The term, ‘Metaverse’ was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “SnowCrash”, a place where...
Humans, as programmable avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional virtuals pace that uses the metaphor of the real world.
Strikingly prescient as that may be, thirty years later it’s hard to find any sort of agreement around what the metaverse actually is, and whether it’s here or not.
The most universally accepted and thoughtful definition of the metaverse comes from Matthew Ball
A massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.
Despite referencing forecasts that the metaverse is projected to be worth between $6-13 trillion by 2030, Ball also thinks that we are decades away from realising this, which is probably later than Mark Zuckerberg is hoping.
He's not alone
In June 2022, Pew Research Center and Elon University’s, Imagining the Internet Center asked hundreds of technology experts to share their insights on ‘The Metaverse’.
In all, 624 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists provided open-ended responses to a question seeking their predictions about the trajectory and impact of the metaverse by 2040.
The results of this (admittedly not very scientific) canvassing were:
- 54% said that they expect by 2040 the metaverse WILL be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
- 46% said that they expect by 2040 the metaverse WILL NOT be a much-more-refined and truly fully-immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for a half billion or more people globally.
And yet… I’ve experienced ‘The Metaverse’...maybe not to the level that Ball describes, but something powerful enough to support its own thriving community and counterculture; The underworld of VRClubbing in VRChat.
I was introduced to Ghost Club during lockdown by a friend of mine working at Magic Leap (where Neil Stephenson was once on the leadership team) and it blew my mind. Hundreds, if not thousands of virtual clubs have sprung up since, but that was where I popped my ‘virtual EDM cherry’.
VRChat club nights took off during the pandemic, and show no signs of fading; if anything, they’re only becoming more mainstream as the virtual starts to blend with the physical, and new ‘post-pandemic norms’ begin to emerge.
You can find links to the thriving virtual club scene via a multitude of daily listings on Twitter, with instructions in Discord channels, and links out to VRChat addresses with DJ time slots and music to suit all tastes.
Just be sure that you ‘dress to impress’ if you want to get into the fully immersive experience. (Alternatively, you can tune into the live Twitch stream, but it’s not quite the same).
For the full-on VR degen, a full haptic body suit costing more than $1000 can enable a vivid and immersive ‘tip to toe’ experience.
You can look around and see the energy of the room suddenly increase as the beat drops, receiving feedback through a haptic vest, which mimics the stomach churning effects of standing right next to a bass bin and feeling the reverberations shaking your body.
Maybe that's part of the reason these experiences are becoming an integral part of digital subculture. Effort is redirected into creating the environment and architecting the venue space vs building ‘the world’ and speculating on the value of ‘parcels’ in the future.
Currently, there's only enough bandwidth to have a maximum capacity of 80 in each venue at any one time. That limitation actually creates an energy inside the space and ensures an element of FOMO, with door staff ruthlessly triaging clientele, and attendees becoming very particular about where acts are performing. That in turn feeds creative experimentation; a self-fulfilling prophecy that’s working out very well for the event promoters.
Virtual clubs are among the first to get their priorities straight
There’s a big move in this direction within metaverse experience development. We’ve had the ‘Virtual real-estate’s going to be a $5.5billion industry’ clamour, and I just don’t buy it. ‘Location, location, location’ might be a tenet of the real world, but surely getting from place to place without sitting in a traffic jam is an open goal for the virtual world?
We may not be able to teleport in this reality, but the metaverse is not bound by those kinds of constraints. People are beginning to realise that the concept of a virtual world that mimics the real one is not a selling point. I thought we’d learnt this lesson from Second Life, but last year we experienced this ‘virtual parcel’ valuation based on a virtual location, with nowhere near enough consideration put into the destination.
To be sure, this environment is a world away from Matthew Ball’s definition, but it's still a “Metaverse”, and one I feel a much greater affinity for than anything being cooked up in Decentraland or The Sandbox right now.
It's a metaverse of the moment, a metaverse that's being built and enjoyed by a passionate community of people who are using the technology of today to create something unique and innovative. It's a metaverse that's driven by its own rules, one that’s spawned a vibrant and constantly evolving culture.
From the fashion, to the music, to the space, to the people who inhabit it; this metaverse is a living, breathing entity. Just don’t call it ‘the metaverse’ - it’ll stop being cool.
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