The Metaverse. Seems like you can’t go online these days without seeing this term. Is it the successor of the internet? Is it another highly immersive online game? Is it just a new way of branding the combination of virtual, augmented, and extended reality? Or is it a portal to the future here to take us to a new dimension?


What is the Metaverse?

Let's break down the term first. The phrase itself is a portmanteau of the Greek term Meta, which is used as a prefix to indicate something which is after or beyond, and the English word for universe. According to Merriam-Webster, the Metaverse insinuates a world or conception that requires the “real” world to move beyond it and acknowledge another realm.

So we could explain the Metaverse as a theoretical or emergent networked online space with digitally persistent environments that people inhabit, as avatars, for synchronous interactions and experiences, accessing the shared virtual space through virtual reality, augmented reality, game consoles, mobile devices, or conventional computers.

Metaverse as a term was coined in 1992, and it was first used to describe a “computer-generated universe”. And that definition encompasses a lot of what the Metaverse is today.  Firstly, it’s a metaphor for the real world, which is accessible to users via goggles, much like today’s VR headsets. Other than that, it is three-dimensional, and users experience it from a first-person perspective. Also, the virtual avatars are partially customizable.


Is there only one Metaverse?

Short answer: yes! There should be only one Metaverse. We use this modal verb since everything we know about it is still theoretical, we can never claim about it with 100% certainty. There could be a thousand big companies involved in it, and they could each have their version, but there is supposed to be only one. After all, it should be a collection of virtual worlds or environments, which are connected by a principle of openness, which enables seamless movement, and transfer of assets.

To put it into a perspective, just imagine the Metaverse as a sea. And each island on that sea represents a virtual world. One island could be Facebook’s virtual world, another might represent Epic Games’ virtual world, and so on. Everything in that sea is collectively called the Metaverse, and the individual islands are called “virtual world” or “virtual environment” or as ever the company which owns it decides to name it.

But given that Metaverse is still a terra incognita for the majority of population, it’s no wonder that major corporations such as Facebook (Meta) would want to control the narrative and let you to believe that they own the Metaverse.


The Metaverse trifecta: Digital goods, Virtual reality, and Avatars

The Metaverse as a realm of reality is full of unexplored possibilities. No one is still quite sure what exactly we can expect when this era emerges. But there is some stuff we’re certain to see there. One of them is digital goods. Digital goods are exclusively digital representations of a product. They may be a virtual representation of a real product, or they may be a product that only exists in the virtual realm. These objects might not be “real” in the sense that they aren’t tangible, but they are very real for the people willing to spend real dollars to buy them. As we progress towards an immersive Metaverse, there is a greater number of chances for companies to display and sell their virtual goods.

Virtual reality is a term often intertwined with the term Metaverse, so much so that a lot of people think about virtual reality when they hear Metaverse. But it’s not a synonym. The Metaverse is an open, shared, and ongoing virtual world that offers access to the 3D virtual spaces, solutions, and environments created by users. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is the technology for creating three-dimensional virtual environments with specifically targeted functionalities. So, whilst the Metaverse requires the use of virtual reality, it is much more than that.

One of the things that capture the most attention when it comes to this new reality is the digital representation of humans as avatars. These online representations of users are the digital identities that differ from person to person and can either be static or animated. The best thing about avatars is you can be whoever and look however you want to. There are so many options regarding clothes, style, makeup, and garments. You can express yourself in a way that might be unavailable to you in the real physical world. Metaverse wearables are items of digital clothing and accessories that enhance your digital avatar.



Metaverse Buzzwords: Blockchain, NFT, Digital twin 

At this point, you are probably closer to understanding the Metaverse and its complexity. But there is still so much to unveil in the territory which makes the Metaverse possible. Like the blockchain. Let’s start from the foundation of the Metaverse, which will be Web 3.0. It will consist of blockchain-enabled decentralized applications that support an economy of user-owned crypto assets and data. And what exactly is the blockchain? It is a technology that permanently records transactions, typically in a decentralized and public database called a ledger. The most popular blockchain is the ever-present Bitcoin. What’s very important to notice about this decentralized recording system is it’s very difficult to fool or control. 

This means you can create a smart contract on this blockchain, and thus establish your ownership of some digital object. That could be a piece of art, music, or anything you wish, and no one can take away your ownership, even if they decide to download it on their computer. These items are what’s called the nonfungible tokens or as you may have heard, the NFTs. In a nutshell, NFTs are "one-of-a-kind" assets in the digital world that can be bought and sold like any other piece of property, but which have no tangible form of their own. So it’s just crypto? Well no, nonfungible means they are unique and not replaceable. So it is the opposite of fungible items like currency – any dollar is worth the same as, and can be swapped with, any other dollar. NFTs will play a big role in the Metaverse.

Another big term that’s been used often in the Metaverse context is digital twin. According to IBM, a digital twin means a virtual representation of an object or system that spans its lifecycle, is updated from real-time data and uses simulation, machine learning, and reasoning to help decision-making. And what does it exactly mean in the Metaverse? Well, the Metaverse, together with the digital twin technology, brings realism into the virtual world we decide to create for us. This way the experiences go beyond our imagination and create exact replications of reality.


Are we all just going to live in the Metaverse and never go outside?


Again, yes! But only if you are Mark Zuckerberg. The Meta CEO was caught saying humanity will move into the Metaverse in the future, leaving reality behind for a world of our creation, that we completely control. He also said there will be a point where virtual worlds are so immersive, and convenient, that we won't want to leave, and this is the point where it becomes the metaverse. And while it might be fun to let your mind wander in a completely new world for a moment, the chances of the Metaverse replacing the real-world interactions completely are close to zero.  The Metaverse will uplift the levels of the online interaction we have, but not to the point where our physical lives cease to exist. There are still so many things you can only do in real-time. Mark said, “A lot of people think that the Metaverse is about a place, but one definition of this is it's about a time when basically immersive digital worlds become the primary way that we live our lives and spend our time”. While it has the potential to become our primary life frontier, it will hardly become the only one.


Future and opportunities for brands and businesses

If you are working closely with a brand or a business, you are probably wondering is the Metaverse going to change your business. Well, you should definitely be on the lookout for these new, immersive, virtual environments since they have the potential to provide a fresh approach to staying relevant to existing customers while attracting new ones. It’s predicted that 25% of consumers will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026! Another noteworthy statistic is that the metaverse technology platforms are predicted to reach $800 billion by 2024! Brands that have been there for ages, as well as start-ups, have to reconsider their ways of approaching clients. Brands should reconsider many things when it comes to the Metaverse. Firstly, the employee experience and how inner teams can use the Metaverse to communicate and cooperate within these platforms. Digital marketing and sales teams will need to prepare for brand activations and how to recruit customers to be a part of their metaverse community. The Metaverse is a fully new platform that needs to be incorporated into the entire brand’s digital ecosystem. Brands can consolidate their place in the Metaverse by converting products into 3D models or preparing creations specifically for virtual environments. On a practical level, investing in building a 3D portfolio is a step that it’s recommended to any product company. To sum up, the old ways of doing business are just not cutting it anymore for today’s audience. To keep your business alive, you should find your place and a strategy in the Metaverse.


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