotic vacuum cleaners, and in the ‘macro‘ to department stores and large workspaces such as those of Amazon.
5. Creator Economy
The creator economy is the sector of the economy made up of independent content creators, agencies, curators and community builders, such as social media influencers, bloggers and video makers, as well as the software and financial tools designed to help them grow.
The emergence of this term to describe the market that has formed around online content creation and social media serves to make us realise just how vast the amount of artistic, popular or entertainment creation is online.
The creator economy finds a new source of inspiration and new tools in the metaverse. These range from 3D art created in VR, to easily create your own e-commerce, allowing you to display your products in 3D (Shopify). Many game metaverses, such as The Sandbox also allow you to create experiences, an activity that was previously only accessible to developers.
This layer represents the ways in which people discover or are attracted to online environments and metaverses. We, therefore, refer to marketing methods, and the ways in which people actively search for them.
Community-driven content, where the community of a project or product itself generates the content and “promotes” it, driven by a passion for it, is becoming increasingly important today.
This phenomenon is another element of decentralisation that has been inherent to the Internet since the beginning.
Let’s get down to business: the experience of the metaverse. What virtual realities exist? What kinds of experience can we have in the metaverse?
First of all, the key to experience in the metaverse is not necessarily 3D graphics. The key concept is the “dematerialisation” of experience. This then potentially involves all the senses and all our physical capabilities:
The concept of “reality” in the metaverse is also a more complex one: a distinction must be made here between VR and AR.
- Virtual Reality (VR) is a completely artificial reality, in which it is possible to act and interact with the elements that constitute it.
- Augmented Reality (AR) is instead based on existing reality, on the physical world, to which information is added with virtual elements.
So if Oculus allows access to a completely virtual reality, Pokemon Go, or even just parking sensors are an augmented reality.
Centralisation or Decentralisation of the Metaverse?
A centralised Metaverse would be the one Meta wants to build, while decentralised metaverses are the ones in Decentraland or The Sandbox.
We are talking about completely different worlds, especially in terms of their size, yet they give us concrete examples of what we can expect from the Metaverse.
Advantages and disadvantages of centralisation, in general, can also be applied to the metaverse. Here are some aspects to be evaluated.
Scalability: on the one hand, the centralisation of decision-making power facilitates and speeds up the initial growth of a metaverse. If the metaverse were based on a centralised blockchain, moreover, according to the blockchain trilemma this would allow us not to sacrifice security and scalability.
Governance: a centralised metaverse is managed for instance by a company, which decides its economy, development and general rules. You will choose to access it if you like the company’s choices or the experience offered by the metaverse.
If, on the other hand, you want to actively participate in a metaverse, decentralised projects on blockchain provide this opportunity through DAOs (decentralised autonomous organisations). Decentraland and The Sandbox allow you to do just that.
There is the fact that the DAO is a nascent, improving type of organisation to consider.
Inclusiveness: decentralised systems on blockchain tend to be increasingly inclusive. This means that there are as few barriers to entry as possible, such as technical capabilities, payments, demographic and geographical requirements, identification. It also means the possibility of having an impact on governance. Not all centralised systems, however, are inclusive in all these respects.
Again, there are blockchains that are more centralised and blockchains that are more decentralised and inclusive. In general, this is being worked on.
Innovation: the blockchain sector has a big advantage on this point: the protocols are open source. This means that any developer can create new and better software using code already developed by someone else, and there are often incentives to do so, as well as entrepreneurship. This property is called composability.
Most centralised systems, on the other hand, have the most obvious advantage of fostering innovation: money.