The Metaverse is a popular term across the gaming and entertainment industry that refers to the theoretical 3D “virtual world” of the future. The term, which has roots in dystopian science fiction, can mean many different things to different people, and as such, can be difficult to explain to the layperson. Ultimately, however, the Metaverse will be defined by those who use it and create it. Today I’d like to dive deeper into the topic—what it is, and why we should care about it.
While many companies out there would like to enable the Metaverse, today’s Internet is lacking some abilities that would make that possible. The Internet, as it currently exists, is inherently CPU-based—this will have to change if we hope to see anything resembling our vision of a Metaverse. Everything will need to be rendered in 3D, which will require more GPUs in more places than ever. Companies like AMD, Intel and NVIDIA will have to ramp up GPU production to the point where GPUs are nearly as ubiquitous in cloud computing as CPUs are today. That seems fairly difficult—the current global semiconductor shortage means the Metaverse might have to wait until 2023 or later. Another possible solution is distributed GPU computing through services like RNDR from OTOY. OTOY’s distributed rendering technology is currently used for film, TV, motion design and architectural visualization. It’s no wonder that NVIDIA’s CEO Jensen Huang is so excited about the Metaverse given the predicted surge in demand for GPUs.
Many different opinions
Many people understand the Metaverse to be anything that is both online, collaborative and immersive in presence. Others disqualify AR and 2D experiences from the category for being less immersive, engaging, or realistic. I personally believe it’s likely the Metaverse will eventually contain all forms of 3D immersive collaborative environments, whether they are open or not. Many people believe that the Metaverse must be open and cross-platform, allowing any user to interact with another without boundaries. Niantic’s CEO John Hanke recently penned a blog making the argument that the Metaverse is nothing less than a dystopian nightmare in the making. Hanke sees AR as a better solution. Then there’s Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who recently created an entire Metaverse division within his company. He shared in a great recent interview with The Verge’s Casey Newton that he ultimately sees Facebook as “a Metaverse company.” As you can see, lots of different and opinions exist about what the Metaverse can and should be.
Another interesting thing to keep an eye on is the rise in popularity of NFTs and 3D digital assets, which can be handmade in the digital world or scanned into 3D from the real world and used virtually anywhere, on any platform thanks to file formats like glTF and USD. NVIDIA’s Omniverse is a professional take on the Metaverse concept in which engineers and content creators collaborate with one another in VR, in real-time, working on the same 3D asset in a shared digital space. The game engine companies are in a heated battle to accumulate as much content creation capabilities as they can for the Metaverse. The most notable of these is Epic, who recently acquired Quixel and Sketchfab, and Unity, with its acquisition of RestAR and Pixyz.
Ultimately, the Metaverse will very likely come in many different flavors. I have yet to see one unified vision of a 3D virtual realm that everyone agrees upon. I believe the Metaverse will instead become a series of open and closed ecosystems. All will exist in the cloud, in one form or another, and will be open to users of all kinds of devices, headset or not. While I have wholeheartedly enjoyed many of the Fortnite virtual concert experiences and numerous VR product launches I’ve attended, I wouldn’t necessarily consider any of them the the Metaverse quite yet. It will likely be some years until we have the content and compute power to see realize the Metaverse’s real potential. Today’s XR industry is relatively small compared to the smartphone and PC industries; it will take some time to catch up to those sectors in terms of experience and market size. Until then, we’ll have to keep speculating.