The Metaverse’s Advantages and Disadvantages
Facebook made the news in a big way in 2021 when it indicated its strong desire for the metaverse as the future of its business. Some are cheered by the news, others have serious concerns.
Just What is the Metaverse?
First off, a disclaimer on the term: there are metaverses, not just one metaverse although it’s commonly referred to in the singular. Each one is a shared online world where users can gather in virtual reality and have fun (or engage in more serious activity). The metaverse differs from the regular internet by its focus on VR (virtual reality) technology, and putting cryptocurrency and NFTs at the heart of the financial system. For some, this sounds like a dystopian vision of increased power for big businesses as they control the portals through which internet activities are accessed. For others, realizing the dream of VR is a stepping stone on the way to Star Trek’s holodeck. There are certainly strong opinions on either side of this debate. Will the metaverse become a hub of commerce, gaming, and social interactions, or is it overblown fluff from big businesses intent on sinking their hooks into consumers?
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A new type of online casino has already emerged to exist within the metaverse. With an emphasis on VR and cryptocurrency (note that crypto is regularly available at mainstream casinos but as an additional rather than primary funding sources), metaverse casinos work in a quite different way to regular online casinos. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) may be purchased to provide wearables for an online avatar, which is then used on a daily basis to play games. These are still the earliest days, and some will consider casinos in the metaverse to be a perk, others a drawback, depending on one’s view of betting. But if the metaverse flourishes then casinos will surely be part of that.
Drawback – VR and Crypto Limiting Access
An interesting aspect of the metaverse is that it has a heavy emphasis on two relatively new technologies: VR and crypto. This also necessarily limits the userbase in a way that the regular internet does not (while not everyone in the world has internet access, the vast majority do). Most people around the world do not use cryptocurrency, so straight away the maximum potential userbase of the metaverse versus regular internet is way smaller. Businesses may open additional outlets in the metaverse but they won’t be abandoning ‘normal’ internet to do so.
On top of this, VR tech is now readily accessible and has been a nice little addition to the world of videogames, but it has not rivaled (let alone eclipsed) simply playing on a screen. This still works fine and there’s no danger of VR outshining games without it. Unless the uptake of these two technologies increases or the metaverse fundamentally rethinks how it’s going to function (access can occur without VR but this is not the way it’s meant to be fully experienced) this will leave the metaverse on the backfoot, with limited appeal.
Drawback – Computer Power Limiting Possibilities
Ironically, another drawback for the metaverse is that if it suddenly became as popular as the regular internet and billions of people tried to access it, the computing power simply does not exist to support this. While our computational power has increased massively over the years and continues to grow, at the moment Intel have asserted that a one thousandfold increase is required to build the metaverse and have it accessible by billions of people (something the internet does every day already).
Advantage – Making the Most of VR
VR right now is limited and that will make it slow going for the metaverse, for a time at least. Adoption rates have not been as rapid as when the smartphone emerged onto the scene, but as the technology improves (some models even have basic smell capabilities) this will change. The potential applications of VR are vast, from immersion therapy in psychology to watching sports from a cockpit or helmet camera. Ancient ruins can be toured remotely, or the bed of the sea wandered, not to mention video game applications or teaching surgery. And all of this will help drive the technology so that it both becomes more affordable and higher quality.
When this leads to wider adoption by the general public the metaverse may be in a great position to act as the hub between a huge array of social, economic, and business activities that incorporate VR. People have always dreamed of a VR-style world, and it’s been a staple of sci-fi for years. From science fiction were mobile phones first inspired, and the metaverse has the potential to perhaps become the halfway stage between the internet as is, and the holodeck beloved of Star Trek fans.
Drawback – Replicating what Exists, and Making it Worse
One major flaw at the heart of the metaverse is that an awful lot of what it’s promising can already be achieved through other means (means which do not have NFTs gouging cash along the way). MMORPGs have provided social hubs for gaming for years and proved immensely popular, and social media, whether it’s chatting in Discord or arguing on Twitter, affords easy access to conversation. Online retail is a massive part of the internet and it works perfectly well without needing to sign up for a virtual world and engage in cryptocurrency and NFT trading simply to buy something that can be acquired for a few clicks on the internet as it stands.
NFTs, in particular, have had a rough ride with the public recently, as the market has declined substantially, and the fact companies are already selling NFT wearables for virtual avatars and NFT real estate in metaverses does not allay fears that their presence is about lightening wallets more than enhancing experiences. The VR aspect is interesting but a lot of what the metaverse and Facebook is promising has already been delivered, and already works.
Whether the metaverse takes off as Facebook and other big businesses hope remains to be seen, and the question remains as to whether the pros outweigh the cons.