It’s March 16th, 1999, and you’re booting up one of the hottest games to come out that year. In it, you select your race/character combo: an Elf Ranger. Slowly, you level him up, fighting enemies, gaining experience points, and receiving loot in the form of treasure and items.
The infrastructure of the game is complex for the time: Different servers, some with over 3,000 players per server, with over 500 “zones” in which users can interact with each other, explore, team up, and sometimes fight. Rendered in 3D, the graphics are advanced, creating a world that’s immersive — at least through a computer screen.
Everquest, one of the first instances of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), and an early example of a virtual world that engrossed and engaged the public. It was, perhaps, a precursor to what people refer to today as “the metaverse” — shared virtual spaces where people can socialize, shop, explore, and, in a manner of speaking, live.
In 24 years, we have advanced since those early MMORPGs to more sophisticated ecosystems that you see in the news today. But with the rise and excitement surrounding the metaverse, many questions have been raised. And they are heady to say the least.
In this article, we simplify the metaverse down to its nuts and bolts, starting from its origins to where we stand today and, of course, where we might be headed in the future. It is a full course on this unique aspect of Web3 and the promises — and pitfalls — it may bring.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Origins of the Metaverse
Most students of the Web3 space likely know by now that Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. That book, now in the canon due to recent interest in the metaverse, described a dystopian physical world from which people sought to escape. They turned to a virtual world where you designed your appearance in the way you desired.
Stephenson’s metaverse is a growth from another book — William Gibson’s Neuromancer, published in 1984. In it, Gibson described a “cyberspace,” which is a graphic representation of data taken from every bank in the human system. And if you were to go back even further, it was Antonin Artaud, a French poet, who first used the term “virtual reality” in 1938.
So, what is the metaverse exactly, when taken from science fiction novels?
Generally, it is a shared virtual space that humans enter through various technological devices. There, they can socialize, shop, explore, build, work, and more. There are few limits in the metaverse — typically you can have the appearance you like with the name you like and live without the constraints of the physical world. No gravity, for instance.
Often, the metaverse becomes massively adopted due to the state of the physical world: nuclear wars decimating the landscape, environmental crises making daily living nearly unbearable, and more. It becomes an escape, a powerful drug from the realities of life.
But more on that later.
Starting around the turn of the century, novels were starting to become reality. The first virtual worlds sprang up, usually as games where thousands of people could exist in a shared digital reality. You may know some of them: Everquest, World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, Second Life.
From text to tech, now the race was on. Enter the multiverse.
Enter the Multiverse
Today, there’s an online gaming platform with tens of millions of daily active users. 80% of them are under the age of 16, with 44% under the age of 13. In this game, there is a whole world to explore, with games, experiences, and concerts, where the youth of the world can buy items with in-game currency, which in turn developers can cash out for fiat.
Users can also build — developing properties and delivering goods that other users might like. It’s called Roblox, and it’s one of the virtual worlds vying for supremacy in what is becoming a crowded multiverse landscape.
What is the multiverse? It is a collection of separate virtual worlds that users can experience and enjoy. These worlds are generally distinct, run by its own operator and company. They are “closed virtual worlds”: You need separate logins to join each of them and can’t take your items (or money) from one world to another. They include:
- Horizon Worlds
- Microsoft Teams
There are some virtual worlds that have more open concepts (Decentraland and The Sandbox are two Ethereum-based that come to mind), but they are rarer and have had less success. For now, most virtual worlds are walled gardens, which means they are controlled by a central entity and this entity determines what you can and cannot do within the world.
The rise of these virtual worlds has been impressive, spurred by the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic that kept most people indoors for months.
Fornite, for instance, evolved from simply being a battle-royale shooter game to adding virtual concerts and movie theaters, as well as the ability for users to create content.
Other players see the possibility of virtual spaces for socializing and work like Horizon Worlds and Microsoft Teams. With remote work still prevalent and team members living around the world, these virtual spaces allow for better quality meetings and interactions, a human touch to the digital experience.
This is roughly where we stand today: a multiverse or collection of virtual worlds. But, as you may have noted, we here at Rarity Sniper wouldn’t go as far to call it “the metaverse” quite yet. And that’s because the vision of the metaverse is grander and something more.
To understand, we must begin with the term “interoperability.”
Interoperability Between Virtual Worlds
Interoperability, a definition: “the ability of computer systems or software to exchange or make use of information.” If there is a true difference between the multiverse as we know it and the metaverse, it may lie in this term. Let’s take a closer look.
If a multiverse is a collection of separate, distinct virtual worlds with no compatibility, then what is the metaverse? An all-encompassing digital landscape where users need just a single login to access and can:
- Take their objects with them from world to world
- Use a single or collection of currencies that operate in all places
- Has a uniform set of rules that govern the virtual space
- Has no gatekeeper or a single gatekeeper that controls the space
One of the important points about the metaverse is that it is a single, integrated virtual world, rather than a set of different worlds with their own rules, regulations, and requirements. Right now, if you were to amass items or money in Roblox, you can’t take them to Fornite, or vice versa. Those are two distinct worlds with no compatibility, and the end-user suffers as a result.
The dreams of metaverse enthusiasts focus on a single landscape or at least one that has interoperability between the virtual worlds. That ability for the worlds to share information — which is really what these items and currency are — and permit the user to have a better experience.
As an example, imagine interoperability with social media platforms. You could navigate from X to Facebook to Instagram to TikTok without losing your information, starting from scratch, creating a new avatar, or uploading new pictures. The experience would be fluid, better, and more immersive. A single digital identity to rule them all.
But for the metaverse to truly happen, there would need to be advancements in tech — and serious ones at that.
Advancements in Tech
The early versions of virtual worlds were mostly video games, and users accessed them (much like they do today) through computer screens, mouses, and keyboards. Although there are debates about what the metaverse will look like when it fully comes out, few people doubt that different technology will play a role to access it. That tech? AR and VR.
AR stands for augmented reality, a type of technology that will allow users to draw virtual worlds on the physical world surrounding them. The most available reference is AR glasses, which will fit onto a person’s head like a normal pair of glasses but come with extra technology.
As an example, think of how cell phones use AR today. On some websites or apps, you can look through the lens of your phone camera and “place” an object in your physical reality. It is essentially a representation. This integrated reality comes with perks: You don’t have to create a “double reality” in your head to reference the virtual world and physical.
Then there is VR, or virtual reality. This technology is more immersive than AR and comes through headsets that strap onto a person’s skull. The headsets completely take up one’s vision so that the physical world disappears. The VR headset then “draws” the virtual world directly onto the person’s eyes, essentially creating a new reality.
VR has its promises but it’s not without failings as well.
Current models are heavy and people can only wear them comfortably for a couple of hours. VR experiences can also be disorienting as they require the person to retain an image of their physical reality in their head. There have been accidents involving people using VR devices and damaging themselves in the physical world.
Affordability is a factor for both technologies. AR glasses have not hit the mainstream yet and the ones that are available are costly. The same goes for VR devices, although new models are coming out each year and lowering the price. But still: if people will access the metaverse using these technologies, likely the cost will have to come down.
Aside from AR and VR, there are other technologies that will play a role in the creation of a single, all-encompassing digital space. Those include brain-to-computer interfaces (think Elon Musk’s brain chip experiment) where you will be able to control an avatar with the speed of your neurons.
Experts say computing power and 3D modeling needs to get better as well, the former to power the metaverse and the latter to draw realistic models. Artificial intelligence will play a role, especially in the creation of non-player characters (NPCs) that can talk and act like actual humans.
Eventually, people may use haptic suits, the kind that create a connection between a person’s body and the virtual world. Think of picking up an object in the metaverse and feeling it in your hand or smelling a scent in a virtual world and that scent filling your room in real life. All these technologies may eventually play a role, and advancements are needed.
That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard to answer the question, “When will the metaverse come out?” Because the technology needs to catch up to the vision.
How will Web3 tech play a role?
After the “normie” tech, there is Web3 technology, and it will play a crucial part of the creation of the metaverse. Here is the run-down:
First, there is blockchain technology. Proponents of the blockchain believe it will play a role in the metaverse because it is the most secure way to track and permit virtual world transactions. Due to the structure of the blockchain, it would take a significant (51%) attack on the system to change the information. It is crucial to have that kind of security.
Next, there is cryptocurrency. This technology will permit payments in virtual worlds and a system that doesn’t rely on a single entity to control. This is because many cryptocurrencies are decentralized and the governance of those tokens is based on the system, which is unlike what you see in many virtual worlds today.
Lastly, there are non-fungible tokens (NFTs). These will permit real ownership of digital assets, creating monetary value for virtual items, and allowing for marketplace trading with actual economics.
NFTs are the linchpin of virtual worlds. Without it, items could be deleted for no reason at all, creating a bad user experience and mistrust in the virtual world.
Beyond an individual Web3 tech, these three will create worlds that are decentralized, meaning that no single entity controls the assets or rules of the space. The primary difference between people in Web3 and those outside of it is that Web3 denizens want an open (interoperable) and decentralized metaverse, rather than a giant walled garden controlled by a tech company like Meta.
The truth is, a metaverse, by definition, can be either, but we would prefer the former.
Statistics Surrounding the Metaverse
One of the arguments that we will eventually have a unified digital environment — a virtual world for all of humanity — is that digital adoption is advancing every year, and more and more people are spending time online. Here are some of the statistics surrounding the metaverse, starting with AR.
- The number of active AR users doubled from 2019 to 2021
- As of 2023, there are 1.4 billion active AR devices in use
As stated, AR device use has become more popular with cell phones and will likely grow even larger when affordable, functional AR glasses come out. Now, for VR.
- In the US, VR headset has been climbing year-after-year since 2017
- In 2023, there are 66 million VR users in the United States
VR use is certainly less popular than AR use, likely due to the cost and the unwieldy nature of the VR headsets. Still, it is becoming more popular, a trend that is likely to continue when better devices are rolled out. For time spent online:
- Average time spent online stayed around six and a half hours for the past eight years
- Among younger generations, that number is higher however, with Gen Z and Millennials spending more time on social media than the older generations
More than one-third of Generation Alpha (the one after Gen Z) spend between three and six hours online each day. Given that this is the youngest generation, we may see further adoption of the multiverse and eventually the metaverse. Certainly, that is what the trend indicates.
A Cautionary Tale: Living in Virtual Worlds
However, a little bit of caution: Living in a virtual world may not be so great after.
Experts, and many of the authors mentioned in this guide, write that living in virtual worlds could have harmful effects on society, increasing loneliness and decreasing the intimacy of relationships in the real world. AI is having a moment with this, as leaders in the field recognize that some people want AI friends who are not human at all.
In the books listed here, the Earth as we know it is in disarray and not exactly fit to live in. So, people escape to the relative comforts of the virtual world. This is true of Ernest Cline’s smash hit Ready Player One as well. Climate change and wars have decimated the Earth, so people escape to the Oasis, an immersive metaverse.
Will people eventually want to spend all of their time in a virtual space, neglecting the real world? It is certainly possible given the trends in the previous section. Will that be a good thing? Only time will tell.
Finally: When Will the Metaverse Come Out
The truth: No one knows. But everyone’s best guess seems to be the 2030s.
That’s a long time to stack NFTs and get ready for the virtual ride of our lives.
Ready Player One?
If you enjoyed reading this guide, check out our others: