Written by Branyce Wong
You’ve likely heard the term “metaverse” brought up or seen it in recent headlines, but what is it and why should it matter to you? Here's a breakdown on how the digital experience will evolve into something that blurs the lines between digital and physical.
The Next Big Tech Revolution
The words vague and complex in reference to the term “Metaverse,” are an extreme understatement to the ideology because it simply does not exist yet. When CEO Mark Zuckerberg informed the world and announced Facebook’s name change to “Meta” in October, “Metaverse” became the buzzword circulating the globe with many people confused about its concept and future technological impact. Tech companies began throwing their money and efforts to make the metaverse happen with the heightened intensity and speed of these investments signifying big things to come. Even if you’re not the most passionate person to jump into this idea, you should pay attention to the term and why tech giants such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are heavily investing in it.
What is the Metaverse?
The coining of the term “Metaverse” is credited to author Neal Stephenson from his science fiction novel “Snow Crash” in 1992. The novel envisioned the next internet iteration where lifelike virtual avatars connect with one another through virtual reality environments and realistic 3D buildings. Since then, technology advancements have enabled the beginning development of the metaverse with a combination of computers, wearable technology, and machinery, such as virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, motion sensors, and game consoles where users are able to “live” within a digital universe.
Our current contemporary internet experience is two-dimensional where you scroll through and browse everything on a screen. The metaverse on the other hand is 3D, allowing you to “walk” through the two interwoven worlds via connected glasses or headsets that allow you to construct or participate in any universe you desire in the digital world. Put in simpler terms, instead of browsing through an apparel store or an online shop, the website is transformed into a 3-dimensional mall or building where users can interact as in-game characters or avatars.
It is officially a game-changer. The metaverse does not necessarily refer to a specific type of technology, but rather the shifting interaction we have with it to make our virtual space smoothly integrated with our real ones. Michelle Cortese, a virtual and augmented reality designer, artist and author, explains that the metaverse is essentially "a spectral layer on top of our existence." It is represented by avatar interactions, and constructed experiences, ultimately altering how we interact online, how crypto is adopted, how brands advertise, all while offering a hyper-real alternative world for people to coexist in. The concept that was beloved by tech enthusiasts, a desire for a decentralized virtual world and a place that is aligned with the physical world, has now penetrated the mainstream landscape. Virtual experiences have spiked dramatically with millions of people indulging hours upon hours as digital avatars into virtual social spaces such as Fortnite and Roblox or digital NFTs and cryptocurrencies.
Victoria Petrock, an emerging technologies analyst stated, “It’s the next evolution of connectivity where all of those things start to come together in a seamless, doppelganger universe, so you’re living your virtual life the same way you’re living your physical life.”
The core of the metaverse, also known as Web 3.0, is the evolution and progression of our current internet including how users control their online identities and digital assets through blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
What is Web 3.0?
To understand Web 3.0, it is important to first understand the issues inherent within centralized applications and how the internet evolved through its various stages. "Web 1.0" was essentially desktop computing on a global scale, leading to the rise of the web browser, banner advertising, ecommerce checkout and broader consumer adoption of the desktop web. "Web 2.0," or the internet as it exists today, created a read/write environment that allows users to interact with the web and easily send data around the world. This phase is mainly rooted around mobile computing. However, it lacks a shared "state" tied to user identity. In the absence of this shared state, centralized service providers (e.g. Google, Facebook) have been able to accumulate user data and accrue all of the resulting value. This centralization of data has led to many unfortunate and negative consequences for users, evidenced by various hacks, breaches of trust, and inappropriate sharing. At the core of the internet's next perceived iteration ("Web 3.0"), the goal is to empower users by allowing them to interact all while controlling their data, identity and protecting their privacy through an open, uncensorable network.
Thus, Web 3.0 would effectively break the data silos of centralized service providers and put the users back in control. Google and Facebook would no longer have ownership of their user's sensitive and personal data because the data would be encrypted and decentralized. For the first time, a person on the internet can have a self-sovereign identity, no longer reliant on a centralized entity (corporation or government).
Michelle Cortese depicts the stages of the Web and the advancements we have endured to reach Web 3.0 more clearly. "When we say 'Web 3.0' we refer to the three stages of the Internet:  the desktop computer dial-up of the 1990s;  the socially-driven mobile Internet of the 2000s and 2010s; and  the "Embodied Internet" or Metaverse - this next generation of the Internet anticipates that people will interface with the web in a more embodied, virtual way."
Not only does Web 3.0 bring endless opportunities, from business to education to healthcare, but the key structure will revolve around the use of non fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs are a unique and irreplaceable piece of data stored in a blockchain digital ledger that can represent a variety of digital assets. The convergence between Web 3.0 and NFTs will give businesses and users myriad opportunities to bring real world assets to the digital 3D universe. As software developers continue to improve their skills, the metaverse will develop into a more immersive and realistic experience over time, fabricating the virtual and real worlds to be almost indistinguishable.
How Far are we in the Development Phase?
We are currently in the "investment cycle." There are many investments being made in consumer hardware, content, creator ecosystems and even bandwidth infrastructure to enable the consumer experience and the enterprise side. There is an abundance of attention on the subject, leading more people to engage and invest.
Metaverse and Video Game Industries
Currently, the most common ways to participate in a metaverse-like environment are through a video game. Roblox describes itself as a highly interactive, open-world simulation gaming company. Dan Sturman, Roblox’s chief of technology, explained that the company plans to design a metaverse that caters to a player’s needs by expanding on its functionality. For instance, in the spirit of the traditional Easter egg hunt, Roblox held a “Metaverse Champions'' event during the month of April where players could immerse themselves into 48 games each week and win mystery boxes, eggs, bundle items or the ultimate grand prize and be crowned the winning champion. The company intends to create more events such as these to continue to empower their community with tools that maintain relationships and connections just as they exist in real life.
Similarly, Fortnite, an online battle royale game developed by Epic Games, is at a key advantage to leading the Metaverse race. Their virtual world has previously hosted concerts and events for artists such as the infamous Ariana Grande and Travis Scott. Epic Games has already communicated plans for a Fortnite metaverse and their latest introduction to Fortnite Party Worlds, intended as a social space to meet new friends, inches them one step closer to the next generation internet.
Roblox and Fortnite each have differing ideas to what the end result of the metaverse will look like, but with every additional activity brought onto the platforms, they are strengthening their investment to bring new experiences to people around the world. In the coming years, more and more companies will begin to deliver what we might realistically want to have materialized in the metaverse.
Blockchain-Based Virtual Worlds
An essential feature of a working metaverse is the ability to seamlessly move your avatar from the virtual world to the real one. With the help of these blockchain-based platforms, the metaverse may be produced sooner than you think.
Decentraland is a thriving decentralized virtual reality platform where users can create avatars, purchase properties and marketplace wearables while experiencing events in the booming property market. Each individual parcel is represented by an ERC-721 NFT, found at a constant coordinate and sized exactly 16x16 meters. The transactions within this online world are made with MANA, Decentraland's native cryptocurrency, and proof of virtual property ownership is verified through NFTs. Whether a user holds MANA or is a landowner, they are able to further participate amongst the community towards the governance of Decentraland.
Portion has captured the opportunity to hold launch parties within our Decentraland museum (50,100) to build a collective community and creative outlet in the virtual world. Not only has the Portion museum provided immense benefits to our community, but it has also helped increase the visibility of artwork on Portion through a fun and interactive space for creators, collectors, and fans.
Cryptovoxels is a virtual world on the Ethereum blockchain, built by Nolan Consulting Limited, that allows players to create interactive avatars, build stores, assemble art galleries with NFTs and buy virtual land. This world is characterized by pixilation and cubic forms, similar to the video games Minecraft and Roblox. All you need to immerse yourself into this square metaverse of NFTs is an Ethereum wallet and a parcel of land.
The layout of the land is similar to Minecraft where you can construct your own architecture and purchase a few hectares catered to your desired shape, size, and location, but with crypto (ETH). Every user lives in "Origin City" where the parcels are owned by those who buy them and the streets are owned by The Corporation. In addition, with the benefits of Ethereum's blockchain technology, parcels are unique and can be easily located and protected through smart contracts.
Sandbox is an Ethereum blockchain-based decentralized metaverse where people are able to trade property, monetize voxel assets, play games to earn tokens and more. This gaming ecosystem was designed to disrupt traditional gaming markets in which the rights of creators and gamers were limited to the platform's control. Their native token, SAND, powers all transactions and interactions and will further serve as a governance token in the near future for holders to add input on the evolution of The Sandbox.
“We’re aiming to make this world fully decentralized over the next two to three years, allowing users to participate and bring value to this world; To govern it and own it,” Sandbox cofounder and COO Sebastian Borget said.
These digital spaces are home to many art galleries, such as the Decentraland Portion Museum (50,100), conference areas, games, nightclubs, and more where users can come together with friends to enjoy social events. Whether it's an estate in Decentraland or a single parcel in Cryptovoxel, owning land allows the user to monetize and build upon the 3D metaverse space, akin to the real world.
How to Buy Land in the Metaverse
Real estate in the real world is a popular escalating asset, now spreading to the digital realm. Virtual land can be purchased with the land's specific currency in the form of plots or parcels with a number of properties selling for million-dollar records. To purchase a property of your own, you need to sign up on a metaverse platform such as those described above, Decentraland, Cryptovoxel, The Sandbox, or others that you prefer. From there, you'll need a digital wallet to purchase the specific cryptocurrency allocated to the chosen platform. For example, MANA is Decentraland's currency used to buy virtual real estate but is not transferrable to Cryptovoxel, however, other platforms may accept the use of Ethereum directly or in exchange for their native currency. Once you have a well-funded digital wallet, you can then link it to your platform account to buy, rent, or sell properties in the metaverse. The purchased land will then be stored in the form of an NFT and can be viewed within your wallet.
Brands Who Have Entered the Metaverse
In November, Nike, the footwear and apparel giant, collaborated with Roblox to launch an online game zone called Nikeland for fans to create avatars and play sports in the virtual space. Accompanying this collaboration, the company has dove deeper into the metaverse by acquiring RTFKT studios, a retailer that sells virtual sneakers for people to dress their online avatars on various platforms. President and CEO of Nike, John Donahoe, stated that the deal will "[accelerate] Nike's digital transformation and [allow] us to serve athletes and creators at the intersection of sport, creativity, gaming and culture." With the Web 3.0 era on the horizon, legacy clothing brands alike will be quick to join the uprising virtual fashion trend, heating up 2022.
In May, Gucci entered the metaverse with a Gucci Garden virtual art installation experience on Roblox, an online gaming platform. Their virtual event was a reproduction of Gucci's real-life multimedia installation that took place at Gucci Palace in Florence, Italy where users had the chance of purchasing limited-edition Gucci accessories hidden in the virtual Gucci Garden. Roblox's senior director of product, Morgan Tucker, explained that the metaverse experience added "a level of immersion that would match, if not exceed, what you see in the real [Gucci Palace], and really pushes the limits of what the platform is capable of."
Charli Cohen X Pokémon
To celebrate 25 years of Pokémon, designer Charli Cohen and immersive storytelling production house, Yahoo RYOT Lab, joined forces with British department store, Selfridges to launch Electric/City, an immersive shopping experience for gaming and fashion buffs. Selfridges was one of the first shopping centers to get involved with AR, allowing fantasy to enter real life for long-time gamers, Pokémon fans, and traditional fashion consumers. The immersive video experience took shoppers around the world to discover and purchase limited-edition garments from the Charli Cohen X Pokémon range, enabling fans to dress their avatars in AR.
The Shift to the Metaverse
The largest obstacle to overcome is associated with the creation of a coherent cross-world ecosystem. A shared interface must be developed to connect the virtual spaces and the physical world. The building blocks to make this happen are still unclear, but metaverse enthusiasts agree that virtual and augmented realities and collective metaverses are becoming ever-present in our current lives right now.
Portion & Publicis Sapient
Portion has taken part in this technological milestone by partnering with Publicis Sapient, a digital business transformation company to collaborate on two initiatives and assist in extending brands through Web 3.0 and the metaverse. Publicis Sapient and Portion will architect a first-of-its-kind metaverse-based experience that will act as a conduit for legacy channels to expand their brands into this new digital frontier. The collaboration will empower companies to evolve and appeal to a new generation of consumers who have a higher expectation for the user experience, including how transactions are processed, products are tested and digital interactions are recorded.
The first initiative will focus on tackling one of the biggest and most expensive challenges Publicis Sapient’s clients are facing today: identity resolution – or building a cohesive, omnichannel view of a single consumer.
The second initiative creates an experience that’s an extension of any brand’s ability to deliver dynamic product experiences in the metaverse, connecting both Web 2.0 and Web 3.0.
You can view the two initiatives and the collaboration with Publicis Sapient in more detail on Portion’s blog.
The Playground of the Future
The metaverse is still very early in its development stage, but as Web 3.0 becomes a more functional foundation, people can expect to see astounding applications and use cases for this technology. Many tech companies, including Portion, already have their eyes set on the metaverse and are actively working on building new experiences in virtual worlds and opening up new channels for participants to interact, socialize, and collaborate. We believe that the digital economy will continue to grow and the virtual economy will flourish within and alongside it as well. Going forward, interoperability is key and in the coming years, we will see fully accessible platforms for browsing realms and building new paradigms, which will in turn pave the way for adoption and cement the importance of digital assets for future generations.