Are you prepared for the metaverse – and will it transform businesses, education, and humanity itself for better or worse?

During the month of December 2021, AMBITION will be highlighting its top 25 most-read articles of the year in reverse order, in the form of a thought leadership advent calendar. Here’s what is behind today’s door.

While it may be five years before we have a seamless experience of our real world and the metaverse, we will already be living, learning, connecting, creating and playing in it long before then, according to Roger James Hamilton

Originally published 10 March 2021.

Imagine you could go back to 1995, the beginning of the internet, before it birthed the world’s largest companies. What would you do differently?

Right now, we are on the brink of another pivotal moment in tech history, the next frontier in online interaction. Something bigger than the internet is coming and it will end the internet as we know it: the metaverse.

What exactly do we mean by the term ‘metaverse’? In essence, the metaverse is an immersive 3-D virtual world that mirrors our world and will replace the 2-D searched based internet. According to Forbes, the metaverse will totally change the way we live, learn, earn and connect.

And, just like the internet 25 years ago, this new tech is coming much faster than we think. Guess what is leading the way? Gaming.

Let’s look at Fortnite as an example. In just three years it has attracted a mind boggling 350 million players who are spending over 3 billion hours a month in this virtual world.

Now, imagine a world like this connected to our real world. One where you can meet, shop, go to school, play games, be creative, be whoever you want to be, all while teleporting and time travelling to wherever you want to go. This is the metaverse.

Fortnite’s creator Tim Sweeney knows he’s not alone in the race to become the world’s next largest and most influential tech platform.

When questioned in December 2019 on Twitter about whether he viewed Fortnite as a game or as a platform, Tim Sweeney responded:

“Fortnite is a game. But ask that question again in 12 months.”

Just over a year later and Fortnite at its current level of growth is on track to reach 1 billion players in three years.

Meanwhile, another billion-person tech company is heading towards the metaverse. Enter Facebook Horizon, a user generated virtual reality world. While Fortnite is a 3-D game played on a 2-D screen, Facebook’s Horizon is experienced in 3-D virtual reality. Think of it like a first-person Sims where you can create your own virtual word, meet, socialise, share experiences, play games and even work together. As the metaverse takes over the internet, Facebook Horizon will take over from the 2-D Facebook we use today.

Not only will online marketing as we know it be transformed by the metaverse (just as it was with social media 15 years ago) but the very way we do business, learn, socialise, life as we know it will be revolutionised.

Markets, entire economies and even entire countries will grow up in this virtual world.

When will this happen?

As will all new technologies it occurs when three key things come together. These are: demand, software and hardware.

Demand

In fact, we have already reached a critical mass of demand for the metaverse. When the internet hit the mainstream in the 1990s there was only 14 million people online at the time. Today, there are already 2.5 billion gamers online experiencing virtual world every day. The global gaming industry was valued at $150 billion last year. Compared this to just $41 billion for the entire movie industry.

Apparently, our virtual selves are already ready and waiting for the metaverse.

Software

This too is here right now. While the internet was based on code to build websites, the metaverse is built with engines that create a 3-D world. The two largest ones are Unreal Engine and Unity, which are already billion-dollar tool kits.

Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games and Fortnite is also the creator of the Unreal Engine. Unreal has not only been used to build games like Fortnite but also games like Final Fantasy, Microsoft’s Gears of War and many of the top Xbox and PlayStation games. It’s also being increasingly used in the movie industry to create hyper realistic special effects scenes. 

While the Unity engine is what is being used to build Facebook Horizon and it’s the engine that League of Legends, Pokémon Go and many AR and VR games are built on.

It seems that Unity and Unreal Engine are the metaverse equivalent of Android and IOS.

In December 2020, Epic Games closed a $1.8 billion USD round of funding, valuing the company at $17 billion dollars. The deal included a $250 million USD investment from Sony which the PlayStation maker said would broaden their collaboration ahead of the PS5’s release. Epic wants to use the new funding to play a lead role in the metaverse for new kinds of social and entertainment experiences.

If they achieve this vision, their market could grow from the entire global gaming community to the entire global internet connected population.

Unity meanwhile is expected have a public listing later this year. This would capitalise on its huge growth in mobile apps and fuel expansion into much bigger markets than gaming alone.

There are other worlds that will meet in the metaverse that are creating their own engines. Examples of these include Minecraft which has 480 million players, Roblox which has 160 million players and Crossfire with over 1 billion players.

Bottom line: the demand and the software tools are already in place for the metaverse.

Let’s just take a moment to imagine how this metaverse is going to end the internet as we know it. Just think, no more Google search because we will have our own virtual assistants doing searches for us. Keyboards will be gone as we will walk and talk just like in the real world. Forget apps as we will just travel from world to world. Screen time will be a thing of the past as we will be simply accessing the metaverse by real word devices. No more storing by IP address but actually by time and place in virtual reality.

Within the next decade, for better or for worse, this is going to be reality.   

The internet and the mobile phone will be just as much as relic of tomorrow as papers and fax machines are today. How soon will this happen? This has everything to do with hardware.

Hardware

As we are seeing the metaverse emerging out of the games market, gamers are accessing the virtual world in three main ways: through mobile devices, via games consoles and PCs. All three are increasing in power and speed.

As 5G rolls out it will increase mobile speeds up to 100 times 4G – that’s fast enough to create a seamless link between our real world and the metaverse.

Companies are racing to get out faster, cheaper wearables through which consumers can begin to access the metaverse. From Facebook’s Oculus, Microsoft HoloLens and PlayStaytionVR, those clunky VR goggles are now being replaced by smart glasses.

Facebook is set to launch smart glasses this year in a collaboration with Rayban. Apple is likely to launch Apple Glass AR glasses by 2022. And Amazon has already launched its Alexa-powered Amazon EchoFrames which are already offered, currently by invitation only.

While it may be five years away before we have a completely seamless experience of our real world and the metaverse, we will already be living, learning, connecting, creating and playing in it long before then.

By 2024, we will be spending more time in 3-D virtual worlds than in today’s 2-D internet.

Whether the metaverse will transform businesses, education, and humanity itself for better or worse remains to be seen.

Roger James Hamilton is a world-renowned futurist, New York Times bestselling author and co-founder of Genius School. Genius School is the world’s first global, virtual school providing a full curriculum designed to nurture entrepreneurs, artists, changemakers and global citizens. Roger is also founder and CEO of Genius Group, the world’s no.1 entrepreneur education group. Genius Group is a multi-million-dollar group of companies leading the entrepreneur movement which includes the global edtech company GeniusU, education curriculum company Entrepreneurs Institute, and Entrepreneur Resorts Limited, the world’s leading group of entrepreneur resorts and co-working spaces. www.geniusgroup.net  | www.rogerjameshamilton.com

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