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A version of the metaverse will likely come out in the next five years. At first it will only be able to cater to sight and sound (and maybe a little haptic feedback for touch). Full immersion won’t be possible for another 10 or 20 years.
But how will the metaverse actually work? And what opportunities will it create? Let’s look at what could happen from a more practical standpoint. Here are four predictions:
Most imagine a metaverse will be a fully immersive 3D world, which will be as ubiquitous as the internet is today. Let’s put that in perspective. Right now, according to MMO-population, Final Fantasy XIV has around 3.3 million active players. A huge amount, but clearly manageable.
Europe alone has nearly 750 million people, with nearly 90% on broadband internet. Even with a conservative estimate of only 10% of people using the metaverse regularly, that’s 75 million people on the metaverse. That’s still 25 times more people on the metaverse than playing the largest MMO today. And that’s a really, really low estimate — and just for Europe.
A potential, high-end estimate could be closer to the number of active Facebook users. That’s 2.89 billion. If that’s the case, we’d need 800 times more servers than the largest MMO today.
We can’t scale with just data centers
Even the largest companies in the world are going to struggle to build enough data centers to handle the potential number of users the metaverse could have. It’s possible, but it’s a huge investment.
You need a lot of options to host the metaverse properly. You need a decentralized system because of the scale of it. You need compute power for every part.
So companies won’t realistically be able to build their own infrastructure to handle this. The metaverse is going to need a concerted effort from multiple companies, sharing their resources. It has to be a collaboration.
We’ll likely use idle machines
Orchestration is going to be key to running the metaverse smoothly. We’re going to need hundreds, if not thousands, of servers working in tandem. And we’re going to need to bring together the capacity from multiple different providers and get them to work together.
But there are other ways to get enough capacity. More and more capable CPUs are being put in more and more devices. That includes trains, cars, and even excavators. What’s interesting is electric cars. When you don’t use them, they just sit there with a very big cable into the box. That cable could easily transfer data, and you could host part of the metaverse from your car. At the same time, part of it could be hosted on the train that’s sitting there doing nothing.
And there are other machines, powerful computers, which could power the metaverse. Universities with hundreds of computers lying idle at night. Game consoles. People’s laptops. They could all help host the metaverse. That doesn’t mean that data centers will be completely redundant; they’ll still be needed.
If the metaverse is going to be as big as we dream, it’s going to need every ounce of computing power we can get. And an orchestrator to manage it all.
We can split up the hosting
There’s another problem: latency. It’s not enough to use all these servers, it also needs a fast connection to make sure the user feels immersed in the metaverse. Any lag and it’ll feel even more jarring than a typical game.
Depending on what you’re doing, if you’re interacting with somebody you would love to have a latency of 30 milliseconds or less. But for elements of the metaverse that you’re not interacting with, you can maybe go to 100 milliseconds or more, depending on how far away it is. So you need infinite scale, but not everybody and everything needs to have the same latency.
It’d be impractical to always host everything on a server close to the users, though. So how can we mitigate that problem? Well, we can split up the parts. Objects close to the user, things they’re likely to interact with, can be hosted with low latency. Distant objects, unlikely to change, can be hosted with a higher latency. The user will never realize.
If we’re going to solve this problem, it’s going to take a lot of partnerships. And the industry needs to come together and create the standards to make this possible.
2. People could pay with computing power
It will be incredibly difficult to host the metaverse without some sort of decentralized model. And using idle machines is just one approach.
But that approach might also help keep the cost lower for the end users, too. There are three ways users could pay for access to the metaverse:
- Advertising. Pay with attention.
- Subscription. Pay with money.
- Computing power. Pay with your computer.
If you can host a part of the metaverse in your browser, you could pay by donating your CPU power. But, of course, there is complexity in finding those possible locations.
Or an individual could allow the metaverse to run on their computer while it is idle. This would help deal with the capacity issues but also wouldn’t require that user to see adverts. And if an individual wants to build a bunch of servers and join it into the grid, they could even earn a little for themselves.
A metaverse needs a currency
Things get really interesting if you have your own economy in the metaverse — perhaps your own currency or a currency that you can use outside that reality. In fact, in Second Life, there was a bank from Holland that was going to have an office in that world. Back then, there was a lot of hype around this, and that’s already pretty close to what we’ll be doing with a metaverse. But at the time it was technically not really possible and people weren’t really ready for it.
Now, we have cryptocurrencies. Games have their own economies and currencies. It’s easy to imagine that you could earn tokens for selling your compute power that you can then use to buy skins or subscribe to the metaverse itself. And as it gains value, that value is easy to transfer to the real world.
If the metaverse is to grow, it needs a huge variety of content. Fresh, interesting content that keeps us there and wanting to go back. How does that happen? It happens by making it easy to create content.
Content, not technology, will be the limiting factor. If you have a very boring landscape with boring buildings, nobody’s going to want to be there. So to get that content, you need people who are going to build it. And to build it, you need proper tools. We’re not there yet. We need tools that are accessible that can be used by anybody.
That might be giving people the tools to create their own little miniverse. Or it might be tools to create content within a larger metaverse — like your own planet.
We’ve seen this with the internet. At first it was difficult to create a website — you needed to actually know how to program it yourself. Now you just use a content management system (CMS), like WordPress. It’s all drag-and-drop. It’s simple and easy.
The average Joe who just wants to run a shop in the metaverse wouldn’t resort to a programmer or someone with that kind of skill but would rather rely on something that’s easy to use. And eventually there will be standards for the metaverse, just like we have in finance. All the ‘average Joe’ people will hop into the standard that’s already been established.
So in the future, we’ll see a rise of similar tools that make it easy for everybody to create content, like a metaverse management system (MMS).
4. We’ll see new jobs appearing
As it becomes easier to create content in the metaverse, whether that’s within an established metaverse or a miniverse for a smaller company, we’ll start to see new jobs and roles.
If you’re going to build a store you need an architect, and you need someone who lays down the bricks and the plumbing. So you’ll probably have a metaverse architect. But you can’t expect every architect to be a senior programmer. That all depends on the tooling. You’ll have different tools for building a shop or building electronics. So if you’re going to build a store right now, you’ll need a skilled programmer. In the future that will change.
There are the obvious ones: metaverse engineers and designers. But it opens up a range of possibilities.
We’ll see metaverse shops
Brands already build their own apps and websites. On Instagram, 67% of the top 100 brands are already using the new shop feature, allowing users to buy products without leaving Instagram. In the metaverse, we’ll definitely see similar approaches: Companies that solely sell products through the metaverse. Virtual and physical goods. Literal markets and auctions. Brands won’t be thinking just about brick-and-mortar shops; they’ll be thinking about their bit-and-byte shops, too.
We’ll see virtual architects and designers
There are other virtual products that people will start to create and even sell. Maybe it’s a building or a planet, or maybe it’s a skin for your avatar or even an outfit.
This community-created content will be part of how the metaverse will stay vibrant and relevant. But it’ll also give creative people an opportunity to contribute and make a living.
We’ll see new marketing roles
Today, we have content marketing. Tomorrow we’ll have metaverse marketing. It won’t be enough to do advertising in the same way. People will want interesting locations and things to do in those private branded metaverses. Why should people come visit your brand’s planet? What’s unique or interesting about it?
It’s very likely that marketers will need to learn about game design if they’re going to create those worlds.
We’ll see completely new roles
There will definitely be roles nobody could predict. Nobody thought that streaming would become a career when the internet first came along.
New kinds of companies are going to exist. The possibilities in the metaverse are much broader. You could design clothes, but you could also design wings or other body parts. There are more possibilities than there are in this world, so we’re going to see companies that couldn’t even exist in this world. We’ll see virtual companies that only work in the metaverse.
But it’s entirely possible to have virtual tour guides who show you the sights of Paris from the comfort of your living room. Or new-style historians, who build a metaverse where you can relive ancient battles and see what really happened.
Elmer Bulthuis is CTO of Gameye.
Ilyas Baas is a software engineer at Gameye.