How I Unwittingly Joined The Metaverse
I’m the kind of person who is still holding a lot of the world’s advancements at arm's length. I own a little bitcoin, but I’m not sure what to do with it. I scroll through Instagram mindlessly, but I have not joined TikTok. I understand what an NFT is, but I have no desire to talk about it incessantly. So when the topic of the metaverse started bubbling up, I was instinctually uninterested. Despite hugely powerful people insisting that the metaverse is the way of the future, I struggled to believe that we would all one day be strapped into VR headsets traversing an alternate reality, buying virtual denim for our avatar’s casual Friday attire.
I considered the metaverse to be the laser disc of online trends until something happened to all of us around the entire world…
COVID-19 shifted our virtual consciousness
I considered the metaverse to be the laser disc of online trends until something happened to all of us around the entire world… COVID-19. As stay-at-home orders mounted and in-person interaction became prohibited, we were all forced to create touchpoints through online means. Virtual meetings and online catch-ups were a part of our lives, but now they became the primary mode of communication, and this shift really catapulted many into a new relationship with the virtual universe. The pandemic has drastically altered how most of us live our everyday lives. This necessary change left many adopting technologies and platforms that they never dreamed of. In the first month of the lockdown, the social connection platform House Party saw 50M new users. People were desperate to have some organic moments that felt like a casual social interaction. Virtual meetings became the norm and video conferencing platforms reaped the benefits. Zoom saw a 370% sales increase during the end of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, hitting $882.5M. I attended, and even hosted my own, Zoom birthday party where a bunch us drank heavily, and eventually resigned to playing with the in-app background features. It all seemed a little strange and somewhat bleak, but under the surface we were feverishly learning and implementing a new way of life. We were resilient, and everyone from children to seniors rose to the challenge and retrofitted this digital world into their lives. Collectively, we spent $1.7T online over the pandemic (2020-2022) which is $609B more than the two preceding years. We figured it out. We bought groceries online, we played virtual chess, we attended virtual concerts, weddings, and funerals.
We survived, and that is a testament to the strength of our species. However, like many of you, I was feeling dread and anxiety. There was a void left where real world interaction used to be. That first winter was the hardest for me; it felt like the walls were closing in. I was really missing being present and hanging out with my friends and loved ones. I started dreaming about dinner parties, late night hangs, the sweaty cacophony of live music shows and the serenity of watching a film in the theatre.
How I fell into the metaverse
I’ve never really been a gambling man, but I became determined to organize a weekly poker game once this thing all blew over. The trouble was that COVID wasn’t blowing anywhere, except into our respiratory systems. I knew there were many places where we could play poker online. In France alone, there are 1.7M active online poker players but I wasn’t looking for that experience. I wanted to play poker as a means of connecting with my friends. Then it hit me. I’ve always been a fan of open world games and Red Dead Redemption, created by the game studio Rock Star, is one of the most beautifully designed in history. This open world experience allows you to traverse the wild west and take on missions which are scattered across the great plains. Open world gaming is extraordinary because you can play missions or go wherever you please: visit the tailor, do chores, pick flowers, or play wager-based games in the saloon. What better venue to host a poker night than in this Rembrandt of a video game? Invitations were sent out, and 7 pals dipped their toes into the online world of RDR2. We prepared our characters and tweaked their appearances. Each one of us meticulously laboured over every detail of the ensemble for our characters. We met in the saloon, ready for poker, and the experience did not disappoint. It was a blast, we played cards, drank whisky at the bar and ventured on a few missions together in this online cowboy universe. We called our posse “The Howdy Boys” and agreed to meet every Thursday night. Something rather interesting grew from here. We all began to go online in RDR2 frequently and independent of our weekly game. We would play missions in order to earn in-game money for new clothes or go searching for rare artifacts to impress each other with. RDR2 became our home away from home. We began to “play” less and started existing in-game more. Our Thursday night meeting veered away from poker and favoured more real-world activities. Often the posse would meet and simply go fishing off a dock together and chat.
Our conversation was unreserved and organic, despite the fact that we were channelling it through the personae of outlandishly dressed cowboys in a virtual wild west.
One such night sticks out for me. Only two of us remained in the game, and we were trotting along on horseback, across a bridge that offered safe passage over the valley beneath. We admired the friscalating dusk light that dappled on the water as we conversed about our respective lives. I spoke about the challenges of having young children and maintaining a healthy relationship with my wife. My friend lamented the realization that he needed to leave his partner. She was unable to have children and despite his love for her, he wanted more than anything to be a father. This was real-life stuff, heavy topics only close friends share. We had a meaningful touchpoint as we took in the wondrous and completely manufactured vista before us. It was the same type of discourse we had in the past on real hikes or over dinner at the now-shuttered restaurants we once loved. Our conversation was unreserved and organic, despite the fact that we were channelling it through the personae of outlandishly dressed cowboys in a virtual wild west. It was at this moment I realized that I may have inadvertently onboarded into the metaverse. Is this what Mark Zuckerberg was talking about? I’ve since watched his cringe-worthy one hour and seventeen-minute sales pitch about Meta and yes, this is just the type of thing Mark believes we will all be doing in the not too distant future.
Sure, the metaverse hasn’t consumed my brick and mortar life, but I can now see its potential. What the pandemic has done is inadvertently acted as a bridge over that virtual valley, and we’ve made it to the other side. When the pandemic forced us to restrict human contact, there was only one way forward – embracing the virtual world.
In 2021 Xbox represented 53.3% of the console market in the United States. The purchase of Activision is more forward-thinking than merely the control of physical game units. It is about utilizing the power of this mighty game engine to carve out an identity for Microsoft in the metaverse.
Current Indicators that the metaverse is rising
Living in VR headsets at this juncture feels optimistic, yet massive investment continues to pour in. The metaverse is not just a playground for Facebook, lots of major players are buying in. Microsoft’s $68.7B acquisition of game developer Activision put them in control of one of the biggest online gaming companies (Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Candy Crush). Microsoft already holds a major share of the gaming market. In 2021 Xbox represented 53.3% of the console market in the United States. The purchase of Activision is more forward-thinking than merely the control of physical game units. It is about utilizing the power of this mighty game engine to carve out an identity for Microsoft in the metaverse. Google has invested $39.5M into a private equity fund to develop metaverse specific projects. Unity Software purchased VFX company, Weta Digital, for incorporation into Unity’s metaverse focused VR technology, RT3D. It wouldn’t be a party without Apple ruling the dance floor, and their upcoming release of an AR headset has everyone paying attention. Coinciding with this announcement, Warren Buffett’s Holding Company, Berkshire Hathaway, bought an additional $600M in Apple stock. Warren also grabbed up a huge amount of Activision Stock alongside the Microsoft purchase. Gucci is selling virtual handbags on Roblox, an online user-generated gaming platform, for more money than their leather counterparts. So if you are looking toward the richest and most powerful for market predictions, all signs are pointing at the metaverse.
We’ve all been soft-onboarded to the metaverse
We appear to be at a plateau, signalling the end of this pandemic, and we are all cautiously emerging from our cocoons, dusting off our party dresses and practising our small talk. We’ve come out the other side and changed along the way. Perhaps it wasn’t a cocoon, but more of a chrysalis. We’ve metamorphized into a more technologically fluent species that is poised to embrace whatever changing digital future comes our way. The lockdown placed us in an altered reality; it was augmented, it was virtual, it was isolating, and it was strange, but an unexpected byproduct of this is the orientation of the people towards the impending metaverse.