In his novel Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson first talked about the idea of the Metaverse. Fast Company published an interesting article and interview with Mr. Stephenson last week. In it, he talked about how he saw the Metaverse and how his new company, Lamina1, which he started with Peter Vessenes, is “is creating blockchain optimized for the Open Metaverse-providing communities with infrastructure, not gatekeepers, to build a more immersive Internet.”
Mr. Stephenson says that the video game industry has already given a good idea of what planets in the Metaverse would look like. “2D interfaces remain the most accessible and natural way to access the Metaverse. Stephenson recognizes this now. What happened is that Doom came along and gave birth to the video game industry as we know it,” he says. “so today, we have many very beautifully realized 3D worlds that we can run around in when we’re playing games, but for the most part, we don’t do that wearing goggles. We’re just looking at screens.”
Mr. Stephenson’s first main conclusion is that both 2D and simulated 3D already exist in the game world and should be seen as equally good for use on any screen, not just VR/MR/AR headsets. “The Metaverse already exists in its earliest form,” he says. He says it has been around for decades. From World of Warcraft to Red Dead Redemption to Fortnite, these Metaverses are getting more and more complicated, making the games feel more real and creating whole economies.”
This is an important part because it could help get the idea of the Metaverse out to more people faster.
The second most important thing I learned is that the future of the Metaverse must be built on open standards and the ability to use it on different platforms and devices. The problem with the way gaming works now is that we can’t keep our digital identities separate across all platforms. In an open Metaverse, each digital persona should have their own identity and be able to move between any virtual environment they want. This is only possible if the Metaverse worlds, whether they are 2D with simulated 3D on existing screens or through a headset, let a person’s digital ID move easily from one virtual world to another.
Mr. Stephenson’s view on the Metaverse is that businesses, shops, and even people would make virtual worlds about their businesses, hobbies, personal skills, etc.
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Stephenson and his coworker seem to think that small companies, not big ones, will be the ones who make “The metaverse.”
Everyone is getting something out of this. Vessenes adds that we’ll have these self-contained experiences and more content that stands on its own. They say that they are working on a platform that will give users the basic tools they need to build connected metaverses. Vessenes says that making these complex universes from scratch requires a deep understanding of how games are made. Payment systems, digital goods, avatars, etc.”
This idea that making games with complicated universes takes a lot of skill is interesting. In fact, many of the truly interactive and virtual apps of today are made with game engines like Unity, UnReal, Roblox, and many more. The first generation of Metaverse apps is also being made with game engines. But it looks like Lamina1 will focus on providing a foundational architecture that will allow for a more open approach in the future. This will make it easier for future Metaverse worlds to work together.
On the other hand, Apple has spent years building its future MR/AR universe with AR Kit. AR Kit has been used to make games, but Apple has much bigger plans for MR/AR than just games. Fairly, their plan is not based on virtual 3D, which is where game engines do well. Instead, they will use the AR Kit developer tool to make their own Metaverse Universe.
Is it reasonable to expect Apple to create an Open MR/AR world where any Metaverse-made avatar can travel and play in Apple’s very limited MR/AR environment?
Is it possible to make a Metaverse based on a personal hobby or interest and share it in Meta’s virtual reality world?
Can I make an animated version of myself and bring it to DisneyWorld while it’s wearing clothes from the Universal Metaverse?
Even though I think the future of the Metaverse will be open in the end, I think it will start out as a world that is mostly limited by what people want and, to some extent, locked ecosystems.
Still, I think that Mr. Stephenson’s Open Metaverse should be the model for the virtual worlds of the future. I don’t think this goal will be reached for at least 5–10 years.
It’s important that Mr. Stephenson and Mr. Vessenes have a vision for the Metaverse and that they want companies to build Metaverse worlds that work on different devices and operating systems. It will be interesting to see how they work with Lamina1 to really make this way of getting to the Metaverse available.
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