While bringing up the term “Metaverse” at a family function at most might bring up analogies about an Orwellian society, there is a lot of attention from all kinds of industries these days, focused on the next future business opportunities that might emerge from Mark Zuckerberg’s new initiative to create a hyper-immersive cyberspace.
However, even people familiar with the term and Facebook’s (now Meta) involvement, are still not quite sure what the metaverse entails. Is it a video game? Is it VR social media? Is it more of a futuristic delusion, rather than a practical reality? Not much yet is known about the actual span of the Metaverse, since It really is depending on what people make out of it, rather than what the Metaverse initially comes with. Just like somebody from 30 years ago could not have imagined the actual depth and complexity of the internet today, trying to predict how the Metaverse will look like at its full function, is hardly possible.
What is the Metaverse, exactly?
In most basic terms, the Metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. And yes, this description is as vague as the knowledge we have on the Metaverse so far. Even though Mark Zuckerberg is one of the driving forces, he is not the inventor or owner of the Metaverse. Just like Google does not own the internet but has expanded its influence enough to be part of most people’s online experience. But people do not use the Internet solely to google or watch YouTube videos. It is the blend of big corporations and small creators that makes us use the internet every day. Similar things are expected from the Metaverse. Socializing, education, commerce, (…) all these things and more, all by moving your Avatar through a big, connective hyperdimensional space. In many ways, we already connect through these cyberspace microcosms by playing individual games or hanging out in chat rooms. But more immersive technology also poses more complex challenges; We are already subject to a certain degree of ethical abuse when it comes to online data collection, we are already struggling to minimize the ecological effects of high-performance computers, and we are also already questioning the benefits of a society that is preoccupied with a digital lifestyle. Issues that seem to be of even bigger necessity to address, when introducing the Metaverse.
The Blend of Sci-Fi and Futurism
The word “Metaverse,” a portmanteau of the words “Meta” and “Universe,” has originated in Neal Stephensons 1992 novel “Snow Crash”, where humans could interact with each other through programmable avatars in a fully fleshed 3D virtual world. And not just the term Metaverse, “Virtual Reality,” in the way we are familiar with today, has come from science-fictional context. Growing up with movies like Tron or the Matrix, it’s a very surreal experience seeing parts of these things become reality in a matter of only one lifetime, and makes it even harder to separate Sci-Fi from real, approachable futurism. It appears as though we have had this obsession for a long time, so why now?
Virtual Reality, Real Struggle
Mark Zuckerberg’s interest in VR has been very apparent for a long time. In 2014 he bought former start-up company Oculus VR for an acquisition of $2 billion USD. The Oculus VR company, with their model the Oculus Rift, has made the first scalable, high-quality Virtual Reality Setup that you can use at home. His decision for the investment was highly disputed at the time; The product itself left amazing impressions on people that were actually able to use it, however since it is exclusively working with Computers, and only powerful ones at that, the Oculus never got to the scale their developers had hoped for. Especially with an introductory price of $599 USD, owning an Oculus Rift has always been a sign of gamer privilege, and that didn’t seem to change even after Facebook tried to franchise it.
3 years after the original deal was sealed, Oculus’ sales seemed to have regressed even more, possibly exactly because of this cooperation. Since Facebook and Oculus had merged, you needed to sync your device to a Facebook account to be able to use the product. Forced features like this can consciously or subconsciously trigger mistrust from consumers, especially involving a company that has been criticized for its privacy policies as much as Facebook has; The sale of Oculus in Germany has actually been completely prohibited, because of these concerns.
While the later released Sony PlayStation VR in 2016 has sold around 1 million units, the original Oculus was only able to sell fewer than 400.000. Even after producing more simplified, cheaper models, dropping the introductory price perpetually, and handing out mobile Oculus lenses for free in bundles, Facebook could not ultimately bring more attention to their main product.
Apart from Meta’s strange business tactics with virtual reality, there might be other societal reasons why the Oculus might not have taken off. Mark Zuckerberg has been very clear about his vision for the Oculus for a long time. He envisioned people hanging out, attending events, and even having doctor’s appointments all from the comfort of their own homes. But is that what people want? Is Zuckerberg’s self-fulfilling prophecy too eerily close to dystopian Sci-Fi for people’s comfort?
Systems like the PlayStation VR have overall had more success selling because they are more targeted towards the gamer, rather than the social media user. Consumers expressed their complaints about Facebook’s earlier trials at integrating VR into their platform as feeling forced. Avatars looking clunky, movements that weren’t being tracked right, and overall, no incentive to use the product in conjunction with the platform. Especially since we are used to very advanced graphics in video games, paying almost $600 USD for extra equipment that isn’t up to standard with current gaming processing ability, seemed almost regressive.
The additional fact that this new technology also caused motion sickness for most first-time players, makes it less surprising that even models that were specifically made for gaming (PSVR, HTC VIBE) didn’t seem to express the initial hype in sales that Virtual Reality promised (Even if they ultimately sold a lot better than the Oculus Rift). With all this information, one could think this Metaverse journey is Mark Zuckerberg desperately clinging onto the last bits of his failed investment… or is it all strategy in the long run?
A Fight for Space
Fast forward to October 28, 2021; Facebook officially announced the beginning of the Metaverse and rebranded its collective of business ventures as “Meta”, to go along with it. This drastic unexpected rebranding might be an indicator that after all his trials and errors with VR, this time it’s an all or nothing deal; the sprout of a seed that has been growing for almost a decade. With a $10 billion USD budget and new approach, things are set out to be more successful this time: Facebook is trying now to focus more on the gaming aspect, than prior. “Gaming is definitely a core part of it. I mean, pulling games out of it for a second, I don’t think any of this could exist without the game engine. And gaming created the game engine, right?” said Jason Rubin, head of content for Meta.
Since most people were originally introduced to VR via gaming, it makes sense to continue leading on that path, and it seems to be paying off as well. From years of being laughed off as a Zuckerbergian fever dream, to having investors lined up with open wallets in mere months. Let’s talk about some of the big deals that are currently going on with Investors and the Metaverse.
Right now, we are in the plotting phase of the Metaverse, an almost colonial-like time where the most influential people of this world are racing against each other to claim as much of this undiscovered space as possible, with some people paying millions for plots of digital land. Prices for plots have soared as much as 500% in the last few months ever since Facebook announced it was going all-in on virtual reality. This has been the biggest economical approval that has come from Mark Zuckerberg’s VR initiative so far, but the approval certainly didn’t stop there.
While the Metaverse is currently holding the attention of almost every developer in the industry, there have been some major moves from some of the biggest players in the field to demonstrate just how much focus there will be on Virtual Reality leisure in the future.
Epic Games, creator of insanely popular “Fortnite,” has already announced in April of 2021, that they had rounded up $1 billion USD in funding to put towards the Metaverse ventures, and that’s a huge deal. “We are grateful to our new and existing investors who support our vision for Epic and the Metaverse. Their investment will help accelerate our work around building connected social experiences in Fortnite, Rocket League, and Fall Guys, while empowering game developers and creators with Unreal Engine, Epic Online Services, and the Epic Games Store,” said Tim Sweeney, CEO, and Co-Founder of Epic Games. Their goal is to, with the help of the Metaverse, acquire 1 billion active users of their services in the future.
“Over the coming decades, the metaverse has the potential to become a multitrillion-dollar part of the world economy,” the CEO said at a conference in Seoul. “The next three years are going to be critical for all of the metaverse-aspiring companies like Epic, Roblox, Microsoft, Facebook,” he said in an interview after. “It’s kind of a race to get to a billion users, whoever brings on a billion users first, would be the presumed leader in setting the standards.”
And if that one-billion-dollar budget sounded like a lot, just this January, something even bigger happened; Microsoft bought Activision Blizzard for $75 billion USD, citing the step into the Metaverse as one of the most important reasons for this acquisition. The biggest business deal ever made in the tech industry so far, all in preparation for the digital evolution. “Being great at game building gives us the permission, I would say, to build this next platform, which is essentially the next internet [with] embodied presence” says Microsoft chief Satya Nadella.
Tim Sweeney, Epic Games
Looking at the Future
What exactly these big tech giants are planning to do with the Metaverse budget, nobody really knows. Most of the companies with a genuine interest in investing in a new 3D cyberspace are rather vague about what has been done so far. If that is intentional or not, is hard to say.
Since there is still a definite question over the relevance and cultural significance of the Metaverse, the concept itself being difficult to understand, and companies not expressing their visions clearly enough, there is a lot of education still to be done before the Metaverse becomes scalable and digestible for the normal consumer. There is however a current undeniable financial interest, that is indicating a massive inevitable change in the way we will be consuming media in the upcoming decade.
Another great impact on people’s lives that the Metaverse could provide is a new experience of the self and the body, especially for people living with disabilities. In the Metaverse, you are not bound to the limitations of your physical body. Since you are creating your own Avatar, you’re given the chance to pose as anything you’d like. Tired of your human shell? Try on a purple alien skin. Going by foot is too slow? How about a Jetpack! While it can be beneficial for some people, that nobody can actually make out the physical qualities of a person in the Metaverse, it’s less so about hiding your identity and more so about finally leveling the playing field for everybody. Accessibility is a big topic not only in the gaming industry but in almost all aspects of life.
The Metaverse, by being an all-accessible platform, could help people master daily tasks independently, that they weren’t able to do before. Attending highly immersive concerts, events and meetings could offer a real revolution for people, who oftentimes had to be exempt from taking part in physically/socially straining activities or felt too uncomfortable being in public because of their identity. The Metaverse will have to work on a lot more than 3D Avatars, however, to make sure things remain relatively equal in the digital world. If you’re interested in reading up more about the possibilities that video games are opening for people with disabilities, you can read our last blog post by following this link.
Alocai - Efficient AI Localization
One thing in this inevitable change is for sure; The progress of moving towards a Metaverse will connect us globally more than ever before. There’s not only going to be a new dimension of entertainment, but also an immeasurable abundance of new content, waiting to be consumed by people across the world. More important in that instance, is making sure that content is accessible to everyone, no matter what language they speak.
Just like it has been the case for other forms of media like film and games, proper localization takes its time and a lot of money to be readily available, especially when looking at a new proportion of media consumption that promises such a vast variety of entertainment. We can already barely keep up translating the copious amounts of content that can be found online, often making localized versions of media a testimony of how popular it is. We at Altagram recognized the need for a quicker, more cost-effective way to have your content localized, and answered with our own proprietary in-house software, Alocai.
Alocai, with its own machine learning infrastructure, uses state-of-the-art AI technology to deliver localizations from all kinds of content (text, audio, and voice) instantly and without any human interaction needed. Never before has there been a translation-based software that was game-engine or Metaverse integrable. We are certain that our progress with Alocai will assist our current clients, as well as many new potential ones in their journey into the Metaverse. Click this link, if you’d like to learn more about Alocai, or this link if you’d like to be redirected to the Altagram contact page.
First image Retrieved from https://www.searchenginejournal.com/nfts-metaverse-marketing-guide/427528/.
Playstation VR Retrieved from https://vr-expert.de/die-neue-psvr-2-bekommt-das-schaerfste-display/.
HTC VIVE Retrieved from https://www.finance-monthly.com/2017/01/htc-vive-launches-10-million-vr-for-impact-program-in-davos/.
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