It would be generous to call the Metaverse a new concept. In fact, the idea of the Metaverse has existed ever since it was first mentioned in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash . Right now it seems like most projects consider the Metaverse a video game or something like a virtual reality social network. This couldn’t be further from the truth and is exactly why many people think of projects like Roblox or Grand Theft Auto Online as metaverses. At best these are prototypes of the actual metaverse, but as for the Metaverse itself, they fall very far short. And do people want to be able to do anything they’re already able to do in a regular game or even real life in the Metaverse? Surely the real Metaverse is boundless and lets you do just about anything you can think of? Let’s take a closer look and see what work needs to be done in order for The Metaverse to become a reality…
“Scotty, We Need More Power!”
You probably think our current level of computational power is really impressive (or maybe not?). Heck, I thought it was amazing when I played my first PlayStation game. I thought it was incredible when I first played DOOM or even Half-Life (it was). I remember being able to talk to people via SMS on my cellphone and then FaceTime calls came around and now I meet with people from all over the world via voice and video chat on a regular basis. VHS was replaced by DVD which was subsequently replaced by Blu-ray, and now we have HD streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime . I thought that games from 10 years ago looked brilliant. The graphics in games today are insane and border on photorealistic, and if I compare them with games from all those years ago, there’s just no competition.
I suspect that in five to ten years from now, I’ll look back at this time and think “Ah, remember how we used to use headsets for VR?” or “Can you believe so many people used to think video games were the Metaverse?” Obviously I don’t know for sure, but at the current rate at which things are proceeding, I wouldn’t be too surprised if I make one or even both of those statements sometime during (or even before) 2032. If you actually read the Wikipedia page on The Metaverse, there are actually some really interesting insights as to why we’re still quite a way off of an immersive metaverse. One of the sources links to an article entitled “Powering the Metaverse” by Raja Koduri , the senior vice president of Intel’s architecture, graphics and software division, had this to say about the Metaverse:
Truly persistent and immersive computing, at scale and accessible by billions of humans in real time, will require even more: a 1,000-times increase in computational efficiency from today’s state of the art. Many advances across transistors, packaging, memory and interconnect that will help are in the pipeline.
What this means is that the infrastructure and tech to power the Metaverse and have millions or even billions of people immersed within it doesn’t actually exist yet. I mean, if Epic Games needs to use AWS to serve its 350 million or so Fortnite players (who aren’t necessarily all logged in at the same time) and still struggles with lag, you can imagine that an environment as big as a planet filled with billions of people just isn’t remotely possible right now. But as Koduri points out, there’s a bunch of advancements in the pipeline. That said, it’s not entirely clear when these advancements will be available or just how much they will contribute towards making the Metaverse a reality. Building the underlying infrastructure of the Metaverse is going to take a huge amount of time and effort, but hopefully we’ll see some major leaps forward sooner than later.
“The Metaverse Needs an Operating System”
I follow Theo Priestley on Twitter, CEO of Metanomic . Not only is Theo extremely entertaining, he’s also something of a visionary and critic of “the Metaverse.” Suffice to say, Theo has written extensively about the Metaverse, and in a piece appearing on HackerNoon , he asserts that in order for the Metaverse to become a thing, it actually needs its own operating system. As Theo himself puts it:
The problem and itch that fails to get scratched are that most metaverse discussions are based on building on existing infrastructure and software principles. We’re creating multiple versions of software stacks based on centralized architectures — everything still sits on Windows for crying out loud.
This ties in to my first point about the tech for the Metaverse not existing, but if the required hardware doesn’t exist, then it’s safe to say that the software doesn’t exist either. And this is just it—the Metaverse is supposed to be decentralized (everyone’s favorite buzzword) and accessible, but with the way the current internet and computing works, this just isn’t possible. The truth is that every OS that currently exists was never intended for something as complex and ambitious as The Metaverse. Again, Theo points out the inherent problem here:
For a start, if you look at the list of existing operating systems, not one fits or has been written specifically for the virtual world or metaverse implementation. Already we’re off to a bad start — we’re solely relying on Microsoft Windows, Apple (whatever the name is today) OS, Android, or even Linux(,) all of which were not developed for a truly decentralized future or one where we need to write applications in 4 or even 5 dimensions.
Operating systems are purpose-built, so what happens when you try to do something in an operating system that was never designed for a specific purpose? Well you could potentially create and install a bunch of apps and workarounds, but that’s hardly efficient, and while that may work for some more basic things, the Metaverse is anything but basic. This is exactly why a metaverse operating system needs to be built from the ground up. That’s something that needs to happen sooner than later, and it’s going to take some doing too. Sadly, Windows 11 or even Windows 20 isn’t going to cut it if we ever want a truly immersive metaverse.
“Is The Metaverse a VR Headset?”
I own a Meta Quest 2 , and it’s fun as hell. I’ll admit that the stock standard head strap is not to my liking (maybe my head’s just too big), and the headset itself is actually pretty heavy. Maybe clunky is the better word? Anyway, I’ve played some great games in VR including Beat Saber , Propagation and even jammed the drums in Paradiddle . Is this the Metaverse? No, of course not. I’m not saying that these games and experiences aren’t astounding or lack depth, but staying in VR for an extended period of time, like over an hour, just isn’t really comfortable. Unless you’re sitting in a fancy chair and have something to regulate your room temperature, you’re not going to have a good time after a little while.
I know the Meta Quest 2 isn’t the be-all and end-all of headsets, and indeed the Meta Quest 3 and Meta Quest Pro are just around the corner, and while the Meta Quest 3’s price may be comparable to the Meta Quest 2, it looks like the Pro will cost a staggering $1,500! That’s a whole lot of money and way out of reach for the average consumer. This is just it though. “Metaverse” tech isn’t exactly cheap or accessible, and in order to make it more affordable, current headsets don’t necessarily have the highest quality graphics, sleekest design or most comfortable fit. This is a major barrier to adoption, and I’m not even sure that people necessarily want to wear a headset, even a lighter and less clunky one, for hours at a time.
Is the Metaverse a VR headset? Maybe it is right now, but I somehow think we need some other way of experiencing the Metaverse. Maybe it’s with glasses, maybe it’s with contact lenses, or maybe the Metaverse will be some kind of intricate holographic projection. I honestly don’t know for sure, but if the Metaverse is going to come to fruition, things have to get a lot more lightweight, affordable and robust before any of this can actually come to pass. There are a ton of challenges to making this happen, and as long as projects keep making copies of Minecraft , VRChat or Second Life , we’re not going to get anywhere too quickly.
Nothing New Under the Sun?
There’s a lot of ground to cover with the Metaverse, and there are definitely some great thinkers and innovators behind its development, but there are a lot of technical and perceptual hurdles we have to overcome before we actually see the realization of a metaverse with true utility and a convincing level of immersion. It’s great to hear that there are some critical thinkers who are challenging commonly-held ideas, and it’s only if we take these individuals seriously that we’ll start to see meaningful progress. The Metaverse is a way off, but we’re on our way there. And we here at MSQ.io will make sure we watch its development every step of the way…