The metaverse: past, present and future

Telos Magazine

Pavel Sidorenko Bautista, UNIR – International University of La Rioja and José María Herranz de la Casa, Castilla-La Mancha university

The word metaverse It is an adaptation to Spanish of the term metaverse which is composed of: goal What does transcendental mean? verse which refers to the universe. That is, the idea of ​​the metaverse is related to a three-dimensional virtual world where people can develop any desire or thought.

The writer Neal Stephenson was the first to use this term in his novel Snow Crash (1992). However, thirty years later it gains special importance and popularity thanks to a series of changes and strategies proposed by various technological agents.

In the year 2021, Epic Games, known as the parent company of the popular Fortnite, announced international financing of 2 billion dollars for the development of a metaverse. A few months later, Mark Zuckerberg made official the change of the Facebook Corporation’s name to Meta in order to focus on the development of this same idea.

If we take into consideration that the metaverse is made up of a virtual environment that serves as a digital extension of real life in all its dimensions (social, political and economic), does this mean that virtual reality (VR) is now changing from Name? The answer is no.

Towards a concept of the metaverse

According to Indiana University Bloomington professor Edward Castronova, for a virtual experience to be considered a metaverse, it must meet the following requirements:

  • Be interactive: allow communication in real time between interconnected users and with the content and virtual experiences developed.

  • Seek corporeality: each user will be virtually represented by an avatar designed according to convenience and desire.

  • Be persistent: The metaverse is always connected and evolving regardless of the users connected at any given time.

With these characteristics, the first reference that can come to mind in the contemporary internet is Second Life. It is a non-immersive online virtual environment (it was not necessary to use virtual reality viewers) where people could talk to each other in real time through avatars and where there was the possibility of developing commercial transactions and various activities, including educational ones. In this way, users adopted cyber identities in order to start conversations, conspire, play games, speak out about real-life situations, or just have fun.

From these first antecedents we turn to the current context. Here it is important to specify that the metaverse is not homogeneous, that is, there is not a single environment with these characteristics, nor is access to a single device contingent.

Today there are more and more different proposals and “worlds” that can be accessed through different devices: mobile phones, computers, VR viewers or game consoles. In other words, the metaverse as a generic term is cross-platform and multi-screen.

Any digital platform that seeks open world interaction and experience, where individuals have free will to use various tools and resources, is part of this early stage of the metaverse. Thus, we can find cases more focused on gamified experiences such as the aforementioned Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, Animal Crossing or Axie Infinity. And others where the focus is more on socialization and even the digital economy: Decentraland, The Sandbox, Horizon World, AltspaceVR, VR Chat, Spatial, Stageverse, etc.

The metaverse is one more symptom of what has been called “the new internet” or web 3.0, where decentralized systems (technology blockchain), cryptocurrencies (bitcoin, etherium, etc.) and digital assets (NFTs). All these elements are perfectly compatible in an open virtual proposal.

Is the metaverse beneficial to society?

A first variable that must be taken into account is that today the audiences that mostly gather around Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft belong to the so-called Alpha generation (born after 2010). I mean, it’s largely about the native audience of the metaverse.

This determines a priori a generational change focused on virtuality. However, beyond the gamified experiences that allow users to interact in real time, it is giving rise to new advertising and economic models.

Just like in real life, people seek to differentiate themselves in the virtual realm. Different clothing and accessory brands have realized this need and have begun to develop specific products in response. Firms such as Zara, Balenciaga, Gucci, Vans or Nike have begun to work on different metaverse platforms in order to satisfy the new demand: clothing for avatars. And from there, being able to jump back to the analog world, allowing anyone to dress in their day-to-day clothes with their avatar. This is how they connect the virtual with the physical.

Another area that has seen the possibility of not only reinforcing his work, but also increasing its reach towards new segments of the public and therefore transcending time, has been art. Thus, painting has been popularized through the NFT. This format generates a digital image that has an intelligent contract that not only assigns membership to a user, but also publicly and unalterably records all commercial movements in which it is involved. Metaverses such as Spatial have allowed the creation of galleries and virtual exhibition halls for this type of work.

Music has also gained a new global platform. Artists such as Travis Scott, Ariana Grande, Marshmello or Charlie Puth have organized virtual events, especially through Fortnite, developing a new way of contacting a young audience, which has allowed them to remain leaders and increase their reach.

In fact, through this apparent video game that constitutes itself as a virtual and social platform, the iHeartRadio online audio platform created an environment to offer not only various concerts, but also recreational activities of various kinds for the avatars. Likewise, the anime franchise dragonball has organized meetings to see different chapters of the latest saga.

Tourism is also beginning to be strengthened. Cities like Benidorm, Cuenca, Tokyo or Seoul are working on digital twins and virtual urban extensions in order to promote themselves, as well as offer complementary cultural and commercial experiences. In other words, the metaverse is allowing for increased urban public diplomacy work.

Navarra, for its part, is focusing more on seeking productive spaces that reinforce the transparency of the regional public sector.

Challenges and prospects

All this innovation process should also be accompanied by digital literacy work. It is true that the Alpha generation and even the centennials they have an advantage in adopting and understanding this new context, but other segments of the public have the disadvantage of being largely excluded. Today the institutions, the Academy or the technological ones still have a shy role in this regard.

On the other hand, with regard to the communication and action of brands and companies, they must reinforce their marketing relationship and its attraction marketing strategies (inbound marketing) that allow them to optimally exploit the interactive and socializing possibilities offered by the virtuality of the metaverse.

Likewise, the industry must promptly reinforce its work teams and human capital in real life with profiles that allow the design and programming of this type of alternative environment. The metaverse is in its early stages and there is still a lot of work to be done and a long way to go. However, its penetration into our daily life in the coming years is unquestionable and there are already symptoms that aim to move in that direction.

The technology industry still has the great challenge of ensuring interoperability between the various metaverses, since currently each virtual environment works independently. Initiatives such as Ready Player Me already allow at least the ability to design an avatar that is the same in different scenarios, although there is still a long way to go in the physical, real and virtual.

This article was originally published in Fundación Telefónica’s Telos magazine.The Conversation

Pavel Sidorenko Bautista, Professor and researcher at the Faculty of Business and Communication, UNIR – International University of La Rioja and José María Herranz de la Casa, Professor of Journalism, Castilla-La Mancha university

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

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