“Snow Crash” is set in the early 21st century and imagines a world of global economic and political crisis – a world governed by a handful of giant corporations. The metaverse is an escape for Hiro Protagonist – the novel’s main character. A broke hacker and pizza delivery driver, he spends most of his time in the digital world by wearing goggles and earphones.
Through his avatar, he could enjoy the metaverse, which could even be accessed through public terminals. However, actions in this virtual world could have some severe consequences and the novel’s main character is trying to stop a computer virus causing real-world brain damage to users of the metaverse.
Nearly three decades later, the term “metaverse” left the fiction stories to become part of our life on Earth. In October 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of Facebook to Meta Platforms Inc. (also referred to as Meta), signaling the opening of “the next chapter of the Internet”. But Meta is not the only company interested in this space. Companies like Microsoft, Epic Game, Roblox, Amazon, Google, Apple are also exploring opportunities in the metaverse.
But what exactly in the metaverse?
Metaverse does mean a specific technology type. Rather, it refers to a complete switch in the way we use technology and interact with it. Imagine a world in which you have a digital character who can work from a virtual office, then spend some time with friends in a virtual cafe and also manage your finances from a virtual bank. Yes, you got it right. You can be anywhere in the world while managing your avatar in the metaverse.
In a broader sense, there are different types of technologies that could make up the metaverse. First, we have virtual reality (VR), which is a simulated reality that continues to exist even when you leave it, for example if you stop playing a particular VR game. Next, we have augmented reality (AR), which combines certain aspects of both worlds – physical and digital. However, some aspects of the metaverse world could also be accessed through PCs, game consoles and even smartphones.
There are certain elements of the metaverse that already exist today. First of all, “Snow Crash” features an electronic currency quite similar to cryptocurrency. Additionally, Meta’s Oculus brand already creates headsets similar to the ones Neal Stephenson depicted in his novel.
Virtual avatars have also been here for decades, especially in video games like Minecraft and Fortnite. People are already spending billions of dollars to dress their avatars each year.
The novel also explores the idea of buying virtual real estate with real money – a concept that recently turned into a reality. One company, for instance, reported spending more than USD 2.5 million on land in Decentraland. Opened for public use in February 2020, Decentraland is a platform allowing users to buy virtual plots of land as NFTs via the MANA cryptocurrency. In early December 2021, this record-high investment in virtual real estate was broken, when another company purchased roughly $4.3 million worth of land on The Sandbox – a virtual reality where players can build, own, and even monetize their metaverse experiences.
What else, however, we can expect from the metaverse?
Undoubtedly, tech giants are showing significant interest in the metaverse. Meta could be the pioneer but Google and Apple are expected to enter the game in 2022. Google actually introduced Google Cardboard in 2014 but the project was not so successful and discontinued. Many experts, however, expect the company to announce very soon its wearable metaverse device. Similarly, Apple plans to release its AR/VR headset but the release date is still unknown. Amazon has already been producing headwear with embedded technology for years and is most probably working on hardware to give users access to the metaverse.
Video games companies are also expected to focus on the concept of building a virtual reality. Microsoft, for instance, is currently expanding its gaming division. The company acquired Mojang, the creator of Minecraft, in 2014 for USD 2.5 billion, and is currently in the process of buying Activision Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, for nearly USD 70 billion. The company is the creator of the HoloLens technology, which would undoubtedly help it become one of the leading players in the meta space.
Of course, the metaverse requires more than technology. It needs creators and time to reach its full potential. Even Mark Zuckerberg is talking about caution when it comes to the metaverse. According to Facebook’s founder, Meta would need billions of dollars in order for the metaverse to reach scale.