What is The Metaverse? This has been a standing question since as long as I can recall. Whether we’re dealing with the imagination brought upon us through Cyberpunk literature or the technological wonders which are ever present within our lives, one thing has been abundantly clear: Everybody wants to rule the world.
As the popularity of the Metaverse has increased and has only become more public lexicon through our theater narratives, we must continue to ask what the Metaverse actually represents.
In 2007, after having contributed to the Metaverse Roadmap previously, I was asked this very question as a contributor for Solipsis Decentralized Metaverse, and again during my participation with the IEEE Virtual Worlds Standard group as Vice Chair. Further still, I cemented my answer to this burning question in a published paper for Association for Computing Machinery entitled 3D Virtual Worlds and The Metaverse: Current Status and Future Possibilities.
“The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet.”
This answer became the industry standard, though outliers certainly exist who wish to misappropriate the terminology for their own marketing. In fact, if you were to use Google to find the definition, you’d notice that it is Wikipedia which offers my words, but like any academic you check the citations to find out where they got their assertion. If you did, you’d find that the citations are both links to IEEE Virtual Worlds Standard group and my own ACM Paper.
Even with the popularity of Ready Player One, in book form and theaters, there has been an ongoing misunderstanding concerning what the Metaverse actually is. OASIS in and of itself was not the Metaverse, but if you were to really examine its premise, you would understand how it actually could have been the foundation.
In Ready Player One, when Halladay envisioned OASIS, what he imagined was a vast virtual universe where everyone was on equal ground. What the fictional Gregarious Simulation Systems created was not a content rich universe but instead a framework by which all could participate while setting some ground rules.
What arose in content creation was predominantly at the hands of the billions of users and not a curated experience by controlling forces. This is perfectly evident in the conversation between Halladay and Nolan Sorrento, where Nolan wanted to introduce advertising, tiers, premium and non-premium accounts. Halladay rightfully dismissed Sorrento saying that he clearly didn’t understand the OASIS.
In this way, Halladay was absolutely correct.
We all know that OASIS was jam packed with pop culture references and nostalgia. From Wade’s customized DeLorean, to the Spaceballs Winnebago and far more. This is a virtual universe that is overflowing with intellectual property violations.
Gregarious Simulation Systems had to be making money in some manner for it to have become the wealthiest company in the world. It very well couldn’t do that if they were sued into the ground once a week by angry IP holders.
So how did Halladay reconcile the needs of the users with the requirements of the IP holders? Very likely, Gregarious Simulation Systems implemented the underlying structure for a by-directional marketplace where the end-users could create anything they wanted, but the IP holders would automatically get a cut of that currency for every sale as an implicit “licensing fee”.
In this scenario, Gregarious Simulation Systems now makes money, the IP holders were making money, and the end-users could also make money while getting what they wanted without the hassle.
Halladay, with the help of Ogdon Morrow, set up a system by which the very use of it would generate revenue through user actions and participation. Every time Jason wanted to fight Freddy Krueger, or take on the Predator and Aliens while fighting Godzilla and the entire Gundam Wing fleet, everybody was paid.
Think of it as the greatest microtransaction setup the world has ever known, and it’s a hint at what is to come in our very real future. A transition and revolution for marketing and advertising in and of itself, let alone everything else which is associated with this abstraction of virtual space.
This brings us back to our topic of discussion: The Metaverse.
The underlying nature of OASIS indicates that it is built specifically with a decentralized nature in mind while facilitating the foundation whereby third parties can co-exist in a single perceived space. When Parzival and others opened a portal to the Race, that game was very likely a stand-alone space made in Unity or Unreal that was connected to the OASIS through the underlying APIs. Somebody specifically created a game world and linked it to OASIS and it wasn’t Gregarious Simulation Systems, (it was Halladay himself).
This would hold true with Augmented Reality, though disappointingly, Ernest Cline did not pursue that avenue in his recently released Ready Player Two. If you were to re-read my definition at the beginning, you’d begin to understand how it’s all interconnected and why.
When I set out to write the unified definition, I had to take into consideration that at no point did I want to play favorites. Collecting my resources and notes, I read through countless Cyberpunk novels, watched films about VR and studied the history quite extensively.
Beginning from there, I could ask - If I were to declare that Neal Stephenson was correct and the iteration of The Street from Snow Crash was The Metaverse, then what about William Gibson? What about Ernest Cline, Shadowrun, Second Life, SANSAR, ActiveWorlds, and the countless other depictions and virtual worlds? Should I ignore Lawnmower Man or Johnny Mnemonic?
If we are to choose a single iteration, then by the very nature of this action we are discarding every other iteration. This wasn’t acceptable to me while I was writing the Metaverse definition, nor should this premise be acceptable to you as a reader in the industry. This is why I came to the conclusion that in order to do justice to all of the iterations, they must all exist in a larger system interconnected with each other.
In order for The Metaverse to exist, there must be an underlying foundation by which all systems can participate equally for a common whole, seamlessly intertwined. This is to mean without implicit curation or content control in so much as there being an arbiter of experience as a whole. When Parzival opens a portal to the Race, it is a foundational element which connects one virtual world to another even while both spaces are independently owned and operated, just as Aech’s Basement existed.
The common thread is that foundation and understanding of collaborative creation.
This isn’t about what you believe the Metaverse is, but what everyone simultaneously thinks it is as experiential interpretation independent of your ambitions, while co-existing in a perceived unified virtual space, both in VR and in AR. It is the portal between Minecraft, DOOM Eternal, Super Mario, Forza Racing, Augmented Reality applications, Spatial Computing, business productivity apps, and more.
Each space is merely a gateway of curated and user-generated experiences running on an agreed upon agnostic and neutral layer of APIs and technologies combined. It is the culmination of AR Cloud, VR headsets and marketplaces, countless games, experiences, and technologies which enable them but never any single portion by itself. Only when they are ubiquitous within a foundational layer together do we begin to see the Metaverse arise.
This brings me to the elephant in the room, namely Superworld.
Surely I wouldn’t lend my name and expertise to such a company if I thought for a minute that they did not understand the Metaverse and their place in it. While I can say for certain that Superworld is not The Metaverse, this isn’t to be taken as a slight. If anything, given what I’ve had to say in this article, you might begin to truly understand why I’m excited to play a part of their endeavors.
What Superworld stands to accomplish is something that few, if any, company in the VR and AR space has done to date:
By no means is this a small task, though I am confident that with this understanding and their roadmap, they have a clear path to the Metaverse as a whole. In a world where every VR and AR project is a self proclaimed Metaverse, rest assured that Superworld may actually be the first to truly deliver.