The metaverse. It’s a hot topic these days. First coined in Snow Crash, a novel by Neal Stephenson, the metaverse refers to what comes after the internet. This was described in the book as a virtual reality (VR) world where people lived through their avatars. In the real world, we have no idea what the metaverse will look like. But we’re starting to get some idea as tech companies begin to build it.

For example, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently announced virtual conference rooms and meeting spaces accessible through VR. Games like Roblox and Fortnite are going beyond gameplay and introducing concert experiences within their apps. Crypto-investors are buying virtual real estate on Decentraland, much like developers bought domain names during the 2000s.

So, what is the metaverse?

The metaverse, explained.

It’s too simple to describe the metaverse as a futuristic, internet-connected, VR world with shared virtual spaces.

Matthew Ball, the creator of The Metaverse Primer and a co-founder of Ball Metaverse Research Partners, thinks it’s much more. He describes it as an indefinite, unending virtual experience with its own fully functioning economy. The interconnected worlds of the metaverse will work together seamlessly. Individuals will create and contribute to the content and experiences of the metaverse.

Another metaverse thought leader, Jon Radoff, has a different take. He defines the metaverse as an evolution of the internet “into a creative space for anyone who wants to craft experiences.” Radoff believes the metaverse will emphasize “activities” and create an immersive virtual place. Creators will dominate the space by making the experiences. There will also be a system that connects and links content, just like we use hyperlinks today.

A single platform won’t be able to encompass the entire metaverse. Instead, ALL platforms will have to work together to create it. Here’s one way to look at it: emerging media, like Epic Game’s Fortnite or Facebook’s Horizon, may operate in the metaverse, but they are not the actual metaverse themselves. They are merely ways we can interact with it.  Likewise,  you are interacting with the internet as you read this blog. This blog is not “The Internet.” Even though Quantum Fiber is an internet service provider, it is also not “The Internet.”

Two designers work with VR headsets in the metaverse to design an city.

It’s not real yet.

Today, these theories are just that—theories. And while we don’t live in a metaverse reality yet, there are still many questions to ask. Like, can a person use one digital avatar across the entire metaverse? Will the metaverse be open-source or closed? Will there be one operating system (OS), or will it be possible for the different OS to work together?

We may not have those answers yet, but some of the essential interconnectivity needed for a true metaverse is already here. For example, you can use your Facebook or Google account to log in to other applications. Certain games, like Fortnite, work on multiple platforms, including PC, mobile, and console devices.

Let’s explore some examples of tech companies that are building the metaverse, from Facebook to Roblox.

Facebook’s virtual conference room.

If you thought the metaverse was a cool cyber world of hackers and dangerous viruses (like in Snow Crash)—Mark Zuckerberg begs to differ. Nope. According to Zuck, the metaverse is for creating virtual conference rooms accessed through the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset. Horizon Workrooms is a free app on the Facebook wearable. Using it, people can enter a virtual office room as an avatar and go to a meeting. Sounds fun, huh?

Jokes aside, this kind of technology could be helpful for remote and hybrid business teams. In fact, that’s the whole intention behind Facebook’s first foray into the metaverse, and there is more to come. Horizon, Facebook’s virtual reality game, is currently in beta. It allows you to play online with other people and create virtual 3D objects.

The “enterprise metaverse” and Microsoft.

Like Facebook, Microsoft sees some significant applications for business. Essentially, Microsoft envisions creating live, digital replications of real-world places and environments. These digital twins can offer a lot of information, allowing users to apply analytics, simulations, and much more to them. In turn, that produces vital insights and solutions, or what Microsoft calls “metaverse apps.” These metaverse apps can then be applied to real-world situations.

The interconnected world of gaming.

Gaming naturally lends itself to the metaverse. Thanks to technology like VR, gaming is already an immersive experience. And it gets better all the time as the technology develops. People already create their own avatars and interact with other people online. Today, in what may be a preview of the metaverse, up to 100 players can gather in the digital space to play games like Fortnite Battle Royale.

Standout games already offer more than just play. Many are beginning to work with musicians to provide concerts. Some games even offer in-game shopping for skins and cool weapons for characters.

Epic Games and Fortnite

Not only is Fortnite free, it’s also one of the first genuinely cross-platform games. Users can play it on consoles, PCs, and even on (Android) mobile phones. Fortnite’s parent company, Epic Games, has long been on the route to the metaverse, and they’re getting closer to it every day. In April of 2021, they secured $1 billion in funding to build their vision of it.

Beyond securing the funds to advance their technology, Epic Games has been talking about the metaverse for a while now. Their CEO, Tim Sweeney, has even presented on the topic. He believes that barriers between different OS or platforms will eventually cease to exist as the metaverse grows. Everything will develop and work together seamlessly.

The Unreal Engine

For Epic Games, that process has already begun. Currently, they’re working to create interconnected social experiences on their game offerings, including Fortnite, Rocket League, and Fall Guys. The games (or rather, “experiences”) are linked together by Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, a set of development tools for game creators. Some movie animators use it too. To encourage the use of the platform, it is free for developers (up to the first $1 million earned). Unreal Engine specializes in 3D world-building, real-time content, and is the second most popular platform for building VR content.

What about Roblox?

Roblox empowers creators to make their own experiences (read, “games”) within the app for free. Today, they have over 2 million developers that have created 20 million multiplayer games through their free game development studio. Using Roblox, people can develop their own games using Roblox or play games created by others. And the sky seems to be the limit—Roblox creators can develop first-person shooters, maze-runners, and much more. Depending on how engaging a game is, users can even earn “Robux,” the platform’s digital currency.

Roblox goes beyond gaming, as well. It hits on the central tenants of a metaverse, including social interaction, shopping, and media. They’ve partnered with Gucci to create an “experience” called Gucci Garden, complete with themed rooms and a virtual boutique with limited-edition digital items.

Female worker uses a VR headset and the metaverse to run scenarios.

Last words

While it’s clear that many tech companies are taking steps towards creating it, the metaverse hasn’t arrived just yet. It’s going to require collaboration instead of competition to create a truly integrated, interconnected world that works seamlessly. There are many moving parts to consider, too—from XR to the IoT to the users themselves.

Beyond the obvious applications of gaming, the metaverse could change how we get our healthcare. It will change entertainment, marketing, and how people make payments or earn money. Consumer goods may go from being physical to purely virtual. When it gets here, it’s safe to say that the metaverse will change our world just as much, if not more, than the internet did.