Tech giants probe their new gold mine in the virtual universe



Imagine a world parallel to the flesh and blood in which, with an avatar that represents your digital 'you', you can meet friends, go to a concert or have work meetings. All in an immersive way so that the interactions are as similar as possible to those in real life. The idea has a name: metaverse. The term was coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel 'Snow Crash' and is back on track due to the statements of one of the technology moguls of the moment, Mark Zuckerberg. The founder of Facebook wants the social network to be a metaverse company in the next five years, as he explained to the American medium 'The Verge'. The potential, in economic terms, is not negligible. According to Bloomberg, it will mean a $ 800 billion global business three years from now and 2.5 trillion by 2030.

The metaverse proposes creating a replica of the physical environment in cyberspace. «It will not have the purpose of playing and earning points, but it will be a digital reality in which we will reproduce many of the social dynamics of the day to day", Explain Laura Raya, director of the postgraduate courses in Extended Realities at the U-tad University Center. Another of its characteristics is immersion, so
It will be accessed with glasses like the famous Oculus
. «At the moment when working, having a drink or playing sports is recreated, the user does not want to press buttons and see their colleagues through a screen, but to have them in front of them with an avatar, for which virtual reality is needed », Assures Raya.

Once inside, the inhabitants of this universe will be able to buy and sell objects, properties, etc. “If you can't do practically everything in the real world it will be a digital application, but not the metaverse. The virtual currency has to be yes or yes», Emphasizes the expert. That is, economic activity will be generated. «One of the pillars of the metaverse is that all our current assets are digitized and are part of it, in the same way that everything that is done or what happens intrinsically in the metaverse will be transactable in some way and will generate a certain value for whoever believes or owns it. Blockchain technologies point in that direction and give a clue as to how these issues could evolve, "he says. Ivan Fernandez Lobo, strategic consultant and founder of Gamelab.

The metaverse will have tokens for users to buy and sell objects, properties ...

Like the internet, it will be a collaborative ecosystem made up of different companies, with a open standard similar to the world wide web, in which users can move freely from one platform to another while maintaining their digital assets. Zuckerberg himself seems in favor of this being the case. «A good vision for the metaverse is not what a specific company builds. It must have the sense of interoperability and portability, "he said. His message, however, has been met with some skepticism.. «It seems to me the best way for the metaverse to go ahead, but it causes me considerable mistrust coming from a
sir whose business model is diametrically opposite
", recognize César Córcoles, Professor of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). The words of the billionaire guru raise doubts.

But in the absence of knowing how it will ultimately work, the actors interested in its development are already thinking about the ways to monetize the project. Zuckerberg's plans involve a substantial part of the income coming from the advertisements, as with Facebook. «In virtual reality the ad placement is very powerfulHence, the company wants to generate the metaverse », points out Laura Raya. The other edge of your business model would be in the sale of the devices used to enjoy the experience (The Oculus Quest 2, for example, cost 349 euros in Spain).

Advertising will be a key source of income for companies to monetize the future virtual space

Córcoles, who does not rule out payment for use, adds a third source of income: micropayments within the metaverse, which could be made with tokens that would be exchanged for real money. «Current cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or ethereum do not seem suitable for this type of transaction, while the user could give euros to the company in exchange for digital euros to operate in the metaverse», Details the teacher. The possibilities that it will bring with it are enormous, which is why technology companies have taken the first steps to sink their teeth into a proposal that, if successful, will be a real lode.

Millionaire bet

Facebook launched in august
Horizon Workrooms
, a trial version service to hold meetings in the same virtual reality office. Epic games, creator of hits like Fortnite, raised in April 1,000 million dollars from a group of investors, including Sony, to create your own metaverse. And the microprocessor manufacturer Nvidia It already has a platform oriented to the industrial segment, Omniverso, which obeys the laws of physics and is used by companies like BMW to make advanced simulations of the real world.

The competition will be fierce, though Facebook is the best positioned to colonize the future virtual space. «Now he has the winning horse to go forward:
owns Oculus
, the best-selling and best-selling virtual reality glasses on the market;
is a social media platform with all the data on how people interact
; and it has a great technological capacity in the generation of avatars and realistic graphic environments ”, justifies Laura Raya, from U-tad. The rest of the colossi, yes, they will do their best to be in the fight.

“The technology giants such as Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Google or Amazon are already dedicating a lot of resources to the conceptualization and creation of the necessary infrastructures to technically support the metaverse dream. They do so by relying on the knowledge, talent and technology of videogames, who have exercised and exercise as the 'sandbox' ideal for creating and validating your language and speech. In this area, companies such as Epic Games, Unity Technologies or Roblox are very important and well-positioned players, ”says Fernández Lobo. The greatest approaches that have been made so far of the metaverse are precisely the work of video games.

The idea of ​​a universe in cyberspace has already been tested in online gaming 'Second Life', launched in 2003 as a revolutionary project in which users could lead a virtual life and interact with other members of the community through avatars. It even had its own virtual currency, 'linden dollar'. After a golden age, the number of active 'citizens' was falling and companies fled when they did not see a return on investment.

The video game 'Second Life' posed a parallel world on the Internet, although, unlike the metaverse, it was centralized and for recreational purposes.  After initial success, the phenomenon deflated
The video game 'Second Life' posed a parallel world on the Internet, although, unlike the metaverse, it was centralized and for recreational purposes. After initial success, the phenomenon deflated

Linden Labs, its developers, revamped the proposal, renamed 'Sansar', but it never reached a high popularity. «'Second Life', like other technological and experiential proposals that have emerged from videogames are, beyond their commercial success or failure, great contributions to the advancement of the metaverse. Think of them as the first milestones of the space race. I would not say that we are closer to reaching the metaverse than to populating other galaxies, but the determination to move towards both dreams is just as clear, ”says Fernández Lobo.

Necessary improvements

Although services such as Fortnite or Roblox contain elements of the metaverse, a long time horizon will be needed for it to be fully operational. «In the 60s and 70s the fathers of artificial intelligence said that in 15 years robots were going to do everything and this has not been the case. Something similar will happen with the metaverse. Gradually it will tend to something like this, but we are very far away because there are certain components that have to improve a lot», Warns Jose Angel Olivas, researcher at OBS Business School and professor at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. And he continues: "If we want to make a videoconference in the metaverse, we will need, for the time being, a much higher level of communication, a 5G or 6G that lacks time to achieve." Also mention the computational problems that may exist.


Another challenge is that virtual reality devices are acquired by a greater number of people. "Facebook and Apple have already announced their next glasses, so in a year or two they will be more comfortable and affordable," says Laura Raya, from U-tad. Add as a stumbling block the talent shortage. «If there are no people capable of programming, developing and designing in virtual reality, the metaverse does not come out. And today there are more companies demanding profiles that have this knowledge than professionals ", he warns. That companies collaborate with each other to achieve standardization as was done on the web is, in his opinion, the part that will consume the most years.

Córcoles, from the UOC, focuses on the importance of companies' projects knowing adapt to user preferences. “The presentations of the Facebook metaverse try to mimic reality a lot. It has positives, but translating everything to the world of virtual reality is not necessarily a good idea. People who access for the first time can be uncomfortable, in addition to the economic cost involved, "he says while acknowledging that adjustments will have to be made as more people are connected to the platform and adequate studies are carried out.

Social acceptance, of course, will be easier after what was experienced due to the pandemic. “It has helped us understand a little better the value of technology in our world. Telepresence will be the main bait that the metaverse will put us to accept it», Explains Fernández Lobo. Will the adoption be massive? In the five years to which Zuckerberg alluded, "it will be limited to the technical-scientific, work and leisure fields", thinks Olivas. Silicon Valley giants prepare the checkbook to be the first to conquer the metaverse. The future will determine if it is the next technological revolution or a virtual space condemned to oblivion like 'Second Life'.

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