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When Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of Facebook to its new moniker Meta on Oct 28th, 2021, millions globally were captivated by his Pixar-style demonstration of how they envisioned the metaverse.
The presentation starts with the viewer virtually walking through an avant-garde glass apartment with full-length windows lined with various outfits, boxing gloves, a Roman legionary’s armor and a fencing suit. On the far end of the room stands a gargantuan astronomical telescope in the middle of a glass observatory.
The voice of Zuckerberg invites us to imagine a virtual re-creation of our physical home fitted with the most beautiful objects and scenery impossible in the physical realm. He can be seen swiping through an assortment of avatar outfits before being teleported to a meeting room in space with other colleagues, including the head of Meta’s hardware division, Andrew “Boz” Bosworth.
They are playing a casual game of poker in zero gravity while Zuckerberg picks up a holographic Whatsapp call from Naomi, cajoling him to check out an augmented reality 3D street art before sending that 3D art to their space room to interact with.
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This demonstration of a virtual utopia captured the imagination of many, providing a glimpse into the hyper-realistic interactions of a metaverse.
There is a naive perception that the metaverse is just a 3D virtual world that you enter through VR goggles. But if that is the case, then wouldn’t any game played on a VR headset be considered a metaverse?
Therefore, the metaverse is not simply a 3D virtual world, but rather a “metaspace” that interweaves both physical and virtual environments; what is done in the physical world can affect the associated virtual space and vice versa. Hence, the metaverse does not exclusively pertain to virtual reality but also augmented reality.
The most notable example of an early-stage metaverse would be Pokémon GO in 2016. Players had to be present at physical locations to catch Pokémon, battle at gyms or battle each other.
I have vividly etched memories of hordes of players dashing toward a nearby park or mall after sighting a rare Pokémon; that was the epitome of how a virtual space can affect the physical world. If Pokémon GO were to be a DeFi P2E game built on blockchain technology, it would even be possible for players to trade their caught Pokémon for in-game tokens using Web3 crypto wallets.
If the metaverse can have such a high level of engagement for games, one can fathom the potential for applications for e-commerce, social media, real estate, live streaming and more.
When the internet started, websites served solely as a provider of information. Communication was unidirectional from websites to readers.
Then in the early 2000s, Web2 gave rise to social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. The burgeoning of these platforms saw unprecedented engagement between users, businesses and content creators. For the first time, users could create social profiles, comment and react to articles and videos and receive responses from the creators.
Previously, the only means of live broadcast was through television channels, which only large media companies like news networks, television production companies, talk shows and sports associations had access to.
However, now with the development of live streaming technology by companies like YouTube, Twitch and Zoom, anybody with a smartphone or tablet can have a live broadcast with interactive audiences.
Limitations of conventional livestreams
Live streaming technology and smart devices have gifted the masses with an affordable means to broadcast live events. Therefore, viewers today can enjoy diverse live content from cooking, gaming, sports, fitness, yoga, weddings, music and more. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, a mind-blowing 8.8 billion hours of live streams for video games were viewed globally.
Despite their promulgation, live streams still cannot provide the same vibrant atmosphere and level of engagement compared to a live event. Even if a live stream has hundreds of video participants, a monitor screen can only fit, at best, 50 participants’ videos. A highly active live stream chat pales compared to being surrounded by thousands of screaming fans. Having a speaker answering you face-to-face at a live event feels more authentic than having a live streamer calling out your YouTube handle while addressing your comment.
Irrespective of how many interactive widgets a streaming platform provides — polls, reactions, comments, dynamic backgrounds and filters — live streams cannot build relationships the way being physically present can.
With VR technology, live streams will transcend from two-dimensional monitors to a 3D metaverse; participants will go from being passive bystanders on a screen to being fully immersed in a virtual environment with lifelike spatial perception.
If you think that metaverse live streaming is something introduced recently, you would be astonished to discover that there have been metaverse live stream events since 2015. One of the most prominent VR live streams was the Oculus Super Bowl party hosted by AltspaceVR, the sensational final NFL playoff game in which the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 after rallying from a 10-point deficit.
It might not have been the glitziest jamboree: A turnout of 30 participants with awkwardly curved robotic avatars, sparsely spaced out in a colossal amphitheater with a massive floating curved screen in front. Still, they could interact and be present in a virtual space. This ultimately provided us a peek into the exhilarating prospects of metaverse live streams.
One of the main enticements of being part of a metaverse is to take on any identity and perform actions that are impossible in reality; your avatar reflects the innermost desires of the perfect you. When attending a live event, your choice of outfit is the clothes available in your wardrobe. You can apply heavy makeup, but that won’t alter the shape of your facial features unless you decide to go under the knife.
Whereas in the metaverse, whether you stream a graduation ceremony, a music concert, a Netflix session with friends or a physics class (that would be a paradox since the metaverse defies the laws of physics), you can take on any feature, outfit or appearance available in the platform’s database.
Infinite possibilities for live streaming
Streaming in the metaverse is not inextricably bound to watching virtual events through a VR headset. Metaverses like Decentraland and AltspaceVR do not require users to have a headset. However, using decent headphones would give a realistic sense of space, and a good-quality microphone will allow others to hear you speak more clearly.
It might sound preposterous to watch a live stream in a metaverse instead of watching it directly on your monitor screen, but being in a metaverse gives the user a sense of being present with others and being able to interact with others while watching the live stream.
Artists, content creators, media companies and businesses have been pushing the limits and advancing the frontiers of this nascent technology. Epic Games’ Fornite is well-known for its ambitiously extravagant in-game live events; an example would be the Travis Scott “Astronomical” Fornite Concert in April 2020 attended by 27.7 million unique players. While the 10-minute event was not a live virtual performance but pre-recorded, players had to be virtually present during the five scheduled showtimes to catch it live.
Astronomical would be a fitting adjective to describe how breathtakingly sensational it was — right from the approach of the amusement-park-ladened purple planet to Travis Scott’s spectacular entrance from a comet impact before emerging as a giant. His towering figure reaches the heights of the surrounding Northern Lights and utilizes the entire island as the stage while dancing to Sicko Mode. The subsequent psychedelic transitions to a hellish theme park, underwater world and outer space were all a sight to behold.
While the Travis Scott Fornite Concert was a pre-recorded show that had to be attended live in a metaverse, John Legend’s “Bigger Love” Virtual Concert, in collaboration with Wave, was a live virtual concert where Legend in an Xsens motion capture suit performed in real-time to virtual viewers from the Wave Studio.
The virtual space was a jazz club with an ever-evolving stage, with flowers, comets and fireworks erupting at intervals. The engagement was on a different plateau compared to other metaverse live streams. The MVN Animate motion capture system matched John Legend’s bodily movements, including his passionate facial expressions. He could also chat with the virtual audience between songs and give shout-outs to the bigger donors; viewers making donations would see their names and donations sprouting out as virtual flowers.
With metaverse live streaming still in an incipient stage, many companies, stakeholders and investors are looking to capitalize on this to gain a first-mover advantage. Companies like Condense and Wave already have studios with end-to-end motion capture systems to capture 3D videos and live stream directly to a metaverse.
When VR headsets and decentralized applications reach the same degree of global mass adoption as smart devices and web apps, we will experience metaverse live streaming at its culminated peak.
I imagine every household’s television set to be replaced by several VR headsets. And who knows? You might be chilling in the same virtual room as your friends living in another country, watching Netflix or catching a live virtual concert.
Far-fetched? Definitely. Possible? Highly.
Daniel Thomas is a full-time blogger and founder of Basigue.com.