It would seem that the metaverse is an inevitability, a logical result of the technologies we’ve invented. A version of the metaverse will likely come out in the next five years. But at that stage, it won’t quite be as we imagine — only able to cater to our sight and sound (and maybe a little haptic feedback for touch). It’ll likely take another ten or twenty years before we have more senses and a fully immersive simulation.
But how will the metaverse actually work? And what opportunities will it create? Let’s look at what could happen from a more practical standpoint. Here are our four predictions for the metaverse.
1. How would we power the Metaverse?
Most imagine a metaverse will be a fully immersive 3D world, which will be as ubiquitous as the internet is today. Let’s put that in perspective. Right now, according to MMO-population, Final Fantasy XIV has around 3.3 million active players. A huge amount, but clearly manageable.
Europe alone has nearly 750 million people, with nearly 90% on broadband internet. Even with a conservative estimate of only 10% of people using the metaverse regularly, that’s 75 million people on the Metaverse. That’s still 25 times more people on the metaverse than playing the largest MMO today. And that’s a really, really low estimate — and just for Europe.
“It started out with the world-wide-web,” Ilyas Baas, our software engineer, says. “Social media, Facebook, Instagram, those are the foundations of the metaverse.”
So a potential, high-end estimate to host the metaverse? It’s possible it could be closer to the number of active Facebook users, for example. That’s 2.89 billion. If that’s the case, we’d need 800 times more servers than the largest MMO today.
We can’t scale with just data centres
Even the largest companies in the world are going to struggle building enough data centres to handle the potential number of users the metaverse could have. It’s possible, but it’s a huge investment.
“You need a lot of options to host the metaverse properly,” our CTO, Elmer Bulthuis, explains. “You need a decentralised system because of the scale of it. You need compute power for every part.”
So companies won’t realistically be able to build their own infrastructure to handle this. The metaverse is going to need a concerted effort from multiple companies, sharing their resources. It has to be a collaboration.
We’ll likely use idle machines
Orchestration is going to be key to running the metaverse smoothly. We’re going to need hundreds, if not thousands, of servers working in tandem. And we’re going to need to bring together the capacity from multiple different providers, and get them to work together.
But there are other ways to get enough capacity.
“More and more capable CPUs are being put in more and more devices. When I say devices, I mean trains, cars and excavators at some point,” Elmer says. “What’s interesting is electric cars. When you don’t use them, they just sit there with a very big cable into the box. That cable could easily transfer data, and you could host part of the metaverse from your car. At the same time, part of it could be hosted on the train that’s sitting there doing nothing, a lot of CPU power just sitting there.”
And there are other machines, powerful computers, which could power the metaverse. Universities with hundreds of computers lying idle at night. Game consoles. People’s laptops. They could all help host the metaverse. That doesn’t mean that data centres will be completely redundant, they’ll still be needed.
If the metaverse is going to be as big as we dream, it’s going to need every ounce of computing power we can get. And an orchestrator to manage it all.
We can split up the hosting
There’s another problem: latency. It’s not enough to use all these servers, it also needs a fast connection to make sure the user feels immersed in the metaverse. Any lag and it’ll feel even more jarring than a typical game.
“Depending on what you’re doing, if you’re interacting with somebody you would love to have 30 milliseconds or less,” Elmer says. “But if something happens and you’re not interacting with it you can maybe go to 100 milliseconds or maybe even more, depending on how far away it is. So if you want to host that you need infinite scale, but not everybody and everything needs to have the same latency.”
It’d be impractical to always host everything on a server close to the users, though. So how can we mitigate that problem? Well, we can split up the parts. Objects close to the user, things they’re likely to interact with, can be hosted with low latency. Distant objects, unlikely to change, can be hosted with a higher latency. The user will never realise.
If we’re going to solve this problem, it’s going to take a lot of partnerships. And the industry needs to come together and create the standards to make this possible.
2. People could pay with computing power
As we’ve explained, it will be incredibly difficult to host the metaverse without some sort of decentralised model. And using idle machines is just one approach.
But that approach might also help keep the cost lower for the end users, too. We see a possibility where there are three ways users pay for access to the metaverse:
- Advertising. Pay with attention.
- Subscription. Pay with money.
- Computing power. Pay with your computer.
“So if you can host a part of the metaverse in your browser, technically you could, you could pay by donating your CPU power,” Elmer says. “The idea is good that you could pay with compute power. But, of course, you need a way to find all those possible locations.”
Or it could be that the machine is idle. If an individual allows the metaverse to run on their computer, it would help deal with the capacity issue, but it also means that they wouldn’t need to see adverts. And if an individual wants to build a bunch of servers and join it into the grid, they could even earn a little for themselves.
A metaverse needs a currency
“Things get really interesting if you have your own economy in the metaverse. So maybe your own currency or a currency that you can use outside that reality,” Elmer says. “In fact, in Second Life, there was a bank from Holland who were going to have an office in that world. Back then, there was a lot of hype around this, and that’s already pretty close to what we’ll be doing with a metaverse. But at the time it was technically not really possible and people weren’t really ready for it.”
Now, we have cryptocurrencies. Games have their own economies and currencies. It’s easy to imagine how you could earn tokens for selling your compute power which you can then use to buy skins or subscribe to the metaverse itself. And as it gets value, that value is easy to transfer to the real world.
3. We’ll build tools to create miniverses
There’s an old adage: “If you build it, they will come.” This isn’t quite right. It should be: “If it has tools, they will build.”
If the metaverse is to grow, it needs a huge variety of content. Fresh, interesting content that keeps us there and wanting to go back. How does that happen? It happens by making it easy to create content.
“Technology isn’t going to be the limiting factor. That’s going to be content,” explains Elmer. “You need a lot of interesting content. If you have a very boring landscape with boring buildings, nobody’s going to want to be there. So to get that content, you need people who are going to build it. And to build it, you need proper tools. We’re not there yet. We need tools that are accessible that can be used by anybody.”
That might be giving people the tools to create their own little miniverse. Or it might be tools to create content within a larger metaverse — like your own planet.
We’ve seen this with the internet. At first it was difficult to create a website — you needed to actually know how to program it yourself. Now you just use a content management system (CMS), like WordPress. It’s all drag-and-drop. It’s simple and easy.
“The average Joe who just wants to run a shop that wants to engage in the metaverse wouldn’t resort to a programmer or someone with that kind of skill, but would rather resort to relying on something that’s easy to use,” says Ilyas. “And eventually there’ll be standards for the metaverse, just like we have in finance. All the ‘average Joe’ people will hop into the standard that’s already been established.”
So in the future, we’ll see a rise of similar tools that make it easy for everybody to create content, like a metaverse management system (MMS).
4. We’ll see new jobs appearing
As it becomes easier to create content in the metaverse, whether that’s within an established metaverse or a miniverse for a smaller company, we’ll start to see new jobs and roles.
“If you’re going to build a store you need an architect, and you need someone who lays down the bricks and the plumbing. So you’ll probably have a metaverse architect,” Elmer says. “But you can’t expect every architect to be a senior programmer. That all depends on the tooling. You’ll have different tools for building a shop or building electronics. So if you’re going to build a store right now, you’ll need a skilled programmer. In the future that’ll change.”
There are the obvious ones: metaverse engineers and designers. But it opens up a range of possibilities.
We’ll see metaverse shops
Brands already build their own apps and websites. On Instagram, 67% of the top 100 brands are already using the new shop feature, allowing users to buy your products without leaving Instagram. In the metaverse, we’ll definitely see similar approaches. Companies that solely sell products through the metaverse. Virtual and physical goods. Literal markets and auctions. Brands won’t be thinking just about brick-and-mortar shops, they’ll be thinking about their bit-and-byte shops, too.
We’ll see virtual architects and designers
Obviously, those new shops will need to look good. But there are other virtual products that people will start to create and even sell. Maybe it’s a building or a planet, or maybe it’s a skin for your avatar or even an outfit.
This community-created content will be part of how the metaverse will stay vibrant and relevant. But it’ll also give creative people an opportunity to contribute and make a living.
We’ll see new marketing roles
Today, we have content marketing. Tomorrow we’ll have metaverse marketing. It won’t be enough to do advertising in the same way. People will want interesting locations and things to do in those private branded metaverses. Why should people come visit your brand’s planet? What’s unique or interesting about it?
It’s very likely that marketers will need to learn about game design, if they’re going to create those worlds.
We’ll see completely new roles
There will definitely be roles nobody could predict. Nobody thought that streaming would become a career when the internet first came along.
“New kinds of companies are going to exist. The possibilities in the metaverse are much broader. You could design clothes, but you could also design wings or other body parts,” Elmer says. “There are more possibilities than there are in this world, so therefore we’re going to see companies that couldn’t even exist in this world. We’ll see virtual companies that only work in the metaverse.”
But it’s entirely possible to have virtual tour guides who show you the sights of Paris from the comfort of your living room. Or new-style historians, who build a metaverse where you can relive ancient battles and see what really happened.