Last month, Mark Zuckerberg made waves when he announced his plans to transform Facebook from a social media platform to a Metaverse company within five years. ‘The Metaverse’, for the ones that don’t speak geek, is the name given to the concept of a collective virtual shared universe, where VR, AR and the internet combine. While many may consider the Metaverse to be a futuristic concept belonging only in the realms of science fiction, you may be surprised to learn the many ways in which we already participate in a world that blurs the line between physical and digital existence.
If you use voice activated technology such as Alexa, have a digital avatar, have dabbled in cryptocurrency, or are one of the millions of Roblox, Fortnite or Animal Crossing players who enjoyed a touch of escapism during the recent pandemic, you’re already a participating member!
The gaming industry often being a pioneer in the development of new technologies, its mastering of the Metaverse seems to be a natural evolution for the actors of this sector. As the CEO of EA Games says, « What you’re going to see from our industry right now is this democratization of the creation of content and services. Metaverse is going to be a developing 3D virtual representation of a social space where over time, we look to expand the activities that we could perform in that space, and the world expands in line with the activities that we want to perform ».
However today’s Metaverse represents just a fraction of what it could evolve into in tomorrow’s world. If you’ve seen Spielberg’s Sci-fi action flick ‘Ready Player One’ you likely already have a good idea of the potential that the Metaverse has. While our minds may boggle at the idea of a colossal, limitless digital space where anything is possible and people can beam instantly from one place to the next without leaving their living room, with advances in modern technology – this is entirely possible. Indeed, people are already starting to migrate their experiences online, Musician Marshmello held a virtual event in February this year which was attended by over 10.7 million Fortnite players. Fashion too is undergoing a seismic shift, mega brands Gucci and Mark Jacobs have designed virtual clothing and accessory lines for Roblox and Animal crossing avatars within the last year. It’s therefore not too large of a jump to picture a world where the majority of new style creation and clothes shopping happens in fully digital form, including being paid for in digital money.
Indeed, cryptocurrencies will be a linchpin of the future Metaverse. A digital economy where individuals are able to undertake a huge range of transactions will be fundamental. Non-fungible tokens (or NFTs) are one-of-a-kind digital objects that cannot be replaced with anything else, they guarantee digital uniqueness. These are supported by blockchain technology, a storage and transmission of information technology, taking the form of a database, where information is shared simultaneously with all its users and does not depend on any central body. And many huge businesses are already taking note of it. Just last month, Coca-Cola announced it’s releasing its first series of NFTs including a custom digital bubble jacket, and even footballer Lionel Messi has agreed to be partly paid via the club’s cryptocurrency, $PSG.
While all this sounds mysterious and exciting, we can’t help but worry about what this technologically advanced future means for the world we already live in. Firstly, this can raise questions around the monopoly of GAFAs in this sector and concerns over user data. For Aleissia Laidacker, Global Director of Creative Technology at The Mill (Technicolor), the digital future is seen on the brighter side: “When a lot us of foresee the Metaverse, we see it as a decentralized platform, where it won’t be one or a couple of tech companies owning it. For us [at Technicolor], we are really excited about making it a decentralized place, where the user, at the end of the day, owns their own data.”
Finally another topic raises : as in Ready Player One, Spielberg depicts an apocalyptic natural world destroyed by overpopulation and climate change, where people’s only escape is the digital ‘OASIS’. When we consider the sheer volume of electricity that would be required to power something as large as the Metaverse and the impact that this would have, you have to ask yourself the question…
Are we willing to embrace this bold new digital future at the detriment of our physical one?
Hannah Bond, Senior Digital Communications Consultant & Manager