The concept of the metaverse was first introduced in the 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson.
It described a virtual reality-based successor to the internet where people create avatars of themselves to explore the online world. Nearly 30 years later, fact is starting to mirror fiction. Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg believes the metaverse is the future of the internet and the next evolution of social connection. In fact, Facebook has changed its name to Meta1 to reflect its vision for creating a virtual world where people will live, work and play. Other organizations including Microsoft, Roblox and Epic Games are also planning their own metaverses.
This blog explains how the physical and virtual worlds will converge in the metaverse, and the implications for the future of gaming and social platforms.
The word metaverse comes from “meta” (meaning beyond) and “verse” (from universe). As it does not yet exist, it is difficult to define the metaverse with any precision. The following descriptions are from today’s perspective of what it might offer in future.
According to the news agency Reuters2, “Metaverse is a broad term. It generally refers to shared virtual world environments which people can access via the internet. The term can refer to digital spaces which are made more lifelike by the use of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). Some people also use the word metaverse to describe gaming worlds, in which users have a character that can walk around and interact with other players. There is also a specific type of metaverse which uses blockchain technology. In these, users can buy virtual land and other digital assets using cryptocurrencies.”
Matthew Ball, Managing Partner of EpyllionCo, recognizes that we don’t really know how to describe the metaverse. However, in a 2020 article he identified seven core attributes of the metaverse3. He thinks that in future the metaverse will:
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg4 shares his vision of the metaverse: “In the future… you’ll be able to sit as a hologram on my couch, or I’ll be able to sit as a hologram on your couch, and it’ll actually feel like we’re in the same place, even if we’re in different states or hundreds of miles apart.”
Although Meta is investing heavily in the metaverse, it is a collective project that transcends one single company. The metaverse will be created by tech giants from all over the world, and require new discoveries, technologies, innovations and protocols to work.
Some metaverse elements already exist – such as virtual avatars, high-end headsets and cryptocurrencies – however a fully developed metaverse will not suddenly come into existence but will emerge over time as different products, services and capabilities are created. According to Mark Zuckerberg, parts of the metaverse will potentially become mainstream in five to 10 years. However, he expects the company “to invest many billions of dollars for years to come before the metaverse reaches scale.”
Gaming companies can see the huge potential of the metaverse. They already have virtual worlds where millions of people socialize, play games and attend concerts but the metaverse will deliver so many more possibilities. Roblox and Epic Games in particular are already introducing metaverse-like elements and investing heavily in its future.
Roblox, the world’s largest user-generated gaming platform, has plans to make the metaverse a social hub for millions of people around the world. David Baszucki, CEO and founder of Roblox5, said: “The metaverse is arguably as big a shift in online communication as the telephone or the internet. Within the next few decades its applications will exceed our wildest imaginations.” Manuel Bronstein, Roblox’s chief product officer6, explains that Roblox’s vision for the metaverse “is to create a platform for immersive co-experiences, where people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialize.”
In October 2021, Roblox announced an overhaul to its current avatar system (the digital representation of each player’s character) to reflect its vision for the metaverse. The company is investing in a more diverse and customizable set of avatars to give players greater choice and will sell a range of accessories for further personalization. David Baszucki7 said: “Self-identity is a crucial pillar of the metaverse, and the ability to precisely customize your clothing to your unique avatar is paramount in personal expression.”
Epic Games is taking steps towards making the metaverse a reality by allowing gamers to gather for shared experiences inside its popular multiplayer game, Fortnite. During the 2021 Fortnite Rift Tour8 – a series of virtual concerts featuring Ariane Grande – they become active participants, instead of passive observers. Fortnite is still hugely popular but in-game events, like the Ariane Grande show, reflect Epic Games’ wider ambitions – to develop a social hub where users can interact with one another as avatars across digital worlds.
In a recent video report9, the BBC’s gaming reporter said: “The importance of companies like Facebook or Epic Games with Fortnite getting in on the ground floor of creating these metaverses early is that they will be the ones defining what they are. I think Fortnite is quite a long way off that but it is definitely the forerunner in terms of combining different elements of entertainment culture and going beyond what a traditional game is and creating a platform for social connections.”
Unlike today’s social media platforms (where we mainly communicate using text, photos and videos) the metaverse will be a 3D space where people will connect in ways that go far beyond our current imagination. Mark Zuckerberg describes it as “an embodied internet where instead of just viewing content – you are in it.”
Meta – the new brand that owns a range of apps and technologies including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger – is leading the way in bringing the metaverse to life. It is investing $150 million in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) training and resources to equip technical experts with the specialist skills needed to unlock the potential of the metaverse.
Clinicians need to keep pace with developments in the gaming industry – including the metaverse – to recognize the potential dangers of spending hours online, without intentional an use. Understanding emerging trends and gamer culture will enhance client engagement and enable helping professionals to offer culturally competent treatment practices.
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