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Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees a future in which people will work and play in virtual reality, in an online space called the metaverse. Source
The recent speech by Mark Zuckerberg, related to the renaming of his company from Facebook to Meta, exploded the public, as, according to him, now the main goal of his company is to create the Metaverse. In this article, we will try to explain what is behind this term and whether you can create your own metaverse yourself - a social network, a game or another application.
What is metaverse?
The term "metaverse" was first used by Neil Stevenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. The American science fiction writer came up with a world in which real people ran away from the dark reality of the future into colorful virtual worlds. “He is in a computer-generated universe, which his computer draws on his glasses and pumps into his headphones. In the jargon, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse, "says Neil Stevenson.
A poster for the TV series Snow Crash, which is based on Stevenson's novel of the same name. Source
The author himself described his Metaverse as a version of the Internet for virtual reality, in which people move in the form of avatars, which are three-dimensional images that can interact with space, objects, agent programs (AI avatars) and real people through their avatars. The entrance to this reality is carried out through helmets or virtual reality glasses, as in the films Free Guy (2021) or Ready Player One (2018).
This is very close to what Mark Zuckerberg is talking about when talking about his Metaverse. But, for the sake of fairness, it is worth noting that the very concept of the virtual Internet appeared long before Stevenson's Snow Crash. This image was one of the key themes in the cyber fiction of the 1980s. In particular, William Gibson wrote the novel Burning Chrome back in 1982, which details the virtual Internet, which he calls "Cyberspace".
The Wachowski sisters' trilogy The Matrix is based on Gibson's Cyberspace, and the term "matrix" is directly borrowed from his "Anthill Trilogy". Source
Currently, the understanding and views of the metaverse are relatively diverse. Some people think this is a further VR update that could significantly improve the experience of using VR headsets in games. Others believe it is part of Web 3.0 - an improved version of the internet that will connect VR and AR spaces with people's real lives.
For example, Mark Zuckerberg explains his metaverse as a new version of the Internet, "where you not only watch content, but you are in it." Venture capitalist and writer Matthew Ball gives a more practical definition in his essay
: "It is a vast network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that are capable of maintaining the continuity of identity, objects, history, payments and can be experienced by an unlimited number of people simultaneously, in which everyone will have their own sense of presence".
If we bring together the opinions of Zuckerberg, Ball, and other famous people who develop this concept, then we get the following definition of the metaverse: it is a set of immersive virtual spaces where people can be present, create, explore and interact with other people and objects in the same virtual and/or mixed reality and perhaps also experience this interaction, for example, through the tactile Teslasuit.
In such virtual worlds it will be possible to spend time with friends, work, play, study, shop, create, and much more. In this case, you will have one avatar that will freely move from one space to another, from one game to another, from the Facebook Metaverse to the Microsoft, Google or Fortnite Metaverse. And this avatar will retain its appearance, clothing, contacts and other properties - as if it just moved from one room to another.
Mark Zuckerberg's avatar in his version of the metaverse retained the appearance of an avatar and clothing when moving from one virtual space to another, from one platform to another - this is a vivid example of the continuity of the identity of the avatar and objects. Source
How the metaverse works in practice?
In practice, the user's interaction with the metaverse will be similar to the Internet we are used to, only instead of phones, computers, and browsers, we will put on virtual reality helmets or augmented reality glasses and with their help surf the Internet, chat in Zoom, play Fortnite and study on Coursera. At the same time, the transition between all these sites, most likely, will take place through your personal virtual start room (like the one that is found in almost all multiplayer video games, as in the same Fortnite).
It can be noted that you already have such personal "rooms" - your phone screen with applications or a Facebook page that opens you "doors to virtual worlds" (ie applications) where you can watch TV shows, chat with friends, learn or play video games. It's just that in the case of the metaverse, all this will not happen on the screen of your smartphone, tablet or computer, but in glasses of virtual, augmented or mixed reality (this is VR + AR).
Examples of such applications for the metaverse already exist, for example, Horizon Workrooms
from Facebook, a VR platform for remote work designed for virtual meetings with colleagues as avatars. Or the old Second Life - a real-life online simulator with great possibilities.
Another example is the online platform Roblox, which allows anyone to create their own and play games created by other people. Avatars in Roblox can already move between game worlds while maintaining their identity, appearance, and clothing. Virtual conferences and concerts at Roblox are also held. And the platform also has its own currency - Robux.
This platform is so popular that big brands like Nike have started to create their own worlds in it, where you can play, communicate and even play sports. In fact, Roblox is an already designed metaverse, just without virtual reality and only for projects related to video games and entertainment.
Roblox has over 200 million active users, making it the most popular metaverse in the world. More players are only in Fortnite (300 million), but this game has not yet become a full-fledged metaverse, although Epic Games intends to make it such. Source
We can also note the Decentraland crypto project - a metaverse created on the basis of blockchain technologies. Basically, it's a cross between Second Life and Roblox. In the world of Decentraland, users can create and play games created by other people, as well as create and wear clothes, create buildings and interiors for them, visit a museum, organize conferences and have fun at concerts.
At the same time, almost all lands, items and games in Decentraland can be transferred, sold and bought. In addition, you can create a game and charge an entrance fee or hang a banner on your house and receive money for advertising - there are many ways in this world both to realize yourself and to make money on your creativity.
Decentraland already has a lot of role-playing adventures, quests, races and other games. The graphics aren't great, but Minecraft experience shows that it doesn't matter if you have a great idea. Source
Technologies underlying the metaverse
This technology will be responsible for the continuity of the identity of the avatar and objects, which we talked about earlier. All avatars, objects, structures, skills and other unique things in the metauniverses will be implemented in the form of NFTs, since this technology today is the best way to identify and transfer ownership of digital assets both between people and when transferring an asset from one metaverse to another.
Interactive 3D technologies
For any metaverse to work, it needs a technology that will scan the real world, create a 3D image of it and transfer this model to the virtual world. And this technology should be fast enough and produce excellent graphics because with input lag and a bad picture, it will be difficult for users to immerse themselves in the virtual world. Such technologies already exist, but they are not perfect enough - the same Kinect for Xbox from Microsoft.
Mixed or extended reality (MX, XR)
When Mark Zuckerberg talked about his Metaverse, he emphasized that people will also interact with virtual spaces without plunging into them. For this, Meta is developing smart glasses with full augmented reality - Project Nazare. Meta says that the new device will be the first full-fledged AR glasses, which will make it possible to create MX, XR-reality - when you look at the real world, but at the same time you see elements of virtual reality and can interact with them, as, for example, in a game Pokemon GO, but cooler.
With MX / XR, new business models can be created, such as shopping with virtual clothing fitting or virtual machine testing. By the way, this is the easiest way to create a metaverse application.
Distributed computing and storage
Building really interesting metauniverses will require enormous computing power, which must be done without interruption or crashes. The easiest way to achieve this is by distributing computations and storage between multiple nodes, as, for example, is done in blockchain technologies or torrents.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
It will also require quite powerful artificial intelligence to develop future metauniverses. It is needed to interact more closely with people using smart assistants like Google Now, Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Microsoft Cortana. In addition, AI is needed to create and audit software, build more reliable protection for users' data and money. And, of course, artificial intelligence can enrich the biological forms of the virtual world, that is, make NPCs smarter in games.
5G mobile communications
Also, developing the metaverse and related applications will require a faster Internet connection between the system and the user, through which huge amounts of data will be transmitted - from audio files to high-resolution textures. Only the fifth generation of mobile networks - 5G - will be able to cope with the increased load, the peak download and upload speed of which is much higher than that of 4G - 10 GB/s versus 100 MB/s.
They are completely autonomous participants in the metauniverses with the same "rights" of a human user. Like any ordinary user, such programs can roam from one server to another, from one virtual game to another. At the same time, such AI algorithms will be able to study, describe, test and improve the existing spaces of the metaverse and its individual elements.
A prime example of the potential of these nomadic programs is the approach Hello Games
took to create No Man's Sky. Using procedural generation, a team of 4 artists created a virtual universe containing 18 quintillion planets. Unable to visit and appreciate these worlds one by one on their own, the artists created a huge fleet of autonomous virtual robots. These robots wandered between the planets of No Man's Sky and made short videos about the most interesting things they encounter to share with their developers.
How to create your own metaverse?
Search, definition of an idea
As with any other IT project, the development of the metaverse and related applications starts with an idea. It doesn't have to be groundbreaking or VR / AR-related. It is enough that your idea brings tangible benefits to the target audience or somehow improves one of the elements of the metaverse. For example, you can start a cryptocurrency project to move avatars and objects between different metauniverses, or create a new controller for virtual reality.
Here are some more ideas for creating metaverse applications:
- Marketplace for the sale of items from the metaverse.
- Freelance platform with an emphasis on creating clothing for avatars.
- Freelance platform with an emphasis on creating houses, cities, countries for the metauniverses (such services are already in demand, for example, in Minecraft).
- Any neural network (AI) that enhances some technology or component of the metaverse, for example, a voice translator that simulates the voices of the participants in a conversation in real-time.
Search for a developer company
In the next step, you need to find a development company that will take over the technical part of the implementation of your idea. It is desirable that such a company understands the chosen niche and has several such ready-made projects in its portfolio. For example, if you want to launch a crypto project in the metaverse, then you need a team that specializes in blockchain and DeFi, such as Merehead. If you are planning to create a new VR controller, then you will need to find not only coders but also experienced engineers with the appropriate skills and interest in VR and AR.
Where to look for technical partners and what to look for when hiring them is detailed in the article: «How to choose a developer company»
Project opening phase (business analysis)
Before the selected development team starts creating the design and writing the code, you need to decide on the business part of the future project. That is, you need to start building the metaverse with an analysis of the market, competitors, and target audience. So you will understand in advance the prospects of your idea and find the best ways to implement it.
Based on the information received, the customer, business analyst, project manager, and/or lead programmer draw up a technical task - a list of functions and requirements for the project. This helps to more accurately determine the scope of the upcoming work, the composition of the development team, and select the optimal technology stack.
UX / UI design development, prototyping
At this stage of the development of applications of the metaverse, the information architecture of the system is created, user flows are developed and optimized, and the design of user interfaces is developed. This is what UX / UI designers do. The result of their work will be a prototype - an animated visualization of the interface in the form in which it will be presented to the end-users of the future product.
An example of an animated prototype of a crypto wallet. Source
Writing Metaverse application code
At this point, your team of programmers starts coding your Metaverse application. They implement the front-end and back-end components of the future project and integrate external services such as payment gateways or liquidity pools. The process of writing the code itself is usually divided into backs and takes from one to several months of real-time, depending on the complexity of the project.
Here is an example of a technology stack for building a metaverse application:
Testing the developed product
This is done by QA specialists. They check the created product for bugs, functionality, usability, load, compliance with the specifications prescribed in the technical task. All of this usually takes about 20% of the development time. If your application uses smart contracts, they also need to be tested. And this should be done not only by in-house QA specialists but also by independent auditors such as Techrate and Certik (this will take from several weeks to a couple of months).
Deployment and release
Once the application is built and thoroughly tested, it is deployed to local or cloud servers. If this is a mobile application, then it must be added to the stores of mobile applications: App Store, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Amazon App Store, and others. This requires a few more days to a month of real-time and several hundred dollars.