Facebook has just announced that it plans to hire 10,000 Europeans from across multiple areas of expertise to help the company with completing its ambitious virtual plan, the metaverse.
In July, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge that his company would “effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.” Though Zuckerberg has been inundated with significant scrutiny concerning his company’s policies, the current rebranding attempt seemingly plays into his futuristic, albeit dubious, view of the world.
The idea is to augment the sense of being “virtually present,” turning online interactions into something much closer to the experience of interacting in person. To Facebook, Europe is the right place to start shaping what could be the first step into opening new creative, social, and economic opportunities, as the metaverse is seen as the future of the internet.
But what is the metaverse, exactly?
Background: Ready Player One?
Some believe that the metaverse is a hyped version of Virtual Reality (VR), but others think that it has the potential to be a lot more than that. It could be the future of the internet.
Imagine an online, open-world game, where you can create a character and hang around with your friends through a computer or a console. Now imagine what it would be like to actually be IN that world, interacting with your friends just like you would in real life. That’s what some say the metaverse could be.
There’s still no agreed definition of the metaverse, but most people envision it as entering a virtual world through a headset in which you can connect to all sorts of environments. And this could have more uses than just gaming, like working, playing, going to virtual concerts or movies, or simply hanging out.
The head of Epic Games (which made Fortnite), Tim Sweeney recently told The Washington Post about the different applications that the metaverse could entail. For example, a car manufacturer trying to advertise a new model could “drop their car into the world in real-time and you’ll be able to drive it around.”
The hype surrounding digital worlds and augmented reality pops up once in a while but usually fades after a while. However, more and more investors and big tech companies are getting behind the creation of the metaverse as they believe that we are closer than ever, and no one wants to be left behind.
In 2018, the “Ready Player One” movie brought us an idea of what the metaverse could be, and right now, we’re closer to having our “OASIS” than we’ve ever been before.
Analysis: The companies behind the Metaverse
Facebook has made the creation of the metaverse one of its big priorities. The company has invested in virtual reality through its Oculus Quest headsets, VR apps, and even new VR games like Horizon Worlds. However, Facebook knows that creating the metaverse isn’t going to be a job for just one company. They recently invested $50 million in non-profit groups to help build the metaverse in a responsible way.
No company is supposed to own and/or operate the metaverse. The idea is that it works just like the internet, featuring openness and interoperability. This requires collaboration and cooperation across companies, developers, creators, and policymakers.
Facebook is interested in working with European talent for a multitude of reasons. “The EU has a number of advantages that make it a great place for tech companies to invest — a large consumer market, first-class universities and, crucially, top-quality talent,” Facebook’s Nick Clegg and Javier Olivan wrote in an article for their Newsroom. “European policymakers are leading the way in helping to embed European values like free expression, privacy, transparency, and the rights of individuals into the day-to-day workings of the internet,” they added.
Younger people are excited about the metaverse because games that are targeted to them, like Roblox, Fortnite, and Animal Crossing: New Horizon, in which players can build their own worlds and interact with each other, already have metaverse tendencies. The creators of some of those games are also interested in being part of the creation of the metaverse.
Tim Sweeney has spoken openly about his aspirations for the metaverse. Fortnite began as a tower defense style game but quickly evolved into a much more interactive experience. “It’s more than a game,” Matthew Weissinger, the vice president of marketing at Epic, said in court. “We’re building this thing called the metaverse — a social place.” Fortnite has held concerts, brand events, and more inside its digital world. It’s not a metaverse, but they sure have some ideas in common.
Roblox is a platform where thousands of different games are connected to a larger “ecosystem.” This platform is very popular with children, and it may be the nearest vision of what a metaverse could be. But it’s not all fun and games, in fact, Craig Donato, the chief business officer of Roblox, said that during the pandemic, company meetings were held in the company’s virtual office in Roblox.
Unity, a 3D development platform, is investing in the creation of digital copies of the world, and the graphics company Nvidia is building its own Omniverse, a platform for connecting 3D virtual worlds.
“The metaverse is not an App Store with a catalog of titles,” Sweeney said in an interview for The New York Times. “In the metaverse, you and your friends and your appearance and cosmetics can go from place to place and have different experiences while remaining connected to each other socially.” Sweeney believes that it will be possible to travel through different tunnels from Roblox to Fortnite and many other games. Everything might be connected in this futuristic world.
Outlook: Is the technology here yet?
For now, everything is in its early stages, but the possibility of creating a metaverse has never been closer. VR technology has evolved a lot in recent years and became extremely mainstream and popular among younger people.
Safer ways to establish a virtual economy that works well in the metaverse will also need to be designed. There’s been a huge interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs), unique assets in the digital world that can be bought or sold like any other piece of property, that might provide a way to keep track of ownership. Plus, as digital worlds evolve, they’ll need stronger, consistent, and mobile connectivity.
We’re not there yet, but we’re surely beginning the journey of making the idea of the metaverse a reality.
Raquel is a forensic geneticist turned freelance writer. She has a knack for technology and a passion for science. You can follow her at scitechcorner.com and on Twitter @theRaquelSantos.