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Defined and Explained: Creating the Metaverse in the Real World

Virtual world image. Copyright 2015 by kran77 / 123RF Stock Photo

Two years ago, I restarted my effort to make sense of the Metaverse. Today I can confidently tell you that I understand what the Metaverse is in the real world, and how it actually works. You’re about to understand it, too.

  • What is the Metaverse?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • Where do we begin our efforts to build it?
  • What new applications can we make to take advantage of it?

Have we cracked the code? See for yourself if this article delivers those answers in a meaningful way.

What is the Metaverse? The real Metaverse?

No, not the one we’ve seen portrayed in science fiction. Also not the large software project which creates connected spaces for people to design their own worlds in. Not the intellectual notion which claims the sum of all media, yet offers no direction on how to get there.

So many of us say that we want the Metaverse, yet this decades long journey has been so frustrating. For the most part, we’re able to agree on something that is so clearly illustrated, yet we’re unable to say what it really is and how to implement it. Why? Read More…

Metaverse Observations and Beliefs

This article contains a listing of some metaverse observations and beliefs.

There do not appear to be any similar lists to compare this to, so your feedback on this list (and what is missing) is appreciated. I know that many of you can be tough critics, but constructive criticism is welcome. On the other hand, if this list strikes you as boring and unchallenging, that’s welcome news for me.

Observations

VR hardware and software is evolving rapidly.

  • Hardware and software solutions are not stable
  • Large investments can quickly become irrelevant
  • Poor solutions are quickly replaced by better ones
  • Continued investment is needed to stay current

There are limited rules for deciding what a metaverse is or how it should behave.

  • Many definitions exist
  • Fundamental definition is the ability to experience and perform actions with others in shared virtual spaces
  • Guided by previous attempts at metaverse implementation
  • Guided by current metaverse implementations
  • Guided by existing virtual worlds
  • Guided by science fiction

It is difficult to create a metaverse.

  • Barrier to entry is high
  • Expectations are high
  • Investment period is long
  • Significant investment required in money, people, and resources
  • VR ecosystem is rapidly evolving, adding to risk
  • Return on investment is unproven and uncertain

Competition already exists. There will more than one metaverse.

  • Stranded content
  • Fragmented userbase
  • Increased innovation
  • Increases risk for metaverse providers, developers, investors
  • Increased choice for users, developers, advertisers, investors

There will be many different possible sources of revenue for a metaverse provider to choose from.

  • Transactional advertising (“click here for our store”)
  • Brand advertising (long-term exposure to brand “Nike!” “Nike!” “Nike!”)
  • Connection or usage fees by users
  • Connection or usage fees by commercial developers
  • Premium content (models, features, events)
  • Premium services
  • Special placement of content/locations/events
  • Rent, building or land ownership, and development
  • In-world currency and in-world transactions
  • Cloud storage services
  • Cloud hosting services
  • Consulting services

Beliefs

  • For most companies, the metaverse will be used as an opportunity to extend their existing business models.
  • In the short term, major metaverse platforms which intend to use surveillance or data mining of their clients are less likely to fully disclose that information for fear of backlash and reduced adoption rates.
  • In the long term, major companies which are currently engaging surveillance and data mining of their clients are expected to continue that practice on a metaverse platform.
  • A metaverse does not need to limit itself to real-world constraints just for the sake of closely simulating reality.
  • The more complex and integrated a platform is, the slower that innovation becomes.
  • Users and developers are dependent on platform providers for technological innovation.
  • While competition can result in waste, it still remains a net positive for metaverse development. A competitive market is good.
  • The choices made in the initial design of a metaverse are critical to its character and its success.
  • A general-purpose metaverse cannot succeed inside of a self-contained bubble. It must interface with the real world to be successful. (Novelty will bring the users in, but utility will keep them.)
  • A metaverse could be embodied in different forms which have yet to be demonstrated.
  • A metaverse is most likely to be created and maintained by a small team effort, web-based company, or gaming company (rather than the telco or an organzied non-profit model as given in science fiction).

How do you Solve the Metaverse Problem?

When you meet someone who has a metaverse or virtual world project, ask them what they’re creating. If their answer is something like, “I’m creating a engine in C++ that uses a distributed computing to present an interactive world that is defined by point clouds”, they’ve only described their solution. Do you fully understand the problem that they’re solving? More important: do they?

An artist's interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

An artist’s interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

I came across a great quote about systems engineering at Wikipedia. “The systems engineering process must begin by discovering the real problem that needs to be solved; the biggest failure that can be made in systems engineering is finding an elegant solution to the wrong problem.” When we’re making a Metaverse, what is it that we’re trying to solve?

When I read the quote above, it resonated with me. Why don’t we make a fresh attempt to start with needs and then work towards a technical solution? Who’s problems are we trying to solve, what are they, and how important at they?

We are going to try to understand the needs behind something that is very thorny: a metaverse project.


It is worth pointing out that even though we’ll start our focus with needs and we’ll end up at solutions, we’re still following the same path that has been made many times before us. We’re going into this by saying that our solution is a metaverse. The only uncertainty is what form that metaverse will take.

The mistake? We’re defining the problem in terms of a solution. At least this time we recognizing that fact up-front. Perhaps this illustrates yet another reason why the very attempt to intentionally create a metaverse can result in its failure.

Now, back to determining needs…


The Users

To understand the needs that drive a metaverse, we could start by asking people what they want or need in their everyday life. (Finding an expert summary would make more sense.) It might be hard to turn their answers into something useful, but I think there is a lot of insight into basic human needs and desires that shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Read More…

A Call for Shepherds in the Virtual Reality Community


This is the third and final article (in a series) on the issues that face the virtual reality community as it finally enters a period of rapid and sustained growth. If you need additional context, please begin with the first article in the series, “Before the Eternal September of Virtual Reality“.


Developers

You are a developer, right?

That’s the impression that many of you gave Oculus when you agreed that you were purchasing a product that was intended for developers. If that is actually not the case, we’d like for you to stick around.

Given the amount of time that the development kits have been available, and the introduction of other “innovator” products (like Cardboard and Gear VR), I think that it is a safe bet that software developers are already a small minority in the VR community.

This time around, nobody is holding your order hostage until you click the checkbox with the correct answer. Do you mind giving this unscientific poll a quick response?

 

Only a year ago, we were using the original Oculus Rift Developer’s Kit (DK1). The community could be an unfriendly place for non-developers. Do you know how we tended to respond to those who were having problems finding good games and getting them to work? Repeat the mantra from the caption below.

“The Oculus Rift is Intended for Developers Only”

The image above is clearly a fake, as is the quote, but the sentiment was (and to some degree, still is) true. Even today, the Oculus Rift is intended for developers, and it works well for Oculus not to be sandbagged with end-user support at this time. Read More…

The Wolves of Virtual Reality’s Eternal September


This is the second article (in a series) on issues that face the virtual reality community as it enters a period of rapid and sustained growth. If you need additional context, please begin with the first article in the series, “Before the Eternal September of Virtual Reality“.


Image Source: Wolf Quest (3D wildlife simulation)

Image Source: Wolf Quest (3D wildlife simulation)

The Wolves

Along with a massive influx of new users, how much thought have we given to malicious actors entering the fold?

Griefers aren’t anything new to virtual worlds. In last year’s article, Griefing and the Metaverse, we explored some of the problems that persistent virtual worlds have faced. In recent history, our new virtual reality applications have had precious little exposure to malicious actors. We can expect our isolation to end as more people begin to own VR hardware.

Developers, are you validating inputs on the client side and the server side? Are you hardening your multiuser code against those who would intercept and change their own network packets in-flight, or modify variables inside of application memory? Are you even creating an audit trail of anomalous events? Probably not. Very quickly, we’re going to attract the sort of crowd which will exploit such opportunities. Read More…

Before the Eternal September of Virtual Reality

Image: Autumn Season Source: Hot Wallpapers HD

Image: Autumn Season, Source: Hot Wallpapers HD

I watched a worldwide community die. Not just one. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. As the National Science Foundation Network transitioned into the public Internet, everything changed.

Up until the mid-1990s, Usenet Newsgroups were the place to go for lively conversations and well reasoned debate on any number of topics. Social issues, technology, cooking, auto repair, you name it. The topic was already there, and people were ready to talk about it.

What we may not have realized at the time was that there was a secret sauce which made it all come together. It wasn’t the servers or the NNTP protocol which transported the messages across the globe. First and foremost, it was the people: the informed participants who were passionate and well-informed about whatever topic they had come to discuss. Read More…

The Insanity of the Monolithic Metaverse

Lessons from the Past and Building the Future

Image Source: Future Virtual Reality (2011)

Image Source: Future Virtual Reality (2011)

How can we help the next attempt at the Metaverse to be more successful? This article will present the idea that our attempts to directly build the large general-purpose virtual environments (“to build the Metaverse”) are, in itself, what have prevented a successful Metaverse from happening.

The Andromeda Blog warns us that virtual reality is doomed to repeat the failures of the past unless we recognize what those failures are, and start thinking in a new direction. They remind us that a popular definition of insanity is “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In the context of virtual reality, they’re right. We need to do something different than what has already been tried and failed.

What do people think is different this time around? “We have new technology!” “This time, we’re going to make virtual reality a platform!” “People are starting to take this seriously!” Those things are all important contributors, but are they at the heart of the problem? Only when we are able to recognize what we’re doing wrong are we able to figure out what needs to be different.

Image and quote of Albert Einstein via Andromeda Blog

Image Source: Compilation artist unknown, image via the Andromeda Blog

In previous articles, we’ve identified two easily overlooked but very substantial user needs which were neglected in previous implementations. First, there was a failure to maintain novelty (as the initial novelty decayed, large virtual worlds became boring). Second, there was a lack of utility (there was little real-world value which people obtained in virtual reality). A successful Metaverse has to continue to entertain its users. If and when that fails, it has to provide real-world value if it hopes to retain them.

What if there is another problem, more fundamental, that is baked right into the design? Read More…

A Review of Player Resource Control Strategies

Image source: Team Fortress 2 - Mann vs Machine

Image source: Team Fortress 2 – Mann vs Machine

Despite a previous article in which I explored how to represent a very large number of avatars in a single shared environment, I don’t believe that a single shared world isn’t going to be a mainstream approach. There are some good reasons why a large singular world should exist as one of several different solutions. But that’s a topic for another time.

When your virtual world is faced with a large number of simultaneous users, you’re going to need to find a way to keep the load under control. This article is a (non-exhaustive) review of known techniques which may be used individually or in combination.

We’ll be looking at denial, sharding, time dilation, feature reduction, and location distribution.

Denial: Hard Limit of the Number of Simultaneous Players

“Server is full.” The classic method of handling resource limitations. Read More…

Representing unknown avatars in high traffic public spaces

Maciej Kuciara: Cyberpunk 2077 trailer concept art

Maciej Kuciara: Cyberpunk 2077 trailer concept art

“The Street.” That’s what Snow Crash calls it. The Street is a shared virtual environment that grew to be used by over a hundred million users. The author eases us into how avatars might interact in the Metaverse by describing a simple problem: how to reach the front door of a famous establishment.

If these avatars were real people in a real street, Hiro wouldn’t be able to reach the entrance. It’s way too crowded. But the computer system that operates the Street has better things to do than to monitor every single one of the millions of people there, trying to prevent them from running into each other. It doesn’t bother trying to solve this incredibly difficult problem. On the Street, avatars just walk right through each other.

You might remember that in a previous article, Griefing and the Metaverse, we touched on some of the issues involved when avatars collide. In an even earlier article, The sci-fi Metaverse is bad, we realized that the science fiction Metaverse is actually an unrealistic blueprint for what an actual Metaverse should be like.

When Snow Crash describes a high traffic public place, I think that they got it more right than wrong. When practical considerations need to come first, the Metaverse does not need to be a faithful simulation of reality. We could stop here and implement a public space with Snow Crash’s description of the Street, but there are additional practical considerations to deal with. Read More…