The 15 principles that will make the metaverse a reality
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Here we are, then, in the era of metaverses… Fantasized by science fiction for decades, prototyped with some success in the early 2000s, these virtual worlds now seem ready for an infinite number of uses. But what are these uses? What are the real differences with metaverses such as Second Life or Minecraft? And above all, why now, with all these trades and all these job offers coming up?
A few years ago, around 2017, several players in the economic world considered virtual and augmented reality technologies to be the fourth wave of technology, following PC, Internet and mobile respectively. Each of these three major innovations has completely revolutionized everyday uses, and it seems that virtual and augmented reality technologies are about to do the same. We will no longer be content to be in front of our screens, but we will be involved in our screens.
By taking a step back on the relationship of humans to information and social uses, we can understand that this is indeed a logical continuation. In the past, long before the metaverse, prehistoric cave paintings accompanied by oral tales were the first media to capture the attention of tribes. Already at the time, the collective imagination was used to create mythological and fantastic worlds, serving to explain what they lived, or to dream what they would like to live. These stories were all lessons passed down from generation to generation. The uses then evolved, but remained social procedures operating in the same state of mind: transcending reality to shape the collective identity.
What is the metaverse?
It would seem that the American science fiction author Neil Stephenson is the father of the concept of metaverse (Ondrejka, 2004). In his novel Snow Crash published in 1992 (Stephenson, 1992), Stephenson describes a dystopian future where citizens spend their time in virtual universes, in order to escape the daily life of a hyper-capitalist world ruled by a few mega-corporations. If web 3.0 lives up to its promise with decentralization by default, Hiro Protagonist’s future should be different in many ways.
Stephenson’s universe bears an uncanny resemblance to that portrayed by Steven Spielberg in his 2018 film Ready Player One. The film is a priori drawn from the eponymous novel written in 2011 by Ernest Cline (Cline, 2011), but one can wonder if Cline was himself inspired by Stephenson. For purists, it is possible to say that Stephenson invented the term, but without associating the right concept with it. The metaverse, as it can be imagined for the future, is more like the cyberspace described by William Gibson in 1984, in his book Neuromancer. In addition to being the founding work of the cyberpunk movement, it is also the first work to describe the contours of a decentralized metaverse, even before the appearance of the first virtual reality headsets from Autodesk in the late 1980s.
There are more than 50 formal definitions of the concept of metaverse in the academic literature (Park & Kim, 2022). The systematic commonalities relate to the virtual reality environment, the participation of users in the form of avatars, and developed human interactions. In addition to these common points, it is possible to find many more characteristics, depending on the authors. The objective of this article is to list the constituent principles of a real metaverse, while showing their current state of progress. But before diving into the complexity, it may be useful to simplify the definition of metaverse as follows:
A metaverse is a credible immersive environment, in which users can interact with each other via their respective avatars in a secure manner. They may also create, use, own and monetize network elements.
The metaverse can be seen as an interconnected and online network of social immersive environments in persistent and permanent multi-user platforms, among other properties (Davis, Murphy, Owens, Khazanchi, Zigurs, 2009; Mystakidis, 2022 ). With the metaverse, the universe of post-reality opens, where physical reality merges with digital reality, to create a perpetual and persistent whole. The metaverse, in its modern sense of the term, is the convergence of many technologies allowing dynamic, secure and multisensory interactions with virtual environments, individuals embodied by avatars, and digital objects. The first iterations of metaverses allowed a simple representation of individuals, in a low definition environment.
The existing ecosystem of metaverse builders
Current iterations offer immersive and social virtual reality platforms, compatible with massively multiplayer online video games, open game worlds and augmented reality collaborative spaces (Dionisio, III, Gilbert, 2013). Above all, and this is what makes the difference, the whole is gradually connected to the real economy, thanks to the gateways and security provided by the blockchain. To take up the elements posed by Rosenblum and Cross (1997), the next iterations of metaverses should therefore focus particularly on the quality of multisensory immersion, interaction, and visual fidelity.
But metaverses are much more than the experiences they offer. The American blogger Jon Radof, who specializes in understanding metaverses, proposes dividing the value chain of the metaverse into seven segments: experiences, access portals, creators of economies, creators of environments, actors of decentralization, equipment manufacturers, and physical infrastructure providers. At the end of 2021, Jon Radof already listed more than a hundred actors participating in the emergence of modern metaverses.
15 locks to lift to allow the metaverse
As Jon Radof shows, there are already several metavers, or rather proto-metavers. The main ones are called Decentraland, Sandbox or Roblox. We can also mention Mesh from Microsoft, Minecraft, or even Second Life. Only here, these metaverses are not really, insofar as they lack certain properties, and not always the same ones. The reality is that building a proper metaverse takes time. Meta announced the construction of its metaverse at the end of 2021, for optimal operation expected by 2025. Baidu, Epic Games, the city of Seoul, and other major players also announced the creation of their own metaverses. The metaverse war is coming, that’s for sure. But only those who have all the cards in hand will be able to claim the title.
By taking up the different constituent elements of the definition of a metaverse, there are in all at least 15 principles that make up the characteristics necessary for its proper functioning:
- Scalability: A user must be able to navigate the environment without any latency, connected with millions of other users. The current state of technology does not allow total scalability, given the volumes of data.
- Immersion: A user must feel teleported into a new environment, in particular thanks to an adapted multisensory perception. The state of technologies, especially haptics, still requires development.
- Interaction: A user must be able to interact with his environment and with other individuals, as in the real world. This implies being able to create and share content in particular. The technologies are ready.
- Visual fidelity: A user must be able to immerse themselves in a visual quality such that their brain perceives a real environment. The state of technology allows this principle, even if there is still work to manage the latency of the connection.
- Permanence: A user must feel the consistency of events. If a wall is destroyed, then it is destroyed, and must be rebuilt to exist again. In particular, the blockchain makes it possible to ensure permanence by tracing any data.
- Persistence: A user must be able to navigate in a world that never ceases to exist, and which can constantly evolve. The world of video games has made possible the existence of highly persistent environments.
- Openness: A user must be able to navigate freely in an extended environment. The technologies for this principle have been widely tested in video games, to the point of making this principle obvious by default.
- Interoperability: A user must be able to navigate to and from a metaverse freely, in particular via the portability of their data and digital objects. Interoperability is possible, but will depend on the will of the designers.
- Economy: A user must be able to derive income, in the same way as the other actors of the network, according to his contribution. Of course, the technologies are ready and used for this major funding topic.
- Transparency: A user must be able to access the information of any object or individual present, while respecting the anonymity of each. The blockchain allows traceability and free publication which ensures total transparency.
- Decentralization: A user must be able to own the network in which he creates value, to decide on changes and capture the value created. The technologies are ready, even if the society is a little less so.
- Incarnation: A user must be able to create and develop their identity in the metaverse, via one or more avatars that they own and over which they have exclusive control. The technologies are ready.
- Trust: A user must be able to evolve without fear of malevolence from other stakeholders or from the system itself. If the blockchain allows transparency, it does not control intentions, and the subject remains a challenge.
- Security: A user must be able to evolve in perfect physical, material and psychological security, and must be able to guard against hacking, violence and any other problem. Technology alone is not enough here, rules are needed.
- Acceptability: A user must be able to evolve in the metaverse with other users, in compliance with good social, environmental, moral and ethical practices on which our society is based. A wishful thinking?
Technologies that make the metaverse possible
Each iteration of the metaverses is built according to available technologies. First the primary technologies (real sensory, radio, television), then the computer, the web, the mobile, virtual and augmented reality, haptic equipment, and finally, the blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). Each of these technologies is the result of extremely complex major advances in science and technology (Nevelsteen, 2018). Thanks to the technologies made available, it is therefore possible to envisage metaverses intimately linked to our perception of reality. From a more sociological point of view, the current metaverse is based on the social value of Generation Z that the online self and the offline self are not different (Park & Kim, 2022).
The potential uses are practically endless, but it is already possible to cite those already identified or supposed (Papagiannidis, Bourlakis & Li, 2008; Romero, Viana & Angel, 2016; Jun, 2020; Gökçe Narin, 2021; Heo & Kim, 2021 ). There are thus more than a dozen major families of uses that are already the subject of concrete cases or academic articles: video games, commerce, productivity, finance, artistic creation, social network, tourism, meetings, sport, education, coaching, home automation, religion…
When we hear that the metaverse is in full construction, it is not a manner of speaking, as there are still technologies to be perfected to allow a convincing and reliable metaverse. Beyond technologies, it will be necessary to establish ethical rules and principles to ensure material, physical and psychological security for users and their property.
Those in the know on web 3 will notice the pyramid used to illustrate the state of the metaverse. Indeed, the main promise of web 3 is decentralization. However, when we dig a little deeper into the state of the market, particularly at the level of the core services that make Web 3 possible, we notice that a few companies control the entire market, or how to give the illusion of decentralization by keeping Control ! If you are curious to understand better, I can only advise you to research the companies Alechemy and Infura for example…
To conclude on the metaverse, technologies are relatively neutral by default, and it is the adaptations in principles and rules that will determine the virtuous nature of the different uses offered. To understand the real scope of these metaverses, it remains to understand how virtual and web technologies work, as well as the first demonstrated and future use cases in metaverses. I am currently preparing a complete book on the subject, coming very soon! Stay tuned…
Cline, E. (2011). Ready Player One, Random House Publishers.
Davis, A., Murphy, J. D., Owens, D., Khazanchi, D., Zigurs, I. (2009). Avatars, people, and virtual worlds: Foundations for research in metaverses. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 10(2), 90.
Dionisio, J. D. N., III, W. G. B., & Gilbert, R. (2013). 3D virtual worlds and the metaverse: Current status and future possibilities. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR), 45(3), 1–38.
Gökçe Narin, N. (2021). A Content Analysis of the Metaverse Articles, Journal of Metaverse, 1(1), 17–24.
Heo, M. H., & Kim, D. (2021). Effect of Augmented Reality Affordance on Motor Performance: In the Sport Climbing. Human-Centric Computing And Information Sciences, 11.
Jun, G. (2020). Virtual reality church as a new mission frontier in the metaverse: Exploring theological controversies and missional potential of virtual reality church. Transformation, 37(4), 297–305.
Mystakidis, S. (2022). Metaverse. Encyclopedia 2022, 2, pp. 486–497.
Nevelsteen, K. J. (2018). Virtual world, defined from a technological perspective and applied to video games, mixed reality, and the Metaverse. Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds, 29(1), e1752.
Ondrejka, C. (2004). Escaping the gilded cage: User created content and building the metaverse. NYL Sch. L. Rev., 49, 81.
Papagiannidis, S., Bourlakis, M., Li, F. (2008). Making real money in virtual worlds: MMORPGs and emerging business opportunities, challenges and ethical implications in Metaverses, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 75(5), 610–622.
Park, S. M., Kim, Y. G. (2022). A Metaverse: Taxonomy, Components, Applications, and Open Challenges, IEEE Access, 10, pp. 4209–4251.
Romero, GP., Viana, M., Angel, M. (2016). New artistic behaviors in “Second Life”, Tercio Creciente, 9, 33–50.
Rosenblum, L., Cross, R. (1997). Challenges in Virtual Reality. In Visualization and Modeling; Academic Press: Cambridge, MA, USA; pp. 325–339.
Stephenson, N. (1992). Snow Crash, Penguin Books Australia.
Blog of Jon Radof : https://jradoff.medium.com (consulted on 3rd march 2022).