The Metaverse. Old, new or right on cue?

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The Metaverse. Old, new or right on cue?
Photo by Zack Walker on Unsplash
November 24, 2021

The Metaverse is nothing new. And it's not here yet either.

I am not trying to contradict myself here. All I’m saying is that while the phrase is newly coined fresh off the mint, the actual demand for the metaverse is really quite old. This is most definitely one of the cases of technology catching up to the demand.

There have already been attempts at both virtual realities and virtual commodities to varying levels of mainstream acceptance. Some of us might remember Second Life. That online game where you lead an alternate life as an avatar in a virtual world. I say game but in the words of Dunder Mifflin Scranton's best paper salesman Dwight K. Schrute- Second Life is not a game. It is a multi-user virtual environment. Kind of like a proto metaverse eh?

I never got around to trying it out for myself. I did not own a laptop when it first came out, and by the time I got one the hype had quieted down. I have, however, always held a mild curiosity regarding it. More recently I have had a chance to play Animal Crossing, another game where you play out a whole different life and buy and sell virtual items and meet other people in their virtual garbs in virtual places and do a lot of the things they are saying you will be able to do when the Metaverse finally arrives.

Now I am not claiming the upcoming Metaverse is going to be anything like Second Life or Animal Crossing. But I am saying the idea of existing in a virtual world and consuming virtual commodities and services is not only not novel, it might even be overdue.

One thing to note is that no one is calling it a second life anymore. This isn't going to be some alternate thing to experience while taking a break from real life for a bit. This is going to be the real thing- the primary, the first life. And I am certain that those of us who have been exposed to the internet for any decent period of time are somewhat ready.

Of course there is also a narrative forming of scepticism and cynicism- Facebook is now going to control our lives or- the whole renaming to Meta thing is a way to distract from all the bad press Facebook has been getting recently due to the whistleblower.

Now granted- both of the above things are absolutely true- but it is really not about Facebook at all, or Google, or any of the multiple companies already controlling our lives without any help from the Metaverse at all. This is about the next step. The next step after NFTs and Cryptos and VR and most importantly- the next step after the internet. The internet itself was a fairly radical shift in the status quo. It feels reasonable to expect social connectivity to get even more immersive as and when the technology allows.

The Metaverse
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Another thing I realise as I try to gauge what the Metaverse is going to be like for the average consumer is that a lot of the concepts are already implemented in the gaming sphere. Games are increasingly becoming social affairs as more and more of the big corporations in the industry shift from making mainly Single Player experiences in favour of big multiplayer games that bring a lot of people together.

And with increased social elements come new monetisation opportunities. A lot of these games depend on selling the user digital goods in exchange for real money through what are called micro transactions owing to each item being priced a relatively low amount. These can be cosmetic items like costumes or skins for your characters or avatars, weapons, other added functionalities and whatnot.

Now when the metaverse truly arrives, the promise is that we will all be buying similar skins and costumes for our avatars. Maybe someone will figure out a way to sell services specifically for the avatar.

How this is supposed to be different from what the gaming industry is already doing is that these costumes or virtual fashion items or any services provided will not be tied to a single application or one game or just one profile showcase. Rather it is supposed to carry over from application to application as we meander the winding streets of the metaverse.

A virtual pair of jeans to wear to work on a casual Friday. Work in some virtual collaboration space in the Metaverse mind you. Not a brick and mortar office space.

And will all our favourite apparel companies be selling us these jeans from virtual storefronts? Or will it be new players in the market selling us new brands of clothes, maybe with the provision to patch in the NFTs we own.

What does the future look like? I think it is too simplistic to just say that so and so big companies will rule our lives now. They do already- for better or for worse. It is about opportunities to monetise things we never thought possible and who will get there first.

Facebook maybe. They did register a name that is about as close as you can get to the metaverse without being the Metaverse. But there is room for surprises. The metaverse is big and full of consumables. Well ideally anyway. And not even Facebook knows the full extent of what people might be willing to spend money on in this new world.

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