Right now, it seems like everyone is rushing to build the Metaverse.
At Digicorp, we applaud this trend as it proves that we’re not alone in recognizing this as the next major shift in computing.
But we also think it’s time to take a moment to look further ahead, to understand what the Metaverse might actually mean, how it might emerge in more unexpected ways, and to recognize that this isn’t simply a new technology, but a significant shift in culture and society.
Looking beyond today’s headlines helps us to:
• Understand that today’s Metaverse experiments are only the first steps in creating a whole new universe. We are in the very early stages of the development of the Metaverse. It will take years (most experts expect a 10-year timeframe or longer) to fully realize its potential. It is important to build solutions, products, and services with an eye on what will be possible tomorrow, rather than solely focusing on today.
• Identify the long-term opportunity for enterprise. While it is never possible to fully future-proof a company, we can predict scenarios, which can help identify immediate opportunities for prototypes and for building the necessary infrastructure to rapidly adapt to future change.
• Understand the promise (and the dangers) for humanity. We believe that the Metaverse is far more than just a new way to have fun or play games. It will fundamentally reshape how we interact with machines, and it will represent the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. This creates both promise (for example, extending economic opportunities to everyone) and danger (the threat of digital surveillance apparatus).
• Inspire new ways to think about the future. None of us are working alone. There is no single company who will build or dominate the Metaverse. We can each have a voice in the shaping of what’s to come. No one can perfectly predict how it will all turn out - but we can create shared reference points and begin to collaborate together.
This last point is perhaps the closest to the heart of the Digicorp vision. By sharing our own thoughts and dreams for the future, we are inviting everyone to participate. By creating tools, products and services in the service of that vision, we dream of helping a million projects and more to grow and flourish.
The Metaverse Today
Whether large legacy companies or innovative web3 communities, there are hundreds of thousands of ongoing Metaverse projects:
• NFTs are adding new utility, extensions, airdrops, and economic models. We are looking at a preview of a digital world in which ownership, trading of goods, and economic value are inbuilt. On today’s Internet, it is mostly the large data silos that make money from digital content. But tomorrow, we will be able to allocate capital and attach ownership and history to digital assets.
• Play-to-earn is opening up new opportunities for diverse participation in the digital economy. Axie Infinity proved to be a lifeline for thousands of people during the pandemic by allowing them to earn money playing games when other ways of earning money became difficult. But even play-to-earn is in its early stages, and we expect to see this model bleed into other forms of economic activity outside of games.
• Today’s mega-corps aren’t excluded from this opportunity, either. Facebook has recognized both the opportunity and the threat of the Metaverse. It intends to fully transition from being a social media to a Metaverse company within 5 years. As one small part of its strategy, it has committed to hiring 10,000 people in Europe to help make this change. And Facebook is the most visible ‘corporate face’ among many legacy Internet companies all looking to embrace the Metaverse.
The range of innovations emerging in the pre-Metaverse is staggering and it has only just begun. There are already indicators that the next wave of innovation is already upon us:
DAOs, cross-chain integration, and other crypto innovations will create successive waves of innovation. While NFTs are already generating significant trade, they are really only in their earliest stages in terms of their potential being fully utilized. Currently, their utility is being extended to include entire story worlds (and representation by Hollywood agents, as with the example of Bored Apes), and they are starting to underpin both online and offline value.
But next up will be increased fractional ownership models, innovative licensing schemes, and cross-over to DAOs, tokens and other crypto innovations. The sale of JPEGs as NFTs will very quickly come to be seen as the first shot across the bow. Soon, entire industries will have competition. What has happened with art is now shifting into fashion, music, and other markets.
‘Outside’ funding will continue to flood the space. Venture capital firms are playing an increasing role in bringing Metaverse projects to market. This is part of a broader realignment that started during the pandemic and was boosted by readily available/low interest capital, a shift towards more online activity during COVID lockdowns, and a clear sense of crypto FOMO (and perhaps a desire for an inflationary hedge).
But it isn’t just VCs: as press about the Metaverse, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies continues to generate interest, we are witnessing many newcomers enter the market. These people, who would never have dreamed of having a crypto wallet, are now bidding on NFTs.
Legacy companies are ‘all-in’ on the Metaverse and they have strong, publicly-stated ambitions. But this shift towards crypto is also playing out in more subtle ways. Mainstream media, brands and talent are showing clear interest in the space. It is an exciting time and a sign of a significant shift of capital, talent and attention to this next phase in computing.
At Digicorp, we believe that all these efforts are important experiments for the emerging Metaverse. We also believe that there’s more (a LOT more) to the story.
But first, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page when we talk about the Metaverse. And, of course, this means we need a rough definition of what it is.
Defining the Metaverse: From Technology to Culture
Let’s start with a few broad clarifications:
There is only one Metaverse
Just like there is only one Internet, there is only one Metaverse. There is no argument about this among those with decades of academic and practical experience, or among those doing standards-based work in the field.
But does it matter? We think it does, because there will be fault lines and tensions. The larger companies in the field (we’re looking at you, Facebook!) will want to advance their interests. Web3 will naturally create a counterpoint to more siloed efforts.
One of the reasons that thought leaders talk about THE Metaverse is to make clear that our shared end goal is singular: that there is no benefit to competing versions of the Metaverse, just as there would have been no benefit to competing versions of the Internet (sorry, AOL!).
The Metaverse is primarily ‘spatial’
The Metaverse is emerging now because it has become easier to experience rich 3D content. Our phones can scan physical objects and turn them into 3D assets, most computers and mobile devices can now support rich 3D content because of advances in graphics and other chips, and the entire world is now being scanned for the purposes of mapping or gaming.
Today, we’re mostly building virtual worlds/games and metagalaxies.
Roblox or Decentraland may eventually be major destinations in the Metaverse. But today, they stand in isolation from each other. As such, they are technically defined as virtual worlds OR, if they contain a collection of worlds, they are technically defined as a metagalaxy.
The Metaverse is a system of systems
In the same way that the Internet is made up of discrete protocols and affordances, so will the Metaverse be. It will include systems for identity, storage, rendering, asset delivery, latency management and synchronization, etc.
[In our next post, we’ll explore a few of the systems we think are important and help you to understand where they fit into the larger technical road map for the Metaverse.]
The Metaverse is device-agnostic
Again, much like you can see ‘the Web’ on a mobile phone or a desktop computer, you will be able to ‘enter the Metaverse’ using a tablet, while wearing a VR headset, or while walking down the street with a pair of Augmented Reality glasses.
The Metaverse will most likely emerge to be much like the ‘Web’: an open-source base with various proprietary and open modules built on top.
Hidden in this idea is another recognition: that the Metaverse IS the Internet. We are not going to build a whole new suite of technologies to replace some of the core protocols of the Internet. Instead, they will be built on top of, adapted, and extended.
The Metaverse is made possible (and is primarily defined) by interoperability
This is the true glue that holds the Metaverse together. Over the next decade, we will see massive innovation in everything from cryptocurrencies to DAOs, from the creation of mirror worlds to augmented reality glasses that we can wear all day, from the realism of games to the ability to play them via cloud streaming services.
The Metaverse will create amazing experiences for consumers and will unlock deep potential for enterprise. But the truly explosive change will occur when these innovations become interoperable.
Just think of today’s web: how many websites have you signed up for, how many times have you filled out your email for a new newsletter, and how easy is it for you to find the same list of friends when you move from Discord to Twitter to Slack?
Now think of how difficult this must be for exchanging something like a 3D pair of shoes! The Metaverse will be realized as more and more of these disparate spatial experiences link together. In the Metaverse, you will be able to shift seamlessly between worlds. The idea is that the data you share as you move between environments will be done so by choice. And ideally, the shoes you bought in Roblox can be worn in Fortnite.
How will I know when the Metaverse has arrived?
It seems like a simple enough question. But, in general, the answer will be: “you won’t.” And this answer is a bit like a secret key.
At Digicorp, we like to say: “you won’t need to go out and find the Metaverse, because it will come to you.”
We will witness components of the Metaverse (like storage or sovereign identity systems) before we can see them working together in their entirety.
An Enterprise Example
Let’s walk through what we mean.
Let’s say you build a mirror version of your factory floor in digital form. You allow collaborators in from partner companies and your engineering team in Asia is able to log in and collaborate with supervisors in Europe.
One day, you find you can click on a doorway in this virtual factory and it immediately ‘teleports’ you to a virtual version of a part supplier’s warehouse. You can browse their catalog, make some quick annotations on a 3D model, chat with their sales team, then teleport right back.
That is the Metaverse. It will come to YOU. One day, all our 3D experiences will start connecting.
Today? Not so much. We can’t pop from a session in Fortnite over to Minecraft with a click of a button. Instead, we need to log out and log back in to each experience.
Have a look at your mobile phone: imagine if, instead of all of those little icons, you were able to jump between ‘apps’ from a common interface.
But why does this matter? What’s the advantage in knowing that the Metaverse doesn’t have a launch date? Well, we think it has strategic value for a few reasons:
- The Metaverse is an emergent system of systems.
At Digicorp, we think that it is critical to understand this. The Metaverse will emerge slowly - the Web will become more three-dimensional, and worlds and games will slowly interconnect, but most importantly, the systems that make up the Metaverse are being developed NOW.
- We will learn, before the Metaverse is fully realized, how to work, collaborate, create and innovate.
All of today’s early experiments are helping us to experience the potential of the Metaverse, even though we’re still a long way from it being ubiquitous.
- We need to build the subsystems of the Metaverse now, and not allow those systems to be dictated by powerful players.
For example, companies like Facebook, Epic or Niantic will have a vested interest in how identity is handled in the Metaverse, but we have an opportunity to avoid today’s giant data silos if we take progressive steps to build something better.
The Metaverse: Beyond Concerts and Meetings
If you conducted a survey of the Metaverse today, you might find it described as a set of experiences and innovations that are not yet connected. You would probably hear people point to:
- The emergence of new forms of owning and trading digital assets. Whether it’s skins in Fortnite or NFTs, digital assets have value.
- 3D experiences that are increasingly being delivered at scale, from the worlds of Roblox to concerts in Fortnite.
- Enterprise applications that primarily focus on the device being used, such as augmented reality headsets by Microsoft, Varjo, or Magic Leap.
- New spatially-driven applications in the physical world, like early tests for self-driving cars, or increasingly rich maps.
Eventually, all of these things will connect. They will be supported by:
- New classes of devices, in particular, augmented reality glasses. We expect that within 5 years, we will be able to wear a pair of glasses all day, and that data and the physical world will merge.
- Improved asset delivery, facilitated by 5G, edge computing, and peer-to-peer networking.
- Increased processing and graphic power in the chips that drive our phones, computers, and wearables.
- Yet more data being stored, with much of it spatial or three-dimensional.
But the thing about the future is you can’t always predict what it will look like.
At DigiCorp we believe that much of what we can experience today will one day seem quaint! Much like the earliest websites, we will look back and see today’s pre-Metaverse utilities as just sketches of what was to come.
How can someone else “own” your identity? Well, today they do. Your identity on Facebook…is owned by Facebook. It’s the same for many of the other sites you visit or participate in. What new kinds of economic value will be created if we can take back control of our identities (and the data associated with it)?
A post-quantum world
What kinds of opportunities will arise when quantum computing finally arrives? And what will happen to all the data that we currently store (on the blockchain or elsewhere) that can be easily ‘cracked’ by quantum machines?
What happens when artificial intelligence can ‘fuse’ with our online personas? What happens if you can log in with your avatar…then just leave it there when you leave work? What if your avatar is smart enough to act on its own? What happens in an enterprise when we can help to automate some of our mundane daily tasks, allowing our avatars to negotiate, collect, trade or share on our behalf (in a safe and logical way?)
The physical world, seamlessly fused with the digital
Imagine a future in which self-driving cars and a population wearing augmented reality glasses can scan the physical world in real time. What happens when there is a digital representation of a factory or retail store floor? A manager in Asia will be able to log in to a highly realistic Metaverse location and see what’s happening in the ‘real world’…and in real time.
What happens when we can view data in three dimensions? Forget spreadsheets. Imagine being able to walk through a solar system of data, all of it intuitively presented and providing you with easy ways to take strategic action?
A Metaverse with bad actors
And this, of course, is also important to recognize. If you think today’s data breaches cause problems, imagine when every aspect of your business is scanned and made ‘3D’. Whether you like it or not, companies will collaborate in the Metaverse. Everything will be scanned. Sensors will be everywhere. How do you protect yourself against the bad actors that will invariably arise?
A new type of language
We don’t often talk about this, but at DigiCorp we believe that the Metaverse actually represents the final, deep-seated realization of the human impulse for spatial and visual content. We believe new forms of ‘language’ will emerge that we can’t even imagine yet, because spatial content represents the deepest level of meta-language.
Talking to the machines
This is perhaps the most profound prospect for what lies ahead, because the Metaverse is emerging at about the same speed as the machines are becoming smarter than the human brain.
This may not be a coincidence.
The Metaverse may represent something more than just a new way to interact online. Instead, it may very well represent the space in which we will finally meet a new sentient machine.
The Next Steps in the Metaverse
There is incredible opportunity ahead but tremendous challenges that come with it. This is, perhaps, the most significant shift in computing that humanity will ever experience. It represents the final fusion of our physical and digital realities and it may bring us face-to-face with sentient machines.
We hope you’ll join us in exploring this new frontier.
Whether you’re building early prototypes to prepare for the emerging Metaverse, or joining us as we imagine new scenarios for the future, we invite you to consider the promise (and danger) ahead, and join us on the road to the future.