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The State of the Metaverse: How Close Are We To This New Reality? (Part 1)

The State of the Metaverse: How Close Are We To This New Reality? (Part 1)

Over the past decade or so, the term “Metaverse” has gradually made its way into the spotlight, often used in conjunction with other contemporary jargon such as “Blockchain” and “Web 3.0.” Far from just a catchphrase for the tech junkies, however, the Metaverse, along with these other terms, are very real concepts that can potentially revolutionise how we interact with not just our surroundings but also one another. To help our readers get a better grasp of what the Metaverse is and where its development is right now, this article will explore the history of the concept, early iterations of it, the current state of the Metaverse, and where it's likely headed. Welcome to our deep dive into the metaverse.

What the Metaverse Is and Where It Came From

What the Metaverse Is and Where It Came From

Source: Warner Bros.


Before we look at where the Metaverse stands right now, it’s important to first understand where this idea came from and what it means. While the term was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his sci-fi dystopian novel Snow Crash back in 1992, some historians would argue that the birth of the concept could be traced back to the invention of the Internet as early as 1983. After all, it would be impossible to have a true Metaverse without the proliferation of Internet access that has taken place over the past four decades.


Regardless of where it came from or who first came up with it, the Metaverse has now attached itself to a relatively universal definition most can agree upon, which happens to be rather similar to the “Oasis” described in Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One. In essence, a Metaverse describes a virtual, 3D space where users can interact with one another and their surroundings. The space itself is permanent, meaning it continues to exist even if users log out. While most envision this Metaverse to be accessed via tech-forward devices such as virtual reality or augmented reality headsets, others also include flat screen platforms such as computers, tablets, and smartphones into its definition. 


As more and more industry players hop onto the Metaverse train, the concept has grown into a fully integrated world where users can traverse a digital landscape seamlessly via their own customised avatars. Because the goal of the Metaverse is to imitate our real lives as closely as possible, the aim is to offer pretty much all the same experiences in this virtual dimension, most likely even with improvements. Believers in the Metaverse foresee everything from shopping to work collaborations to gaming and entertainment living on this unified platform.

Early Iterations of the Metaverse

Early Iterations of the Metaverse

Source: Activision Blizzard


If you’ve read the definition above and it sounds somewhat familiar, it could be because we’ve already seen a few initial iterations of Metaverses over the years. Also known as proto-Metaverses, a lot of these ecosystems have been created by video game companies in the past. Titles such as World of Warcraft, Roblox, and Fortnite all possess permanent virtual landscapes that users can explore through their avatars, and many have their own digital economies as well, such as the auction house in Blizzard’s much-beloved game. The latter two titles have also hosted events such as concerts featuring Travis Scott and Lil Nas X, changing how we experience these traditionally physical events and bridging the gap between video games and the rest of our lives.


On the augmented reality front, we’ve also seen the likes of Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite take off. Both these apps allow users to interact with a blend of digital and physical surroundings through AR overlays on their camera feeds. Virtual reality apps such as Bigscreen also give users the ability to host friends in virtual apartments, lofts, and even cinemas.


Of course, none of these experiences mentioned above fully fit our universal definition of a Metaverse. Each of them has some component missing, such as full connectivity with the rest of the digital plane, seamless integration across platforms, and in some cases spatial permanence as well. Developers are now hoping to create a true Metaverse by taking the lessons learned from these proto-Metaverses and transforming them into their idealised form. This brings us to the discussion of how the Metaverse is as it currently stands.

The State of the Metaverse Now

With the advent of blockchain technologies such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs, as well as the push towards Web 3.0 (which we’ve discussed in another article here), the race has begun for developers to realise their vision of the Metaverse. Because the concept revolves around a digital universe where everything we do and own is virtual, both digital currencies and digital ownership are crucial to transform proto-Metaverses into their full-fledged versions.c


Early Iterations of the Metaverse

Source: Meta


Evidently, it’s becoming easier and easier to monetize the Metaverse, and this naturally attracts a lot of interest from companies and corporations, especially during the early stages of its development. These entities are fighting for their market share within this future virtual world, and all of them want to create the next industry standard, or at least be part of it, just like when Facebook took over the Internet for a while back in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Some of the early adopters include companies in industries ranging from entertainment to telecommunications to even sportswear manufacturers. Big names like Disney, Nike, SK Telecom, and Apple have all invested in the Metaverse through NFTs, blockchain games, hardware to access these platforms, and even by creating their own take on the Metaverse. But the two largest entities at the forefront of this new Internet format are Microsoft and Meta (formerly Facebook).


Microsoft has long been a market leader in the tech and computing space, so it’s no surprise that it also wants to lead the charge into Web 3.0 and the Metaverse. The company has recently launched Mesh, its very own digital world primarily focused on productive collaboration. Employees of a company can meet and work together in a virtual office despite physically being at home, and Microsoft is expanding on app development for Mesh to further enhance its utility and accessibility. The main app is already available in preview form for the tech giant’s HoloLens AR glasses. As the entertainment sphere, Microsoft has also announced an acquisition of video game developer Activision Blizzard for a whopping US$70 billion. While the company itself hasn’t explicitly said that the purchase is being made in furtherance of its Metaverse project, many industry experts expect Activision Blizzard to gradually shift to blockchain games and Metaverse development after joining Microsoft. After all, it did create World of Warcraft, a proto-Metaverse that at one point reached a peak of 120 million players.


Of course, aside from Microsoft, Meta is also one of the largest proponents of the Metaverse right now – so much so that it even changed its household name of Facebook to Meta in October of 2021. Seven years prior, the social media platform also acquired virtual reality firm Oculus, which has since become Meta’s Reality Labs division. Just two months after Facebook’s rebranding, the company released Horizon Worlds for the Rift S and Quest 2 headsets, and since then the virtual world has accumulated more than 300,000 users. The software allows participants to hang out in a digital space known as the “Plaza,” but each player will have their very own private world and can choose to create new ones to share with others online. In March this year, Meta pledged US$500,000 towards a “Builder Tracks” program so more developers can create content for Horizon Worlds, hopefully turning it from one of many isolated Metaverses into a more universally adopted platform like the Oasis.  


As it stands, then, we can see that while interest in the Metaverse has grown substantially over the past few years across a myriad of industries, we’re really still at quite an early stage. No clear universal Metaverse has managed to outshine its competitors, so what we’re left with is a number of smaller, isolated Metaverses from a handful of Silicon Valley companies. On the software side, we’re still some time away from materialising this vision Stephenson and Cline had decades ago, largely because companies are currently competing against one another in the hopes of creating a platform that will see mass adoption. These capitalist firms have all the interest in maintaining control over such a platform, and so collaborative efforts between them are scarce. But there’s also something else preventing us from reaching that point any time soon, and that has to do with hardware.


With this overview of the history of the Metaverse and where we’re at now, part one of our two-part series can be wrapped up. If you want to continue learning more about where the Metaverse is going, part two will explore some of the hardware we use to access this virtual universe, recent headlines and setbacks relating to the industry, and where we foresee the technology ultimately going.


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