Jaime González Gasque
The ‘metaverse’ may change the way you earn money, shop or even chill with friends in the future
The world of crypto is changing the way people create value in all parts of the world. Gamers in Southeast Asia are using ‘play to earn’ games built on blockchain to earn their livelihood. Simply put, the metaverse is a digital world where nearly anything is possible.
Even Facebook wants a part of the action. The social media giant is pumping $50 million into its metaverse project called ‘XR Programs and Research Fund’. “What is missing is blockchain. The note does not mention it, and none of the partners and institutions it names appear to have significant relevance to blockchain or data rights,” Yat Siu, co-founder and chairman of Animoca Brands, told Business Insider in a statement.
However, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network is already working on the pieces needed to solve the puzzle — its own stablecoin Diem, formerly known as Libra, the Novi digital wallet, and an affinity for non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
For the people who distrust Facebook, the good news is that it's not the only player looking to launch its own metaverse — even though it is, by far, the biggest. Other projects, like Decentraland, Somnium Space and The Sandbox, have had their foot in the door for a while now.
Experts believe that the metaverse will not impact our jobs and our day-to-day lives but have a radical impact on society as a whole. “The metaverse will be like a digital country or even an entirely new civilization,” Yat Siu, co-founder and chairman of Animoca Brands, told Business Insider in a statement. According to Eric Elliot, the cofounder of DevAnywhere, the metaverse could balloon to become a global entity worth 10 times the current value of the world economy.
Here’s a quick look at the ways in which the metaverse could change your life in the future:
One of the highlights of the COVID-19 pandemic was the viral video of a news reporter getting caught on camera with no pants. But, in a virtual world where you can create a ‘fully clothed’ avatar, such accidents are less likely to happen. Facebook’s VR-based Horizon Workrooms, a virtual meeting space for remote workers, is one example of virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) moving beyond physical spaces. It aims to create an immersive digital environment where people’s avatars can interact with each other, adds functionality that real people want to use, and could end up reducing rent payments to zero for companies. We already saw the cause-and-effect during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies, who already had their digital infrastructure in place, registered better margins and profits with employees working from home (WFH). ‘Home schooling’ could take on a whole new meaning.
Another big change during the pandemic was education. With schools all over the world closing their doors during the various lockdowns, and some even afterward to reduce the risk of the infection spreading, most kids were forced to study from home. This forced schools, and the education industry as a whole, to come up with new ways to communicate, collaborate and conduct assessments. The number of tools required to stay productive shot up.
Just as workplaces in the metaverse have the potential to be more immersive, classrooms too can be transformed. It could lead to more social interactions and do away with grids of glum faces seen during video calls. The process of learning could even be gamified. Just as decentralised finance (DeFi) is set to disrupt the current international monetary balance, Kwang Hyung Lee with the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) believes that universities equipped with the best digital infrastructure and internet savvy human resources will emerge as the new leaders.
Games like Roblox and Minecraft already have users spending hundreds of hours designing elements and building a world for themselves to play. Casual gaming on mobile phones has become more mainstream, with games like Ludo bridging the generation gap. Users are spending hours tapping away on their phones playing Candy Crush, PUBG, and Clan Wars. And while they earn some kind of monetary in-game tokens, they usually can’t be exchanged for fiat currency or be spent outside the game. The concept of ‘Play to Earn’ aims to change that. Gamers in Southeast Asia are already reaping the benefits on platforms like AxieInfinity by using their earnings to supplement their income. Even games like MIR4, which mostly attracted bad reviews, are seeing users flock to their platform for the chance to earn cryptocurrency.
More advanced projects like The Sandbox and Decentraland, built on the blockchain, take that a step further by allowing users to create their own non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — just like in Roblox and Minecraft — and sell them to other users. Since these transactions are done using Ethereum, the profits can be exchanged for fiat currency to use in the real world or exchanged for another cryptocurrency.
Shopping online is already pretty convenient, with brands like Amazon and Flipkart offering fast delivery and a wide array of brands to choose from. However, there are still issues to be resolved like the accurate sizing, glitches in the refund process, and being able to preview what a particular item may look like in real life — especially when it comes to shopping for clothes. Lenskart, an Indian e-commerce company that sells eyewear, has already taken steps towards virtual trials by using a video camera to show how different spectacle frames would look on your face. To boot, you won’t just be shopping for yourself. New concepts of virtual fashion and avatar ‘skins’ will emerge giving way for fashion houses and brands that may only exist online. As people’s workdays change, virtual trials may become even more important to get just the right tie, for your avatar in the metaverse.
Travel and tourism
With travel being restricted last year, the ancient Greece and Egypt VR tours became popular. With the metaverse though, developers plan to immerse visitors and re-enact events such as the American Civil War. So, not only will you be able to cross borders without having to leave your house, you’ll also be able to go backward in time. There are plans for tourist metaverse apps that use mixed-reality, to guide drivers, give more information about monuments they are looking at, and bring people together for more enjoyable experiences. For example, a visitor to a museum could automatically receive further context or information, regarding the exhibits they see. Moreover, with offices using the metaverse for collaboration as mentioned above, there is less need to travel large distances, which saves budgets and fuel. For students wanting to study at international universities, the costs will drastically come down with the requirement of room-and-board as well as travel being cut out of the picture.
Partying online and attending concerts
Houseparty, Netflix Party, Eventbrite and Instagram slew of new features to allow more video interaction between users during the COVID-19 pandemic are only some of the few that apps tried to change the way people can party online even if they’re stuck at home. In a lot of ways, it’s easier than partying in real life. However, it does lack the ‘look and feel’ of an actual real-life party. The metaverse is looking to bridge that gap. Projects like The Sandbox, built on the Ethereum blockchain, already allow users to buy land, build properties, and host whatever events they want. Rapper Snoop Dogg has even recreated his mansion inside The Sandbox metaverse and has offered VIP tickets to users to attend his concert. Land within metaverses is already selling for millions of dollars.
Owning digital property online
In real life, art pieces and plots of land have been attractive to investors. Would you be surprised then, to hear of vast estates consisting of online virtual plots of land? As a wider section of the population dabbles in the metaverse, at least a few people have been quick to understand the value of ‘land’ in an online world. Land functions as a form of non-fungible token (NFT), and investors have been quick to buy them up across Decentraland, Sandbox and Cryptovoxels.
Seeking adventure in an escape from reality
Unless one is James Bond, normal real life is just not exciting enough. How else do you explain the endless quest for adrenaline-inducing theme parks, skydiving, adventurous food, and billionaires in space?
As VR improves in the metaverse, even those of us who aren’t billionaires can experience thrilling activities together. For example, ten friends located far from each other could go kayaking, racing, mountain climbing, skydiving, ride roller coasters, or even travel to outer space.
Some gamers have already tasted how good it can be – products like Second Life, EVE Online, Minecraft have primed users into accepting that a completely virtual world can mimic experiences, have a functional society and offer economies of scale.
Changing how we interact with computers
Just as touchscreens were around for decades but came into the mass-market only with the iPhone, this could change a lot in daily life. If any form of virtual reality hardware becomes more common following the metaverse, we will find it more normal to move fingers in the air and expect computers to respond to those actions.
All of it ties in with decentralised finance
The regular banking sector is nowhere to be seen in the metaverse. Instead, decentralised finance (DeFi) solutions that use cryptocurrency are taking off within the metaverse. It’s how NFTs and digital property is bought, tickets are sold, one token is exchanged for another and other transactions take place.
If conventional banks continue to remain absent, the momentum of people living in the metaverse increases, DeFi will surge just based on the number of transactions increasing multifold. Right now, each metaverse platform so far has tried to use a different cryptocurrency. Facebook's metaverse may coalesce around its Diem stablecoin.
The metaverse will change the technology you buy
The metaverse is diverse and so are its applications. Just as buying a keyboard and mouse is normal when bringing home a personal computer, the integration of the metaverse into our lives could change the technology we need to survive the digital world. At the lower end, applications may get their metaverse abilities by using a simple camera, such as the one built into any laptop or phone. This would enable them to operate in mixed-reality mode, meaning your screen displays the real world as seen by the camera but with a translucent layer on top of it, provided by the app — kind of like the user interface of Pokemon GO.
The more ambitious and comprehensive metaverse applications use a VR headset instead, from a company like Oculus. In turn, smoothly operating a VR headset demands a top-end mobile phone, or a powerful laptop or desktop PC with a good graphics card and processor. A VR headset is inconvenient to use when moving around — a boon for companies looking to keep employees from wandering off during a work day from home — but can offer the most immersive experience.
Madana Prathap and Prabhjote Gill Oct 1, 2021