Mention the Metaverse, and one might immediately think of holograms and a digital reality where people can live, interact and work, not too different from the popular science-fiction film, Ready Player One, in 2018.
However, its reality is more of a work in progress comprising aspects of social media, online gaming, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), with more real-life, and less futuristic applications in our society.
The concept is also often linked with non-fungible tokens (NFT) and cryptocurrencies – as all three reside on the blockchain network. Supporters of the Metaverse are heralding it as the next iteration of the Internet, which puts the power into its everyday users and not to a few centralised companies.
Beamable chief executive Jon Radoff, who also works as an author and game designer, has broken the metaverse down into 7 different layers: experience, discovery, creator economy, spatial computing, decentralisation, human interface and infrastructure.
Layer 1: Experience
Many people think of the Metaverse as 3D space that surrounds us. But the metaverse is not just that, it is everywhere. It includes games like Fortnite on our game consoles, Beat Saber in our VR headsets, and Roblox on our computers. It also includes Alexa in our kitchen, Zoom in our virtual offices, and Peloton in our home gyms.
Essentially, this is the layer that most companies and people are focusing on at the moment. Users interact in digitally-driven environments through content such as games, shopping, NFTs, e-sports and theatre.
The most prominent example are games: in a game, you can dream of being a rock star, a Jedi, a race car driver, or anything else you might imagine. Imagine what happens when you apply this to more familiar experiences. For instance, a concert in physical space can sell only a few seats in the front row — but a virtual concert can generate a personalised plane of existence around each individual in which you always enjoy the best seat in the house.
Layer 2: Discovery
The discovery layer refers to the push and pull process that introduces people to new experiences. Most discovery systems can be classified as either inbound (app stores, search engines for reviews and ratings) or outbound (notifications and display advertising).
When people care about the content or the events they are participating in, they will more likely spread the word. Two examples that have already emerged are NFTs and cryptocurrencies: love them or hate them, two of their key advantages are the ease with which they can be supplied to decentralised exchanges and more direct creator-community engagement.
Layer 3: Creator Economy
Not only are the experiences of the metaverse becoming increasingly immersive, but the number of creators who craft them is increasing exponentially. This layer contains all of the technology that creators use on a daily basis to craft the experiences that people enjoy.
Today, you can launch an e-commerce website in Shopify in minutes without knowing a single line of code. Websites can be created and maintained in Wix or Squarespace. 3D graphics experiences can be crafted within game engines such as Unity and Unreal just by using visual interfaces within their studio environments.
Thus far, creator-driven experiences in the metaverse are oriented around centrally managed platforms such as Roblox, Rec Room, and Manticore — where a full suite of integrated tooling, social networking, and monetisation functions has empowered creators to craft projects like NFTs. With the Metaverse, creators are better equipped with the same capabilities, but in a decentralised and open manner.
Layer 4: Spatial Computing
Technologies such as AR, VR and extended reality (XR) fall under this layer - which aims to blend physical and virtual spaces. This can be accomplished by augmenting the real world with digital experiences and information, or introducing computational power into physical objects.
In recent years, spatial computing has exploded into a large category of technology that enables us to enter into and manipulate 3D spaces, and to augment the real world with more information and experience.
Examples of spatial computing include 3D engines to display geometry and animation (Unity and Unreal), geospatial mapping (Niantic Planet-Scale AR and Cesium) and biometrics from people (for identification purposes as well as applications in health/fitness).
Layer 5: Decentralisation
The concept of decentralisation is not a novel concept: it is the founding principle of which many cryptocurrencies are based upon. What decentralisation means is being uncontrolled by a single entity, and belonging to no one and everyone at the same time.
Remember Ready Player One? The ideal structure of the Metaverse is the opposite of Ready Player One, where it was controlled by a single entity. Experimentation and growth increase dramatically when options are maximised and systems are built within competitive markets where creators have control over their own data and creations.
Blockchain technology is a large part of decentralisation. This area of innovation is called Web3, which frees financial assets from centralised control — and within decentralised finance (DeFi), we already see examples of connecting financial legos to form novel applications. With the advent of NFTs and cryptocurrencies optimised for the sort of microtransactions required by Metaverse experiences, we will see a wave of innovation around decentralised markets and applications as well.
Layer 6: Human Interface
Computer devices are getting closer to our bodies, transforming us into cyborgs. Sounds scary? Don’t be, because it is already happening. Smartphones are no longer phones. They are essentially highly portable, always-connected, and powerful computers. They’re only getting more powerful; and with further miniaturisation, the right sensors and embedded AI technology, they will absorb more and more applications from the Metaverse.
The Oculus Quest is essentially a smartphone that’s been refactored into a VR device; this gives us a sense of where the future is heading. In a few years, the Quest 2 ought to be reminiscent of the mobile brick-phone from decades past; soon we will have smartglasses that can perform all the functions of a smartphone along with AR and VR applications.
Perhaps in the near future, we will have biosensors imprinted into the skin, 3D-printed wearables integrated into clothing, and even consumer neural interfaces.
Layer 7: Infrastructure
The infrastructure layer includes the technology that enables our devices, connects them to the network, and delivers content.
5G networks have already dramatically improved bandwidth while reducing network contention and latency. 6G will increase speeds by yet another order of magnitude.
Enabling the functionality, high performance, and miniaturisation required by the next generation of mobile devices and other wearables will require increasingly powerful and tinier hardware: semiconductors that are imminently dropping to 3 nanometre (nm) processes and beyond. This also includes microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that enable tiny sensors; and compact, long-lasting batteries.
Indeed, the Metaverse has multiple layers that are closely and increasingly embedded in our day-to-day lives. Therefore, it is important to know exactly how it works, and why they are important in the first place, and how we can utilise the Metaverse and NFTs in our businesses and everyday lives. TechFin is partnering with SMU Academy to offer an Advanced Certificate in Web 3.0 for individuals interested in the applications of Web 3.0, Metaverse, blockchain, cryptocurrency and NFTs.
Want a more detailed and more compact course on specifically the Metaverse? No worries! TechFin x SMU Academy also offers a course, Diving Into The Metaverse, happening on 10th February 2023, where you will understand how the Metaverse is changing the way we live and work, especially in Singapore.