In the first 10 minutes of this years Facebook Connect conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned the word Metaverse 17 times. An hour later he announced that Facebook, one of the largest companies on the planet, was changing its name to Meta. But what does this nebulous term actually mean?
The term originated in Neal Stephenson sci-fi book Snow Crash released in 1992. It refers to a virtual, 3D videogame-like world where people are represented by avatars. Users, be they individuals or corporations, can build destinations like games, music venues, and social clubs along “the Street” which bisects the entire metaverse. In order to do so, planning approval and fees must be paid to a trust that’s responsible for server fees and general upkeep of the metaverse. There are multiple currencies mentioned throughout the book, both fiat and otherwise. In summary, there is no single company that owns the metaverse, nor currency that rules it.
While companies talk about building the metaverse, what 99% are actually building is more akin to a microverse. A microverse has little, if any, interoperability with other microverses. They can monetize through subscription fees and by selling items and powerups. They may or may not have their own currency enabling in game economies, and friendships and social graphs are microverse specific. Think Roblox.
Then there are macroverses, which are essentially a collection of microverses owned by a single entity. Items and access are still sold per microverse but because each is owned by the same entity a single currency may be used. Elements like identity, achievements and social graphs can be shared, although skills are largely microverse specific. Think EA’s Origin or Activision Battlenet.
Lastly, there is the Metaverse, a universal protocol that makes all things within it interoperable. It’s like reality, only digital with the rules existing in software rather than nature. The challenge is that while nature dictates the laws of physics, software is created by people who don’t always agree on laws resulting in things like varied countries and religions. It’s also why we have 8,100 different cryptocurrencies. The challenge is further complicated when people are incentivized to drive value to their particular belief system, which in the case of Web3 is a core principle. Over time universal standards created by centralized authorities are needed which, in the case of cryptocurrency and Web3 is somewhat paradoxical to their decentralized ethos, which is where DAOs can help. But I digress…
The conclusion I’ve come to is that while it’s unlikely in my lifetime that we’ll see the singular metaverse described in Snow Crash, I expect to see more interoperability between micro and macroverses. This will appear small and first, perhaps the ability to read data from a crypto wallet like metamask, but will ultimately become a functionality people come to expect. This is where I think the metaverse opportunity lies. In the small threads that can one day form the rope that pulls the world towards that universal protocol that is the metaverse.