From The Matrix to Futurama, predictions of a 3D Internet have existed as long as the Internet itself. Today, a new term has emerged to describe this phenomenon, "The Metaverse." The metaverse has become something of a buzzword over the past year: while nearly everyone's heard of the metaverse by now, it often carries different meanings depending on who's using it. Metaverse hypesters, dismissive naysayers, and varying depictions in the media have all created competing visions of what the metaverse will look like once it’s here.
We at The Glimpse Group are sifting through the noise to create a grounded, realistic understanding of the metaverse. Here are five metaverse myths explained.
Since Meta's rebrand in October, there's been plenty of foot-tapping from those who expect the metaverse to suddenly appear any day now. As it stands, we're still years away from a fully-realized metaverse. The vision which Meta, Microsoft, and others have outlined – a collection of 3D virtual worlds where people can socialize, shop, and interact with one another – still requires a massive amount of development and digital architecture before it can materialize. A fully-fledged metaverse is a massive, interoperable collection of 3D worlds which users can easily travel between. We’re not quite there yet.
Not to mention, the metaverse won't mean much if nobody’s in it. We still haven't achieved mass adoption of immersive technologies, so even if the metaverse existed today, you wouldn't encounter many other users. People will need easy access to consumer-grade VR and AR hardware in order to populate the metaverse.
Immersive technologies first entered the mainstream with VR gaming devices like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, but they’ve since expanded far beyond gaming. VR and AR show major potential in manufacturing, corporate training, education, healthcare, and plenty of other industries. We can expect a similar trajectory for the metaverse: its earliest iterations exist today as isolated 3D gaming worlds like The Sandbox and Fortnite, but it is quickly outgrowing that shell. Many companies are considering their metaverse retail strategies and non-gamers everywhere are wondering what the metaverse has to offer. In fact, a survey gauging which metaverse activities people are most interested in found that gaming ranked at #9 on the list, surpassed by activities like shopping, travel, and live events. While gaming will certainly be a part of the metaverse, it's clear that our metaverse experiences won’t stop there.
To many, Facebook's rebrand to Meta implied an ownership over the idea of the metaverse. Despite being the first of many tech companies to outline their metaverse ambitions, Meta won't own the metaverse any more than Neal Stephenson, the author who coined the term in 1992. The metaverse, much like the Internet, will be a connected but decentralized collection of worlds, some owned by companies, others run by Web 3.0 collectives, and more still operated by individuals. Meta will likely own a part of the metaverse – their own Meta-branded world – as will Microsoft, Amazon, and the other key players in big tech. But there's plenty of room for and individuals to operate alongside the tech giants, just as there is on the Internet today.
When the world is abuzz with excitement over some new "game-changing" technology, it's often fashionable to play the part of the cynic (see Clifford Stoll's 1995 claim that the Internet is a fad which will peter out in a few years at most.) Naysayers are par for the course for any new technology, especially when the ambitious visions laid out by Nvidia, Microsoft, and others fail to match up with the reality today.
While ideas around the metaverse can feel far-flung and fantastical, the money is real. In 2021, VCs invested over $10 billion backing metaverse-related companies. Meta alone poured $10 billion and 18,000 employees into its metaverse development division last year. The corporations and financiers backing the metaverse are putting their money where their mouth is, and it's in their interest to ensure the metaverse isn't just a fad.
A fun sidenote: in his now-infamous 1995 interview with Newsweek, Stoll scoffed at the idea that people would ever read their news on the Internet rather than in a physical newspaper. 17 years later, Newsweek ceased all print publication and shifted entirely online. You can't win them all when it comes to predicting tech.
For some, the word "metaverse" conjures dystopian visions of dead-eyed users plugged in 24/7 a lá Pixar's Wall-E or Spielberg's Ready Player One. That's understandable, as depictions of the metaverse across film, TV, and literature don't usually paint a pretty picture. It's important to note, though, that in most of these cases, the virtual world serves as a wholesale replacement to the real world. This is completely different from the metaverse which companies and individuals are building today, intended to serve as an extension to the real world, not a replacement. Much like the Internet, all of the transactions you conduct, the friends you meet, and the decisions you make in the metaverse still matter in the real world. There will be plenty of overlap between the real world and the metaverse, and the real world's not going anywhere.
You may have noticed the phrase, "Much like the Internet…" cropped up more than once throughout this writeup. That's no mistake, as our understanding of the metaverse is largely informed by how the Internet unfolded in the 80s and 90s. There's a reason it's called Web 3.0, as it's the successor to our current system, Web 2.0. Understanding past tech cycles is key to understanding how the metaverse will take shape. So while it's important that we manage our expectations, we should also feel excited about the future of the metaverse.
Cameron is the Content Writer/Editor at The Glimpse Group. As a former academic researcher in the humanities, he blends his outside perspective as a relative newcomer to tech with Glimpse's industry-leading expertise to demystify the world of VR, AR, and the metaverse.