The metaverse has reached the mainstream public consciousness, thanks to the recent proliferation of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the blockchain ecosystem and Facebook’s head-turning rebranding to “Meta.”
Though the concept may appear to be novel and cutting-edge, the metaverse has long been a part of popular culture. In his science fiction novel Snow Crash in 1992, Neal Stephenson invented the word to describe an all-encompassing 3D virtual world that replicates, augments, enhances, and integrates with actual reality. Since then, the metaverse has crossed over into popular culture, with adaptations of the notion appearing in films such as Ready Player One, Tron, and The Matrix. But, in reality, what is the metaverse?
Explanation of the Metaverse
Simply described, the metaverse is a digital realm that lives in parallel to the real one. Because of its emergent nature, many various perspectives of how the metaverse will manifest themselves exist, and there are even disagreements about whether the metaverse exists today.
In its most idealized form, the metaverse is a virtual environment that provides parallel experiences to the real world while also allowing for improved powers, similar to The Matrix’s robot-manufactured universe. In more realistic depictions, metaverse visitors physically engage in a virtual world, where they take the shape of virtual avatars, play games, and live pseudo-anonymous lives, using complex motion-tracking technology and virtual reality headsets. The existing existence of user-owned digital commodities with historically real-world traits of scarcity, worth, and history is sometimes cited as proof that the metaverse has arrived. Some suggest that the metaverse can be found in the human connections, feelings, and experiences that make up our digital lives on social media, video games, and other platforms.
Despite these divergent perspectives, the metaverse’s essential premise is evident. Telepresence, which is defined as an immersive condition in which a person feels present in a virtual place, is critical for supporting metaverse experiences. The metaverse emerges from our ability to create virtual spaces that make us feel present—perhaps even tangible—in a digital environment, whether through a combination of immersive AR and VR technologies, user-owned digital goods powered by blockchains, or simply through an addictive massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).
Getting into the Metaverse
In a very real sense, the metaverse is all around us. Early trials in MMORPGs like Second Life and World of Warcraft introduced the concept of gamified social platforms, which engrossed players to the point where digital commodities, like as weaponry and apparel, held enormous real-world value. Existing social networking services like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have enabled users to create pseudo-anonymous Internet avatar identities and interactive virtual rooms where they may share news, discuss topics, and communicate with friends.
People are no strangers to complete digital immersion through an external screen, whether it’s in a Twitter Spaces hangout, a Zoom conversation with coworkers, or multiplayer games. Emerging technologies, on the other hand, have the potential to give the digital world additional relevance, permanency, and presence.
Our ability to reproduce the human experience will play a big role in enabling the enhanced telepresence that will enable metaverse development. Virtual reality (VR) headsets and movement-tracking technologies, with increasingly realistic depictions that produce a feeling of complete sensory immersion, can play a key part in this. SuperHot, a Matrix-style game in which time passes only as fast as the player, and VR Chat, a social network in which participants construct 3D avatars to engage in common virtual rooms, are two instances of early developments.
While virtual reality (VR) aspires to create an immersive virtual world separate from physical settings, augmented reality (AR) incorporates virtual displays into real-world environments. Microsoft’s Hololens, an AR headset that tracks both what we’re looking at and our body movements to superimpose virtual images and icons, allowing for compelling use cases that can help us navigate, identify objects, and interact with the physical world in a virtual manner, is one such example that exists right now.
Imagine a world where you can put on AR glasses to see which virtual shoes someone wore that day, or where you can play games on an entirely virtual screen that resides on your desk. AR glasses could provide information and enhance everyday experiences by updating in real time based on sensors. AR’s goal is to create a seamless merger of the virtual and actual worlds that will make everyday living more fascinating, functional, and genuine.
AR and VR are inspiring technologies that are helping to shape the experiences that will characterize the metaverse’s future vision. However, interactive and immersive experiences are only part of the picture; the metaverse will need a value layer powered by decentralized infrastructure like blockchains to empower users as much as platform developers in the metaverse’s development. Finally, this will aid metaverse users in defining the metaverse’s structure, providing the digital universe greater solidity through verified digital goods and allowing users to sense substance in an ethereal, digitized space.
Issues with the Metaverse’s Current State
There are some features of the existing metaverse experience that make it difficult to immerse yourself in it. Players and users are continuously reminded that the current version of the metaverse is controlled by those who create the experiences for them, not theirs to grow and build upon. Players can’t, for example, sell their rare World of Warcraft sword and then buy a house in Second Life, and centralized platform owners control activity. While there are social connections between Twitter and Instagram, there is no formal information or value transfer between the two because they are developed by different companies. Instead, these encounters take place in small groups that resemble a meta-room rather than the entire metaverse.
Further metaverse developments, in theory, would connect all of the fragmented ecosystems that have independent value and combine them into one holistic virtual environment, defined by seamless interoperation between each individual aspect to create a sum greater than its parts: an open world where people can co-exist in a shared virtual network rather than a fragmented ecosystem where individual networks are disconnected from one another by disparate hardware and software.
A system that works this way would create a true parallel reality that is developed in virtual space. You can own things, manifest as a recognizable avatar, and move around in the virtual world just like you can in the real one. The concept of an interconnected system of metaverse applications, experiences, and digital goods is already a reality, thanks to the use of blockchain technology and decentralized oracles.
Constructing a User-Owned Metaverse and Economy
Blockchains offer inherent advantages in composability and transparency over traditional networks because they are shared networks that aren’t controlled by a single entity. Everything from gaming projects to decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols to NFT art collections is connected by a blockchain’s underlying infrastructure, allowing for seamless value transfers and rapid iterations on proven economic models that embody properties essential to the metaverse: true ownership and interoperability.
Genuine Ownership of Digital Assets
Rent-seeking business strategies are now used by the world’s leading corporations to enable the transfer of digital products. Users do not have ownership of the music they listen to, the movies and shows they watch, or the accounts that reflect their virtual identities. All of them are rented by the user, usually in the form of adverts or data mining, for an explicit recurring charge or a hidden cost.
Cryptocurrencies and NFTs offer verifiable digital ownership through blockchains, allowing users to buy and sell their digital products at will. This is a critical step toward a user-owned metaverse and economy. You can own old shoes from a company that has since gone down, and digital goods can exist outside of the projects that build them and persist in the event of project failure.
For the first time in history, people can own a digital thing in the same way they can own DVDs, shirts, or any other tangible item thanks to blockchains. In blockchain networks, there is now a distinct separation between transferable digital ownership and rented digital ownership. Tokens or NFTs are verifiably owned by a user once they have been transferred to their digital wallet. This contributes to an immersive metaverse experience by furthering the concepts of digital permanence and identity in a virtual space, simulating the unseen social frameworks that make up our physical reality and creating a relatable parallel between the physical and digital in a way that is likely to further the illusion of a digital universe.
The unrivaled interoperability of blockchain networks like Ethereum is another distinguishing trait. Due to its shared underlying architecture, any initiatives created on top of a blockchain may communicate with one another, resulting in connected ecosystems that provide a unified experience.
Users may take out loans from DeFi protocols, play revenue-generating games (often known as play-to-earn games), and buy NFTs all on one platform thanks to blockchain technology. In each situation, the user is gaining access to a connected environment in which NFTs may be sold for loans or game earnings can be used to purchase NFTs. Because everything takes place on a blockchain network, there is an inherent consistency that allows users to navigate blockchain-based online experiences in a seamless manner—an important component of a comprehensive metaverse.
Decentraland as a Case Study
Decentraland, an Ethereum-based virtual reality platform that is also accessible from mobile devices and desktops, is a key example of how a blockchain-based metaverse would work. Users of Decentraland can purchase customisable plots of “land” in a virtual environment, interact with other users via digital avatars, and participate in a variety of user-created social activities. One of the first blockchain-powered metaverse experiences, integrating actual ownership and gamified social functionality with blockchain interoperability, this is one of the first.
Currently, digital landowners can hold virtual events like concerts, raffles, and more in an experience that blends elements of early metaverse pioneer Second Life with the popular VR game VRChat. Unlike these individual experiences, Decentraland users can sell their land plots to Ethereum network participants, empowering and enriching users in a way that is analogous to purchasing land plots in real life, but through a digital medium. The MakerDAO platform, the decentralized organization behind the DAI stablecoin, has also introduced Decentraland’s native token MANA as a collateral type. Because Decentraland’s virtual reality platform is built on the Ethereum blockchain, it has become a part of a wider metaverse experience that is linked to all Ethereum-based applications, from MakerDAO’s stablecoin and Axie Infinity’s play-to-earn game to Aave’s lending platform.
Blockchains are shared ecosystems that can facilitate the metaverse, the metaverse economy, and metaverse experiences, resolving a big piece of the problem of digital ownership and interoperability. However, there remains fragmentation within the blockchain ecosystem, with separate blockchains unable to communicate directly with one another. Infrastructure connecting blockchains to each other, as well as centralized social media sites, video game businesses, and other entities, is required to create a cohesive metaverse.
The Metaverse’s Role for Decentralized Oracle Networks
While blockchains provide more connectedness than the present meta-room alternative, they are unable to solve the problem of fragmented ecosystems on their own because they operate as highly secure but unconnected environments, necessitating the employment of secure oracles to fill the gap.
Blockchains and the smart contracts developed on top of them can safely connect with real-world data and services that exist outside of blockchain networks thanks to decentralized oracle networks like Chainlink. Through Chainlink, blockchains and traditional systems that power metaverse experiences may communicate in a transparent, safe, and efficient manner.
Chainlink, which is fundamentally blockchain agnostic, currently acts as a universal framework for obtaining off-chain data and decentralized off-chain computing for the industry’s top blockchains. These are mission-critical services for blockchain interoperability and the metaverse, and they include features like:
Decentralized Data Feeds — The metaverse economy will enable user-owned value exchanges and host financial tools like lending, borrowing, and insurance. Chainlink Data Feeds can deliver important outcomes to be cemented on underlying blockchains, such as establishing transfers of in-game metaverse items, rewards, and more to the user’s desired blockchain, while Chainlink Price Feeds give blockchain-based projects access to robust and secure price data that helps the entire metaverse economy build on each other’s success.
Off-Chain Computation — Chainlink VRF provides a provably fair, trust-minimized random number generator for play-to-win games, raffles, and giveaways to metaverse applications. Chainlink Keepers assist blockchain projects in automating vital functions and developing genuinely autonomous processes across all systems, whether centralized or decentralized.
Cross-Chain Interoperability Protocol (CCIP) — The Cross-Chain Interoperability Protocol (CCIP) is a global standard that allows any blockchain-based project to connect to other chains with ease. The metaverse can span many blockchains that are designed for diverse use cases, providing an efficient multi-chain ecosystem that is readily navigable for any user, thanks to secure cross-chain connection.
Individual enterprises and centralized metaverse environments would be cities, blockchains would be countries, and Chainlink would be the infrastructure that connects them all in a secure, dependable, and decentralized manner if the metaverse looked like the world we live in today.
Consider a future metaverse in which Meta’s VR headset and Microsoft’s HoloLens are the major players for joining the metaverse both in the real world and online, and blockchains are the underlying decentralized framework that secures user-owned digital products and powers unified virtual environments. Chainlink can act as a safe connection point for all three technologies, allowing for secure value and information transfers between IoT devices, blockchains, and centralized metaverse apps while minimizing trust. Chainlink operates as a trust-minimized infrastructure for connecting real-world and online experiences, resulting in immersive metaverse encounters, from real-world data such as sports results and weather readings to metaverse-related events.
Chainlink’s capacity to create trust-minimized links between off-chain entities and blockchains will aid in the development of an interoperable and fully integrated metaverse that smoothly integrates all metaverse-related platforms, real-world experiences, and more as the metaverse evolves.
The Metaverse Is On Its Way
The Metaverse has evolved over the last few years from a fantasy future envisioned in numerous works of fiction to an actual reality that exists now, albeit in an early stage of development. The stage has been prepared for the next wave of immersive metaverse applications to emerge, and the underlying technologies are progressing at a rapid pace.
It’s impossible to predict whether we’ll see a dismal reality such to that depicted in Snow Crash and the Matrix, or a gamified virtual world replete with nostalgic references like Ready Player One. Perhaps the metaverse will manifest in ways we haven’t yet imagined. With the metaverse’s future state yet unknown, builders, artists, users, and visionaries must work together to create a user-owned digital realm characterized by decentralization, immersion, and connectedness.