What in the Universe Is the Metaverse

AV and the metaverseIn IT (and therefore AV as well), we certainly don’t have a shortage of our acronyms and buzzwords. When Meta, formerly known as Facebook, changed its name in October, the newest buzzword, “metaverse,” exploded into our feeds. We have heard the word countless times, but what the heck does it really mean? What, after all, is “the metaverse?”

To be fully honest, I wrote this blog really for myself. I did not know the full meaning of the word and most of what I read spoke about it as if everyone understood it. So if you’re like me and you are thoroughly confused, then read on. Fair warning though — I don’t have all the answers because I don’t think they exist yet.

It never makes sense to re-invent the wheel, so I first suggest you check out this article published in Wired magazine in November. One of the many interesting points made in the article is that explaining what the metaverse is today is like explaining what the internet was in 1994. Remember Katie Couric and Bryan Gumble trying to do just that? Sure, this is a good laugh, but at the time, no one was laughing — was genuinely confusing. As Wired points out, that same is true today about metaverse.

Wired uses Fortnite as their basis to explain the metaverse, but if you are roughly the same age as I am (I hate to use the term middle-aged, but it is accurate), you may be more familiar with SimCity. In this game of our teenage years, we could be the mayor of a town and have to deal with all the complexities of such a role. The better job we did, the more the town grew. It was a complex game that simulated real-life tasks that people would have to deal with. In SimCity, the mayor collected money through taxes paid to the town, just like in real life. This was clearly not real money and only part of the game. The next step is for you to think about any game you play on your phone or gaming console. They all have a concept of money or token of some sort. There is some currency to earn and some currency to spend. Words with Friends (online Scrabble), for example, awards you coins when you win. You get enough coins and you can swap all your tiles for a new set without playing a turn. Each game’s currency, of course, is only good inside the game.

This is where the metaverse starts to get interesting. In the metaverse, the money made or spent could be transferable to any other game and situation. So, if you are a Words with Friends fan, think about the coins you earn in that game being used in another game. Or, it could actually end up being a currency that could be spent in the real world. There is a wide expectation that most transactions in the metaverse will use cryptocurrency. For all its technical jargon and seemingly complex explanations, cryptocurrency can really be thought of as a debit card that you can use anywhere (virtual or real).

With that explanation, those of us in the audiovisual industry will start to wonder — how does this affect our businesses? One answer seems to be fairly clear: If this concept of the metaverse continues to develop, then it is only logical that cryptocurrencies will follow. Despite my oversimplified explanation of crypto, there are actually a lot of complexities about it that still need to be figured out. However, it makes sense for companies to begin to think about how and in what situations they would accept crypto. There may come a time when people’s money will only be “located” virtually, and they will want to use it to purchase goods from you. Yes, collecting payments from crypto is complex. Harvard Business Review published a great case study on this in the November/December 2021 issue. Reading the case study will bring up many questions your accounting department will have.

A second and likely more pressing question is, what changes will occur with my business over the next twenty years if the metaverse continues to develop? Some people are predicting that the metaverse is the future. They predict that offices will all become remote work environments along with concerts, events, trade shows and retail all moving to the metaverse. What does this mean for the AV industries that have made their living off of creating these in-person experiences? Is there a future where concerts happen mainly in the metaverse? How about education? Will the in-person office continue to disappear?

Many people around my age tend to say of course not — we still need in-person experiences. Yet, we are not really the target age group for the future of the metaverse. When we see Microsoft spending 68 billion dollars on Activision Blizzard, Facebook changing their parent company name and reorganizing their company and Sony making six acquisitions over 2021 (gaming design companies that focus on multi-user play), we know that these businesses are designing a future metaverse. 

I am not a person who thinks I can predict what 10-15 years out looks like. I do think that, as the metaverse grows, that is the timeframe we will have to consider. I do think, however, that this could be the first few signs of a potentially major shift in the future viability of this industry. Whatever any of our roles are in this industry, it is time we all start paying attention to this technology.