The Origins of Metaverse

Origins of Metaverse

When you look at the history of the metaverse, you will most probably find out about Snow Crash, which used the term for the first time in 1992; or encounter the OASIS of Ready Player One. Indeed, the roots of the metaverse (knowing that  “the Metaverse” does not exist yet, but there are multiple metaverse wannabees.) are scattered to different fields, feeding itself with different concepts, phenomena, and events.

For me, the metaverse history starts on a tabletop, not on a computer. In 1974, the famous Role Playing Game (RPG), Dungeons & Dragons. By creating its own genre, D&D let the players be someone else - role play -. It created its own fan base, its own industry, tournaments, and influence. It even influenced fantasy literature and became an important subculture. It was possible for regular people to be and act with an alter ego.

In 1980, in front of the green text terminals of mainframe computers, university students started to play another RPG, the Multi-User Dungeon or the MUD. You could be a wizard, an elf, join a party and run after adventures, kill monsters (starting with spiders) and advance. Even it wasn’t offering any graphics, only textual descriptions, the imagination was limitless. The computers, maybe as important as the computers, the networks were in the new recipe of the RPGs. The multi-user dungeons evolved into Multi-user Online RPGs and then Massive Multi-user Online RPGs (MMORPG). The role-playing spread everywhere from university canteen tabletops and computer labs.

While the game industry was evolving, the interaction between the players also changed. You could see the other players running around in Quake III Arena (even it is not an RPG, it is an honorable mention) and players started to “feel” their environment and entourage. In 2004, another milestone was released; World of Warcraft (WoW). Its peak of 12 million subscribers in 2010 and a hundred million registered accounts is not important, but the economy around the game was a new start. Its gold accumulation process, unique items, artifacts, and the long hours of playing to improve your character abilities were creating a demand, and as a result a supply. Players from all around the world started to mine or harvest gold, find unique artifacts, or increase the level of their players, put them on the Craiglist, and sell them to other players who wanted to take a shortcut. It started to link digital goods, virtual gold, and avatars with real money and economics. Indeed, it was the first police case to be filed for digital items theft.

In 2011 another game popped up. Minecraft had two modes. One mode (that is almost absolute nowadays) was survival and you had to fight with monsters in night with what you could craft in during the daylight. In the creative mode, you could shape your world, create new items by combining others, build your home, or even smart mechanisms. Millions of people started to craft their creations and world with the brick-headed players, using lego shaped blocks in a lego shaped world. Today, Minecraft is seen as a metaverse candidate with its creations and almost infinite world.

While the game industry continued to evolve, the internet was booming as well. The virtual insanity was spreading and the Internet needed virtual worlds. In 1995, Active Worlds was launched that the users could chat, act in a 3D world. In 2003, Linden Lab released Second Life, (which was a brave name for a new world) It had its own virtual currency that you could exchange with real money. Meanwhile, while it wasn’t an online environment, the Sims offered the players a life simulation. You could be anything that you want, have a house, have an alternative life.

As an enabler for these and similar games, 3D game engines (and the GPUs supporting them) were coming to the market. The Unreal Engine (1995) and the Unity Engine (2005) were not offering fancy graphics, but complete physics. This laid the bricks of the pavement to more realistic, and more believable virtual worlds.

This world became more real - to be exact virtual real, an oxymoron definition - with the VR headsets. The stereo visual images sent to our eyes were putting us on top of the buildings, deep in the ocean, heavenly gardens or infernos, within the comfort of our living rooms and with lots of motion sickness. In 2016 Sony and HTC introduced their VR headsets. In 2012 Oculus was released and it was acquired by Facebook, which changed its name to Meta and put Oculus as a core to their metaverse strategy.

With the higher graphics capabilities, 3D game engines, and powerful computers, open-world games started to dominate the market. Starting with very small 1 km2 maps of World of Tanks, the virtual worlds with their beautiful landscapes became larger and larger, to 77700 km2 of the Lord of the Rings Online, one to one 510 million km2 map of the earth of Microsoft Flight Simulator, or 4 billion km2 of Minecraft - with an equal size of the area of Neptune. The virtual world of real estate - another oxymoron definition - was expanding, offering people a piece of land that they can wander, build, play and enjoy.

Of course, metaverse depends on additional side technologies and concepts as well. On one front, social networks have a great influence. Cryptocurrencies play an important role. Content creation - user-generated content, downloadable content, game workshops, in-game purchases, or augmented reality games such as Pokemon Go created concepts that found their places in the metaverses.

But the most important technology is the NFT - Non-Fungible Tokens. A way to stamp any digital entity - art pieces, virtual real estate, your virtual sneakers, unique weapons in a game, or your avatar - in a distributed ledger, that shows the ownership, lets you buy and sell, creating a virtual but real economy. Billionaires of cryptocurrencies wanted to buy, invest and enjoy digital art pieces, with the prices of 69 million dollars for Beeple’s  Everyday: the First 5000 Days or Pak’s Merge for 98 million dollars. These art pieces started to find their places on the walls of virtual museums in the metaverses.

But of course, the metaverse economy was not limited to art. You could buy NFTs for your avatars, cool skins, clothes, or designer shoes, use them or sell them. Any user could also create their content, their game, their home, make NFT, and sell it. A new economy, which was not visible to real eyes started to shape.

What is Metaverse?

What is metaverse

There are multiple companies/environments that claim to be a metaverse, but one thing that we need to understand, as of today there isn’t a single - Metaverse. Both the companies and the individuals already started to jump on the metaverse wagon, but there isn’t anybody with a name tag the Metaverse, and maybe worse, the different metaverses don’t have any slightest interoperability.

There are two kinds of companies claiming to be the metaverse, the gaming companies, and the platform companies: The major games, which want to evolve into the metaverse start with Minecraft and continue with Roblox, Fortnite, the Sandbox, and Axie Infinity. Each game tries to serve its players a different experience enhancement, with the common theme of crafting, developing characters and environment, and sharing what they do with the other players. Roblox focuses on real estate sales and user-generated content, Fortnite with major brands and famous people partnerships, Axie Infinity with its NFT based creatures.

On the other hand, platforms start to build up their new strategy around the metaverse. Facebook changes its name to Meta and introduces the VR-based Horizons, AltspaceVR holds virtual events. Nowhere puts your face in the metaverse, Sensorium Galaxy zaps you into your avatar in fantastic places. You can 3D scan your full body to get into MetaHero or buy land from Decenterland or CryptoVoxels. If this is not really enough for you, one of the real estates in OVR is mapped on your property, (and your neighbor, or Times Square) and you can buy it. Somnium Space takes the metaverse economics more seriously, even putting Somnium Economy Paper on its main page.

As we can see, there isn’t a single metaverse but metaverses. Even a new term is coined as multiverse, which means interconnected metaverses.

The 7 most important features of Metaverse

Features of metaverse

Still what is metaverse question resides, but a very good definition is made by Matthew Ball.

1- Be persistent – which is to say, it never “resets” or “pauses” or “ends”, it just continues indefinitely.

2- Be synchronous and live – even though pre-scheduled and self-contained events will happen, just as they do in “real life”, the Metaverse will be a living experience that exists consistently for everyone and in real-time.

3- Be without any cap to concurrent users, while also providing each user with an individual sense of “presence” – everyone can be a part of the Metaverse and participate in a specific event/place/activity together, at the same time and with individual agency.

4- Be a fully functioning economy – individuals and businesses will be able to create, own, invest, sell, and be rewarded for an incredibly wide range of “work” that produces “value” that is recognized by others.

5- Be an experience that spans both the digital and physical worlds, private and public networks/experiences, and open and closed platforms.

6- Offer unprecedented interoperability of data, digital items/assets, content, and so on across each of these experiences – your Counter-Strike gun skin, for example, could also be used to decorate a gun in Fortnite, or be gifted to a friend on/through Facebook. Similarly, a car designed for Rocket League (or even for Porsche’s website) could be brought over to work in Roblox. Today, the digital world basically acts as though it were a mall where every store used its own currency, required proprietary ID cards, had proprietary units of measurement for things like shoes or calories, different dress codes, etc.

7- Be populated by “content” and “experiences” created and operated by an incredibly wide range of contributors, some of whom are independent individuals, while others might be informally organized groups or commercially-focused enterprises.

As we can see from various aspects, we are still at the beginning of the Metaverse hype curve and there are great opportunities and great risks ahead. Your investment in one of the platforms may return you tenfold, even more, or you may lose your land in another.  When we look at the concepts and the technologies brewing for almost 50 years, we can be sure that there will be a metaverse in our future, affecting our lifestyles. But the path is too foggy and we lack a crystal ball to foresee if there will be an interworking metaverse if there will be a winner, or even if the metaverse will be what we dream of today.

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