Mert Bulan

The next big thing: Metaverse, and what we know so far

| reading time: 6 min(s)

The picture of Ready Player One main character

You probably read something about Metaverse a few times in the last few months and you are wondering why. I am going to tell you straightforwardly: It is the next big thing after the smartphone revolution and it is going to change our lives more than how smartphones changed today. Get ready!

The word, Metaverse, is first time used in a book called Snow Crash. In the book, our characters are connecting to a virtual world via their computers. The computers are projecting image signals into their eyes and that’s how they enter Metaverse. In Metaverse, everybody looks like a digital character, everybody designs their character if they know enough about programming, or they just buy them from other people. There are buildings, gathering areas, cafes, etc. You can find everything you can find in the real world. You can interact with other people, talk, walk or fight.

You can think of Metaverse as an MMORPG game like World of Warcraft but the things that you can do are much more than what you can do in WOW. It is more expandable, more customizable, and most importantly, it is more realistic. (The movie, Ready Player One, shows Metaverse much better but in the movie is mostly focusing on games) There are already a few products (AR Glasses) in the market like Oculus Quest, Valve Index Headset, Playstation VR that help you to connect to a virtual world. They are just the early products in this market and a few years, we are going to see more. The new ones will help us to feel the virtual world as the real world but to make Metaverse more realistic, we need more than hardware. We need software that will create a world that we can’t differentiate from the real world. The big tech and some gaming companies already started to work on that and in this blog post, I would like to talk about them and what is waiting for us in the next few years. (Please, follow the links and read them.)

Apple

I follow everything Apple for more than 10 years and I have never seen that Apple is creating the infrastructure of their next big product in front of everybody’s eyes. Tim Cook mentioned augmented reality (AR) many times in his interviews and you can already experience AR on your iPhone today or you can create a real object in the virtual world with Apple’s Object Capture API today. Of course, not many people are using the AR experience on their iPhones today but that’s not the reason why Apple created them. They did it because you need years of work to create a virtual world that feels like a real world. The best way to do this is, using the existing product line (iPhone and iPad) to create that world. So, the developers (because Apple can’t just create this world their own) can also start working on it. The other companies started with the hardware, a VR or an AR glass, but since there is still not a virtual world that you feel like a real world, there are not many people that are using those products today.

The blog post, WWDC 2021: Apple is building Metaverse substrate in plain sight, shows what Apple is working on for the Metaverse experience right now but let me summarise it for you:

Imagine yourself wearing an Apple Watch, an Apple Glass (this is the missing part right now), an AirPods Pro, and carrying an iPhone. Most of the computation will happen on your iPhone, the most powerful mobile device. Apple Watch will help you to use your hands in Metaverse and control your actions with your gestures. (Apple Watch using AssistiveTouch). AirPods Pro, with its Spatial Audio feature, will help you hear the voices and sounds from different angels like in real life, instead of just hearing from left and right (stereo). With this setup, you will be ready to enter Metaverse.

Once you are in Metaverse, the other people in Metaverse will see you as the Memoji that you created for yourself. (Apple’s Big Bet on Memoji) The things that you can do? You can listen to music with your friends like you are listening to a concert, watch a movie like you are watching in a cinema with SharePlay. You can even visit an Art Biennale or visit any store that you would like to shop. While you are shopping, you are not going to be the only person there. You will see other people who are also shopping in real time along with you, like in real life. Of course, these are not the only things that you can do. Playing games probably will be the activity that most people will do. (How Gaming Will Change Humanity as We Know It). You will probably have your video calls at work in Metaverse, you will do pair programming with your colleagues and you will design your art or your product in Metaverse.

Right now, we already have or getting closer to have all of these experiences in our life. The missing part is Apple Glass and the announcement of that product will be the starting point of this revolution.

Facebook

Facebook started to work on Metaverse right after they bought Oculus. Mark Zuckerberg already said in one of his interviews that the future of Facebook is Metaverse. They even released their work app for VR. (Facebook launches VR remote work app, calling it a step to the ‘Metaverse’) The problem about Facebook is that they can’t come up with original ideas and create great products. You can see them by just looking at Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram today. Also, instead of launching finished products, they preferred a different way than Apple and they are continuously releasing products and trying to improve them over time. They even hired John Carmack but he didn’t stay there a very long time. Also, the privacy concerns might affect their plans, especially if you think about the requirement of Facebook account to be able to use Oculus Quest.

Others

Microsoft also already released their HoloLens but we don’t hear a lot from them as we do for Apple and Facebook. I feel like they are going to focus mostly on the cloud infrastructure (Converging the physical and digital with digital twins, mixed reality, and Metaverse apps) and business side of Metaverse. But don’t forget their XBOX division!

NVIDIA is doing a lot of things but they are mostly working on the tools and the hardware that will help developers to create Metaverse. They called this universe Omniverse and I believe that with their help, not only the big tech companies will create things for Metaverse but also indie developers will be able to create things for Metaverse. Check the demo that they showed their CEO’s kitchen in Metaverse. It is really exciting.

Niantic, the company behind Pokemon Go, is also planning to enter into Metaverse but in a different way. They say that Metaverse is a nightmare. This is also the theme of the book Snow Crash and also Ready Player One. Metaverse is there because we are fucked up in the real world and we need a new world that we can enjoy living in. (Metaverse Has Always Been a Dystopian Idea) So instead of going into that direction, seems like they want to create things only for AR not for VR as they did for Pokeman Go. I believe that this is just a way to sell their stuff differently. I think in 5-10 years, whatever you are doing now, you will need to do something for Metaverse to stay alive as a company. You can even see that Gucci is creating their products in a digital form so people can wear them in their digital characters. (Gucci digitally outfits Gen-Z in Metaverse foray with Roblox) I don’t surprise if, at some point, Gucci earns more money from their digital products than their physical products.

Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite game and the game engine Unreal Engine, is also working on bringing their game into Metaverse. (Fortnite and Metaverse: Why Epic Games may build the next version of the Internet) They already created a culture between millions of people but I believe that their game engine will play a bigger role in Metaverse, especially the recent app they created, MetaHuman Creator.

The Future

You might think that is why people might want to spend their time in Metaverse. Just think about the gaming industry that is going to reach $200 billion. Think about the people who quit their job started to live outside of the big cities, think about the people who can’t go to theaters, opera, art galleries, concerts but want to experience them in the first row. Think about the people who start using TikTok more than Instagram (static image vs. videos). There are a lot of people who like to have an experience as they would in the real life by just staying at home, spending less money and effort.

I am already getting exciting whenever I read an article about Metaverse. Nobody knows if there will be only one metaverse (as there is only one internet) or multiple Metaverses. The only thing that I know is that a lot of things will change in our life in the next 5-10 years and the gaming companies will play a very big role in shaping the future comparing to the big tech companies. (That’s also probably the reason why Microsoft is buying a lot of gaming studios) Creating something for Metaverse is not as simple as creating a mobile app. It is hard as creating a video game. It requires a lot of people from different disciplines to work together. You need art directors, designers, sound engineers, storytellers, programmers, and so on. That’s the reason why if you want to be part of the future, being a specialist in one discipline is not going to be enough, you need to know about game design. This is something that hit me a few weeks ago and that’s the reason why I started to create a reading list to learn more about game design. Here is the list:

Please, contact me if you have any other book suggestions about game design!

The future is exciting and it is more exciting to create that future!

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