What is the Metaverse?

Authored by Makara
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Makara

Published October 21, 20216 mins
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Even if you haven’t experienced the metaverse yet, you’ve probably read about it (here, here, here, or even here). It is an alternate digital universe that can be used for everything from professional meetups and gaming to concerts and virtual raves and even education. Just as important, it enables artists and others to profit from what they create in a way that the internet we have right now does not—and it does that through the blockchain, which lets consumers own a designated piece of the metaverse. If you’re interested in any of those things, then the metaverse is likely already interesting to you. If you’re a crypto investor, it really should be interesting, because as the metaverse becomes more popular and functional, its growth is increasingly fueled by one thing: digital currency. 

For proof that the metaverse is more than just a gaming niche, just ask Mark Zuckerberg, who is rebranding Facebook to focus on the metaverse and hiring 10,000 employees to build products for the different communities working within it. Plus, the creator of Fortnite thinks it’s the path to a truly open internet, away from the restrictive algorithms of Google and Facebook. (Apparently, he’s betting against Zuck.) Microsoft is (tentatively) on board too. On a July earnings call, the company said, “if the idea comes to fruition, it could be a valuable income source.” 

With something this new and potentially vast, it is no surprise that we all have some questions. Here’s a brief FAQ to help you through the basics.

So, what exactly is the metaverse?

Since it’s still in the early stages, there is no fully agreed-upon definition of the metaverse. But we do know it’s a virtual space in which people from anywhere in the world can buy things and spend time. 

What do they spend time doing?

Anything from attending meetings—hey, it’s easier to be engaged with colleagues in a digital room than a wall of tiny Zoom boxes—to going to concerts, raves, and tournaments. Other use cases in development include educational activities like field trips across the globe or back into history and making purchasing decisions easier including touring real estate or looking at different products such as clothing without the need to travel. Want to try on 50 different pairs of jeans from 25 different stores? You can in the metaverse. And it’s all through VR, phones, and laptops.

So, how are these people showing up at all these events?

Well, it’s not so much “people” as their 3D avatars. 

How do you get an avatar?

You can make them yourself through apps like Ready Player Me or buy them. Brands like CryptoPunks make and sell them as NFTs. Jay-Z and Serena Williams are among the more famous buyers, and even Visa made some room on the bandwagon, which probably makes them a little less cool but also makes them even more expensive. Some people in the Philippines are earning more money building and selling characters for purchase than they could by getting a traditional job. In a country where the average yearly salary is slightly more than $3,000, the prospect of selling characters that can go for tens of thousands of dollars is quite appealing. For now, avatars look like digital art but experts say that with advancements in graphics, our metaverse-selves may look much more lifelike and could even evolve into us interacting with deceased family members and historical figures. 

Can I only use my NFT avatar when I’m in the metaverse?

You can also use it as, for example, your Twitter profile pic. If you spent a lot of money on it, it’s a not-so-subtle flex.

An avatar sounds like I have to be myself in the metaverse. What if I want to be someone else?

You can also purchase gaming avatars and play as them. For example, the role-playing game Axie Infinity makes adorable but deadly characters that can be customized to have different skills—and higher value if you decide to sell or mate them. (That’s right: You can breed digital avatars, like a stud farm for NFTs.) Players earn tokens that can be traded, used for in-game purchases, or cashed out every 14 days.

Where does my avatar or character live?

In the metaverse. There are free places to live, but just like in the real world, if you want to be somewhere desirable, you’re going to have to pay for it—and you’re going to pay in crypto. As the metaverse grows, technologists predict that people will be able to seamlessly move from one part of the metaverse to another but that will take time to develop.

What else can I do in the metaverse?

One of the first ways the metaverse was used was for VR gaming, so it makes sense that that’s a space that’s relatively far along in what you can do there. You can purchase things like one-of-a-kind swords with ownership that’s recorded on the blockchain, making them much harder to duplicate or steal. And because the metaverse is interconnected—unlike, say, the PS5-verse—you can bring weapons from one game to another.

Additionally, experts predict that we will be able to mix real-world content with metaverse content, for example going to a professional sports game in real-time via the metaverse. In theory, you could watch the game from the side of the field without disturbing the players while at the same time reading game statistics on each player or participating in sports gambling. Experiences like that are a ways off and will require upgrades to existing computer systems and technologies.

I know you said we still don’t exactly know what the metaverse is, but where is this all going?

The dream is that the metaverse will be an escape where people can roam freely, living outside their lives and exploring worlds they either can’t access on Earth or that just don’t exist. At the same time, you’ll be able to use it to enhance your “real” life by working and networking remotely in a way that’s far more personal and engaging than the current setup. You’ll be able to do things like virtually test-drive cars or try on clothes, streamlining shopping. And you’ll live in a world where the only gatekeepers you have to bypass are the ones you choose.

And the whole thing runs on crypto?

It doesn’t have to, but it’s better for all of us if it does. Without crypto, the metaverse would be centralized by companies like Facebook—and we’d all be stuck with the lack of privacy and questionable product decisions that that entails. With crypto, the metaverse aligns participants toward a common goal: a healthy and useful place to be. 

Is it possible to invest in the metaverse?

Because the metaverse is built from blockchain, crypto is the primary currency you can use in it. Your paper money truly is no good here. For an investor, gaining exposure to the metaverse might mean buying Ether or tokens like AXS, which are used to purchase NFTs and other items from Axie Infinity. It could also mean owning actual pieces of the metaverse, with crypto bestowing the equivalent of property rights. As different parts of the metaverse increase in value, so does your investment. The larger the metaverse becomes, the more valuable its components and the coins that drive it will become—and the larger the opportunity for all of us.