A brief history of Metaverse evolution

A brief history of Metaverse evolution

Metaverse: An evolution into a more immersive 3D internet.

Understanding the metaverse

Immersive 3D internet with upgrades along five key vectors:

  1. Hardware
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Content
  4. Community
  5. Currency/settlement mechanism

A brief history of METAVERSE

Science fiction.

The first vision and naming of the metaverse originated in the science fiction novel, Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson in 1992. In it, the metaverse was a shared multiplayer online game made available over the world’s fibre optics network and projected onto virtual reality goggles. Users could control avatars that could interact with other avatars and computer-controlled agents. An avatar in that metaverse could gain status through its technical acumen navigating the arena and gaining access to exclusive spaces.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline in 2011 and adapted into a film in 2018, followed on with this concept in a future view of the world in 2045 where users escaped the real world by entering a metaverse called Oasis accessed with a VR headset and wired gloves.

Ready Player One Participants in the world of VR
Ready Player One Participants in the world of VR

Multiplayer games and ‘avatars’.

The use of avatars has extended even further back from these novels. In the early 1970s, Steve Colley and Howard Palmer invested in a multiplayer game called MazeWar that could be played over ARPANET, a precursor to the internet. The game’s first avatar had a graphical eyeball that moved through the maze pointing in the direction it was travelling to shoot other players. In the 1980s, the Commodore 64 computer had a virtual world Habitat with cartoon-like avatars that could walk around and communicate with chat bubbles.

As the internet ramped by 1994, WorldsChat created a space-stationthemed virtual space for avatars to have social interaction and explore the various rooms. Out of that effort, a more advanced programme, AlphaWorld, featured 700 themed rooms or Active Worlds, with 12 different avatars, more interaction with the game and reaching 250,000 cumulative users. Other services, including Worlds Away, Virtual Places, Comic Chat and The Palace, also offered these virtual rooms.

Communities and services.

In 2000, a Finnish company created Habbo (formerly Habbo Hotel), an online community that has accumulated 316 mn avatars since launch and now has 800,000 active users. The main feature in the game is a hotel where users can visit public areas (restaurants, cinemas and clubs) and create guest rooms. The users in this community can create a character, design and build rooms, chat with other players and take care of virtual pets.

The early services formed the building blocks for Second Life, a virtual online world that launched in 2003. By 2013, it had 36 mn accounts created, with 1 mn monthly active users who had spent 217,000 cumulative years online on territory comprising over 700 square miles and spending US$3.2 bn on in-world transactions.

The users in Second Life created avatars to interact with places, objects and other avatars through chat, IM or voice. The avatars could take any form or resemble their real-life form and could travel by walking, vehicle, flying or teleporting. The community allowed a variety of socialising, games, group activities, and opportunities to build, shop, create and trade property and services. The service also used a virtual currency to buy, sell, rent or trade goods and services. The goods could include buildings, vehicles, clothes, art or jewellery, and services could include entertainment, custom content, or business management.

Second Life virtual reality world
Second Life virtual reality world

Second Life went into decline as it was usurped by other social media platforms and did not adapt well to a mobile platform. Second Life’s chief architect, Philip Rosedale, in an iEEE Spectrum interview in November 2021 noted limitations with adults wanting to socialise with strangers online, technical challenges getting more than 100 people together in a copy of a concert space, a need for better toolkits for large numbers of people to build the experiences and content, and a better common currency that can unify the diverse tokens that each platform uses. He also views VR still having issues to solve around comfort, typing speed and communicating comfortably with others.

A reporter from Reuters in a series published from 2007-08 noted issues including limited support to new joiners to make the most of the platform, an overly complicated user interface, IT issues (crashes and unstable IM), and a high weighting towards adult content. They still did note an incredible depth, passion and camaraderie in the community and some interest in being able to buy a grid of space and mould it into something.

The Second Life site still claims 750,000 monthly active users on the platform and US$650 mn in annual transactions, though this is marginal relative to the major social media platforms and never ramped much above 1 mn people. The creators of Second Life followed up with a VRbased virtual world called Project Sansar but it did not ramp up well. The company returned to focussing on Second Life and sold Project Sansar to Wookey Project Group. That group is now focussing on virtual concerts including pre/after parties.

Author: Devesh Verma

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