Article contributed by Guy Purdy
Follow him on Medium here
Before we can answer this, we need to know how to create it
Is Facebook creating the Metaverse?
The short answer is no, Facebook, now called Meta, is not creating the Metaverse. The longer answer, however, is that what companies such as Facebook and Epic Games are creating is comparable to websites and social media apps in today’s predominantly 2D Internet. And while they will likely play a significant part in the future Metaverse, the platforms, products, and services they produce will be a fraction of the future’s interconnected 2D and 3D worlds.
So to give you an idea of who really will create the Metaverse, we need to deep dive into all the major components of this futuristic concept and which people and companies make those elements.
What many think of as the Metaverse is immersive Virtual Reality using headsets. But in actuality, it’ll include Augmented Reality on AR glasses and pass through, as well 3D worlds accessible from your phone and computer screen. The Metaverse will also absorb and connect with all the current Internet: websites, social media, messaging, and blockchain.
The critical difference between the Internet now and the Metaverse is that there will be interconnected 3D elements included.
Consequently, 3D social platforms like Second Life and Fornite and Augmented Reality platforms such as Pokemon Go could all be considered part of the Metaverse provided they have connectivity and interoperability with other platforms.
Key Metaverse Platforms:
- Earth 2
- Victoria VR
- Rec Room
- The Sandbox
- Dual Universe
- EVE Online
- Second Life
- Pokemon Go
How will virtual worlds and metagalaxies be created?
Big headlines about Facebook, Epic Games, and Decentraland making Metaverse platforms ignore that behind the virtual spaces they build are a complicated mix of software, hardware, companies, and people.
It takes a lot of elements to build the virtual worlds which will one day make up the Metaverse, so to understand who is creating the virtual universe, it’s essential to understand the components behind them and how they fit together.
Source: Canva Pro
From bog-standard trees to that out-of-this-world avatar, 3D Artists are essential to making virtual worlds visually appealing. And while photogrammetry is becoming a valuable tool for recreating elements that exist in real life, the Metaverse needs visuals that don’t exist and couldn’t exist in reality.
The 3D art scene is already exploding, and the demand for 3D artists will only increase as we move toward the Metaverse.
Key 3D Artists:
- Mike Winkelmann AKA Beeple
- Matías Vivanco Brellenthin
- Brandon Bolmer
- Lucy Corrina
Until recently, recreating 3D virtual objects and scenes using photography and technology such as lidar was the preserve of those with big budgets. But Apple and Epic Games, along with an ever-increasing number of Photogrammetry Apps, are slowly making this more mainstream.
First, Epic’s acquisition of Quixel brought a whole library of photogrammetry mega scans to developers using their ecosystem. Since then, they’ve also acquired Capturing Reality, a market-leading photogrammetry software company that has brought the cost of creating 3D scans down for the end-user.
Meanwhile, the addition of lidar to Apple’s iPhone and the release of its Object Capture API has led to a slew of Photogrammetry App launches. Now you can recreate objects within minutes using your phone by taking as few as thirty photos.
Currently, photogrammetry results aren’t perfect from the start and require some ‘clean up’ back end, limiting this technology’s adoption. But advancements in this area are exponential, so it might not be long before 3D scans become as common as selfies, which will be a massive boost for Metaverse content.
Key Photogrammetry Tools
3D Graphics Software
The famous Blender donut tutorial
Essential for 3D Artists and photogrammetrists looking to clean up their work, 3D Graphics Software acts as a multidimensional pen, pencil, paint, paintbrush, canvas, and paper all rolled into one.
And while companies and people with large budgets use products such as Maya and 3DS, free 3D Graphics Software such as Blender has opened up 3D content creation to anyone with either a good gaming PC or a lot of patience.
3D content is the core difference between the current Internet and the Metaverse. And this means 3D Artists and Photogrammetrists using 3D Graphics Software will create some of the essential building blocks of the Metaverse.
Key 3D Graphics Software:
The physics of a virtual universe
3D elements in the Metaverse need to be able to move, interact with other features, and be subject to a virtual world’s set physics, imitating or bending the physics of the real world. Then 3D movement needs to be combined with sound and possibly in future sensation for those inhabiting the virtual state.
And for this to happen, someone needs to set those physical rules in software that can keep the physics consistent.
The foundation of the software that creates 3D elements and the physics at an atomic level, for lack of a better analogy, is code…
In the beginning, there was machine code, strings of binary 1s and 0s that tell computer hardware precisely what to do. But as most humans have neither the time, patience, nor even the ability to type out instructions in such a tedious way, assembly languages were created to make communication with computers more human-friendly.
But although these assembly languages are far easier to read and write than 0s and 1s, they are still by no means intuitive and are not portable between different types of hardware. Hence, higher-level programming languages were created, so developers could write programs in a way that more closely follows human language, dramatically reducing development time.
Many languages widely used today in everything from 3D Graphics software to Gaming Engines, such as the C family of programming languages, were first developed as far back as the 70s. So people such as Dennis Ritchie and Bjarne Stroustrup could be said to have played a vital role in the Metaverses creation.
While coding is still an essential part of games, 3D platforms, and Metaverse development, more and more code has been bundled into libraries and frameworks, which dramatically reduce the amount of coding needed.
Key Programming Languages:
- C — Created by Dennis Ritchie
- C++ — Created by Bjarne Stroustrup
- C# — Created by Anders Hejlsberg
- Python — Created by Guido van Rossum
- Lua — Created by Roberto Ierusalimschy
Weaving code together, developers create software frameworks such as gaming engines and 3D Graphics Software. And then use those frameworks to combine 3D elements, movement, AI, interaction, and sound.
At every stage of the software side of the Metaverse, developers will be there creating, adapting, and maintaining.
- Tim Sweeney — Epic Games
- Mark Zuckerberg — Meta née Facebook
- Nathaniel Doldersum — Formerly Earth 2 and D.R.O.N.E
- Markus Persson — Minecraft
- David Baszucki — Roblox
- Esteban Ordano — Decentraland
Gaming Engines, created using the aforementioned higher-level programming languages, these frameworks economize game and 3D platform development by reutilizing reusable software components. As such, gaming engines allow developers to render graphics, set the physics of the platform, add and adapt sound and utilize artificial intelligence without having to write all the code from scratch.
The most prominent players in the Game Engine space are Epic Game’s Unreal Engine and the Unity Engine. And all engines come with their unique advantages and disadvantages. Unreal is renowned for its high level of graphical fidelity, and with the inclusion of Nanite and Lumen tech, it is taking 3D
photorealism to the next level. On the other hand, Unity is incredibly popular with Indie developers with a perceived lower development time. And historically, Unity has been the engine of choice for both Mobile and VR development.
Gaming engines not only help build virtual worlds but hold them together.
Key Gaming Engines:
Delivery of the virtual experience
Once virtual worlds are created, there needs to be a means of storing them and delivering them to the end-user. After all, there is little point in creating a 3D platform that can only be experienced on the computer it was made on.
The delivery and storage of MetaWorlds and MetaGalaxies has to consider infrastructure restrictions, and even the laws of physics, to make the Metaverse possible.
While you will experience virtual worlds through your VR headset, computer screen, AR glasses, and phone, those virtual spaces are actually stored and run on servers predominantly in gigantic data centers.
Setting up the hardware and the software which allows Metaworlds to utilize hundreds, even thousands of hardware components is a mammoth task; maintaining these systems is a 24/7 job. And this work that is rarely seen or considered will only get more complicated as some virtual worlds aim to be persistent and shared to cope with thousands of users in one instance and all in real-time, which is required for the Metaverse to be possible.
Key Server Companies:
- Amazon Web Services
- Microsoft Azure
- Digital Realty Trust
People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not, it’s in the ocean — Jayne Stowell
Similar to data centers and the servers they contain, the work of fiber optic cable, the people who install it and maintain it, and its importance to the current internet and future Metaverse is rarely considered. Many may incorrectly believe physical cable communication is slowly becoming redundant with satellite internet, 4G, and 5G. However, fiber optic cable is still the best means of transferring large quantities of data (bandwidth), long-distance, from user to user, via a server, with the lowest latency (fastest transfer of data between users).
While most people know their internet provider promises: ‘ultra-fast fiber-optic broadband,’ they probably only consider that cable being linked up across their town and country. However, with a large percentage of the internet content they consume coming from other countries and continents, submarine fiber optic cable delivers a lot of the Internet we experience.
Without a backbone of global fiber optic cable crossing countries, continents, and oceans, the current Internet and future Metaverse would not be possible.
Key Fiber Optic Companies:
- Amazon Web Services
- Global Cloud Xchange
- For more, check out Submarine Cable Map
4G, 5G & 6G
A prerequisite of the Metaverse is that it should be ubiquitous, meaning that it should be available everywhere. Not just on your VR headset and computer at home, but also on your phone, AR glasses, other wearables, and even portable devices which have yet to be conceived.
And all these devices will need a means of receiving data from Metaverse platforms, products, and services. Consequently, broadband cellular network technology such as 4G, 5G, and the in-development 6G with their ever-improving bandwidth and latency capabilities will be vital in bringing the Metaverse out of the home and office and into the world at large, as 3G and 4G have done for the current Internet.
Again, the development, implementation, and maintenance of these technologies require the cooperation of many people, companies, and nations to work.
Key 5G Companies:
Source: Space X Wiki Commons
Space X’s low orbit satellite internet product Starlink aims to further the ubiquity of the Internet and Metaverse by providing a connection to previously hard to serve areas of the world. And the low orbit of its satellites means it can also offer comparably lower latency (faster transfer of data between users and servers) than existing satellite internet products and, in many cases, fiber optic infrastructure.
In theory, you’ll be able to access elements of the Metaverse from even the most remote parts of the planet. But while these satellites use low orbit and the vacuum of space to provide efficient data transfer, that transfer will still ultimately be limited by the speed of light.
Making Starlink a reality required years of development and satellite launches, and at this time, the jury is still out on how useful this technology will be for the Internet and Metaverse.
User connection to the Metaverse
The building blocks of the Metaverse are laid; it’s being stored, run, and maintained on servers and sent around the world by fiber optic, 5G, and satellite. So how then will users receive it, see it, interact with it and immerse themselves in it?
The ubiquitous nature of the Metaverse means that it won’t be, as is the common misconception, purely experienced via VR Headsets.
You can already experience 3D virtual worlds in games and early Metaverse-like social platforms such as Second Life through your PC, and this is unlikely to change because sometimes it’ll be more convenient to connect that way. And even when you want to be immersed, you’ll be able to get a more robust experience using tethered VR and AR devices than you would using standalone ones due to the higher level of computing power required.
Consequently, not only may the Metaverse require more computers but more powerful ones. And what consumer graphics cards and processors are available and affordable will play a significant part in how the next iteration of the Internet is made and received.
Key Computer and Components Producers:
Smartphones are now an integral part of the internet experience and as it evolves slowly into the Metaverse, Augmented Reality experiences similar to Pokemon Go will increase. And in time, you will be able to interact with people in full Virtual Reality via messages and VR video calls.
It’s often quoted that your average smartphone is now thousands of times more powerful than any moon landing era computer. So with time, and the exponential advance of technology, it’s possible the device in your pocket could power all your VR and AR experiences.
Key Smartphone Brands:
As phones allow us to connect with the Internet wherever we go now, AR devices such as glasses will help us connect with and immerse ourselves in the Metaverse during our day-to-day lives by combining the real world with the virtual one.
Combining the natural and virtual worlds provides endless opportunities for education, commerce, communication, socializing, and games.
Exhibits in museums could be tagged with AR descriptions, or an AR guide could describe the various elements as you look at them.
Product descriptions and prices could appear when you look at products as you shop, and transactions are automatically recorded when you put an item in your basket.
Friends in avatar form could appear and interact with you in a coffee shop.
AR devices and the software they run will mean you never need to disconnect from the Metaverse.
Key AR Hardware:
- Epson MOVERIO BT-300
- Everysight Raptor
- Google Glass
- Snap Spectacles
The VR Headset is what most people think of when they think of the Metaverse, and undeniably it’ll be when most people have regular, immersive virtual reality experiences that we will indeed be in the Metaverse age.
Consequently, the development of VR Headsets, improving everything from graphical fidelity to the size and weight, will affect the Metaverse we experience. Cost efficiency will also be a significant factor as it won’t be much of a virtual universe if only a few can afford to participate.
Then there’s interoperability, as VR Headsets will be the gateway to many Metaverse experiences. And as gatekeepers to virtual worlds, headset manufacturers can inhibit access to virtual worlds or enable free movement between them. This access control is why many are worried about Facebook’s dominance in this market.
The next iteration of the Internet
The Internet benefits society socially, academically, and economically because of network effects that wouldn’t have been possible without accessibility and interoperability. The same will be true as it evolves into the 3D internet concept of The Metaverse.
The more accessible the Metaverse, the more people will access it. The more people who access the Metaverse, the more valuable and fun content can be produced. And the more interlinked that content is, the more it will be enjoyed, used, and consumed.
But with competing hardware and software platforms developing in different directions and even creating walled gardens to get a competitive edge, this is far from simple.
Web 3.0, often hailed as a panacea for all the world’s problems by crypto influencers, has obviously been put forward as one solution to interoperability in the Metaverse. And it undeniably has some useful elements.
Turning virtual assets such as avatars into Non Fungible Tokens could help the movement of these assets between virtual worlds. And Decentralized Finance could enable the movement of money and cross-platform use of financial tools.
But for NFT assets to move between worlds, those virtual worlds still need to accept the format they come in and enable tools to authenticate them on the blockchain. For money and financial instruments to be used cross-platform, integration with that blockchain or bridges are needed.
And while most Metaverse Platforms such as Earth 2, Victoria VR, Decentraland, and The Sandbox are on or are moving to the Ethereum Blockchain and using tools like Polygon to create Blockchain assets, this won’t necessarily be true of all virtual worlds and galaxies. For instance, Ubisoft has recently announced NFT assets on Tezos (they have since canceled the addition of NFTs after gamer outcry).
If virtual worlds end up on multiple chains, blockchain will increase complexity instead of helping interoperability in the Metaverse.
Key Blockchains and Web 3.0 Products and Services:
Open Metaverse standards organizations
Today’s Internet is interoperable in large part because companies believe they’ll benefit more from network effects than walled gardens. But to be interoperable with other hardware, software, and infrastructure, they need to conform to the same standards. And defining those standards is the responsibility of organizations such as W3C.
And as we move steadily towards the Metaverse there are already organizations appearing that hope to set the standards of the future 3D Internet. Some have egalitarian ideals and aims; however, others I suspect are in it for some advantage in an ‘open Metaverse’.
Being influential in setting standards could bring monetary and power advantages to certain businesses.
The creators of the Metaverse
The Metaverse will consist of programming languages, software frameworks, virtual platforms, 3D art, and clones. And it’ll be stored and run on servers within data centers and sent around the world via an advanced network of cellular, fiber optic, and satellite technology, to be received on consumer devices from smartphones to VR headsets.
When you consider all the components that will make up the Metaverse, the number of companies and people who will build it is incalculable. But turning virtual worlds and Metagalaxies into a virtual universe requires interoperability, so it’ll be the people who manage to set universally agreed upon and used standards that truly create the Metaverse.
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Article contributed by Guy Purdy
Follow him on Medium here