Note — Jan 26, 2020

The Metaverse: What It Is, Where to Find It, Who Will Build It, and Fortnite

Excellent analysis by Matthew Ball on the potential shape, components and players of a possible Metaverse. Appropriately, he starts by putting all of it in context, reminding us of the memex-hypertext-web evolution, which took decades to come to fruition. In the same way, we can now see some moves, products, and businesses which could be signs or eventual pieces of a Metaverse but the actual thing is still a ways off. He then identifies “core attributes” of what an MV would look like, and what it is not. He also looks at “concurrency infrastructure”, perhaps the part we are furthest from having, as well as the “on-ramp” experiences available today. The most interesting early player is definitely the Epic / Unreal / Fortnite stack and Ball provides quite a bit of detail on what they are doing and their vision.

Idle thought: Reading this I started to wonder if a way to look at the web, XR, and the idea of a Metaverse, wouldn’t be in terms of synchronicity. Largely, the web is asynchronous, you can go to the same site at any time and see the same thing. The Metaverse, like Fortnite, would be synchronous, events happen at a certain data and time, people are online together at the same time, etc. XR could perhaps be seen as synchronous+ since the experience would be dependent on the time within the universe / game and on being somewhere in the “real world” at that time. (I know, not all XR would be like that, not all web is asynchronous, etc.)

Although the full vision for the Metaverse remains hard to define, seemingly fantastical, and decades away, the pieces have started to feel very real. And as always with this sort of change, its arc is as long and unpredictable as its end state is lucrative. […]

[I]n its full vision, the Metaverse becomes the gateway to most digital experiences, a key component of all physical ones, and the next great labor platform. […]

We don’t know exactly what the Metaverse will need, let alone which existing standards will transfer over, how, to what effects, when, or through which applications and groups. As a result, it’s important to consider how the Metaverse emerges, not just around which technological standard. […]

In fact, Fortnite’s Creative Mode, already feels like a proto-Metaverse. Here, a player loads their avatar — one specific to them and which is used in all Fortnite-related experiences — and lands in a game-like lobby and can choose from thousands of “doors” (i.e. space-time rifts) that send them to one of thousands of different worlds with up to 99 other players. […]

And in truth, it’s most likely the Metaverse emerges from a network of different platforms, bodies, and technologies working together (however reluctantly) and embracing interoperability. The Internet today is a product of a relatively messy process in which the open (mostly academic) internet developed in parallel with closed (mostly consumer-oriented) services that often looked to “rebuild” or “reset” open standards and protocols.