Maybe! You know who believes this? Microsoft. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said of the company’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard for almost 70 billion dollars: “When we think about our vision for what a metaverse can be, we believe there won’t be a single, centralised metaverse and there shouldn’t be. We must assist numerous metaverse platforms. We view the metaverse in the gaming industry as a collection of social networks and unique individual identities rooted in powerful content franchises that are available across all platforms.

A pixel-art hotel with chatty avatars all around it
Another online social network, Habbo, has existed since 2000. Photo: Sulake Oy
It’s possible that Nadella was simply using the current buzzword to entice investors to support such a sizable acquisition. Noticias Metaverso en español However, he was presenting a vision that was remarkably distinct from Ball and Zuckerberg’s all-encompassing VR internet. According to his interpretation, there are multiple metaverses that are already present. They are long-lasting social networks developed around popular online games like World of Warcraft or Call of Duty: Warzone.

Microsoft’s perspective is consistent in this regard. In 2014, Microsoft purchased Mojang and its hugely popular game Minecraft at around the same time that Facebook acquired Oculus. It’s noteworthy that Microsoft hasn’t tried to coerce Minecraft into exclusivity on its own platforms; instead, it sees Minecraft as a valuable platform in and of itself. Minecraft, with its social, creative, and deeply customizable gameplay, is frequently cited as a metaverse-adjacent game.

MMOs like World of Warcraft are clearly related to metaverses in structure, if not in operation. But two post-Minecraft games that are extremely well-liked by children have closer analogues. Your avatar, presence, customization options, and social connections are all almost as significant as the game itself — or, in the case of Roblox, the games, plural — in both games.

As free-form as Second Life, Roblox is a platform where users can create their own games, compete for status, and pursue their dreams of success in the real world. Brands can use Roblox to reach the elusive tween market by developing advergames. In contrast, Fortnite has hosted enormous in-game cultural events, such as the 2020 Travis Scott concert, which attracted over 27 million players. These occasions are the closest thing we’ve come to a true metaverse experience, according to many observers, including Ball.

not right now. The technology still requires a lot of work, even though the concept is mature and boardrooms are currently obsessed with it. This is especially true if Ball and Zuckerberg’s vision of “the next internet” is to be realised. And despite the pandemic that has kept so many of us inside our homes, there is still no evidence of a sizable consumer demand for a metaverse experience that isn’t just a video game.

Interoperability is the biggest barrier to Ball and Zuckerberg’s metaverse becoming a reality. The idea that your avatar and digital belongings will follow you from one app, game, or virtual world to the next is what you might want to refer to as standardisation. (Ball envisions, for instance, entering Fortnite with a special Counter-Strike gun skin.) Interoperability is essential if the metaverse is to advance the internet to its next stage, but the barriers are so great that they seem insurmountable. There are technical difficulties, such as transferring assets between graphics engines and rendering them accurately on a dizzying array of hardware configurations. There are also legal and business difficulties, such as getting numerous companies to agree not to fence off their gardens and getting around intellectual property rights. It’s a lot more difficult than, say, deciding on a standard for hypertext links.

Beyond that, people need to be convinced that they want this. The technology we use to access these worlds must be at least as portable and comfortable to use as a smartphone, or it will appear to be a step back from the mobile internet it is meant to replace. And even though the science-fiction allure of such a virtual world might appear to be obvious on the surface, you have to wonder how strong the urge to visit it really is. Metaverses are typically portrayed as a willing or unwilling escape from dystopian realities that are too terrible to bear in works of fiction ranging from Snow Crash to The Matrix and Ready Player One. I dare to believe that we are still on the way.