Why Zuckerberg Wants Us All in the ‘Metaverse’
As the chart in this article shows, Google searches for ‘Metaverse’ shot through in August with references to it by some of the world’s most powerful people, most notably Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. This article by Scott Galloway, a Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern, first helps us understand what various people mean when they say Metaverse and more importantly what Zuckerberg means, and hence why we should be worried about it. Galloway is scathing on Zuckerberg given Facebook’s scant respect for privacy and the abuse of the platform’s power to influence public opinion.
“Defining the metaverse is the kind of thing nerds fight to the death over. (Here’s an excellent nine-chapter epic to get you started on the literature.) I can tell you two things about it. First, it’s a future vision of the digital world beyond today’s internet, in which people socialize, work, and play across multiple domains, that is socially and economically integrated with the physical world. Second, Horizon Workrooms isn’t it.
The metaverse is a concept that’s been floating around tech for decades, and it is legitimately interesting. But also, legitimately not anywhere near real. Interest spiked after Epic Games announced a $1 billion funding round devoted to its “long-term vision of the metaverse” — well timed after a year of lockdowns and Zoom calls that have made a virtual world feel more real.
Multiplayer games are an illustration of what the metaverse could look like; they have the trappings of persistence and community. World of Warcraft is the most popular, and Eve Online is now part of MoMA’s permanent collection. Both are large online worlds populated by a mix of computer-controlled characters and human avatars who socialize, fight, create culture, and trade goods and services for (in-game) currency. (There are 10 million transactions a day on Warcraft, with some items trading for the equivalent of almost $1,000.) In the novel/film Ready, Player One, the hero lives in a dystopian trailer park but spends all his time going to school, socializing, and working “inside” OASIS, which is essentially World of Warcraft 2045.
The hot metaverse game of the moment is Fortnite (disclosure: investor). Once a relatively simple game in which 100 strangers fought one another elimination-style for sole possession of an island over and over again — think Hunger Games — it’s now a multibillion-dollar enterprise that hosts Travis Scott concerts and Christopher Nolan premieres. Its publisher, Epic, is all-in on the metaverse hype. The company opened its antitrust trial against Apple with its CEO claiming Fortnite isn’t a video game at all, but “a phenomenon that transcends gaming,” no less than the metaverse itself.
…Twitter is also a virtual world, and in some ways it’s closer to the vision of the Metaverse than online games. It’s a persistent, online extension of reality, with a large and diverse community of contributors who trade in the true universal currency: our attention. Imagine Twitter, but with graphics and a currency … and you are getting there.
Cryptocurrency and its offspring the non-fungible token are tokens from the metaverse future, pieces of digital ephemera that are portable across digital spaces and can be exchanged for real-world goods.
The full metaverse lies in a distant future in which distinct virtual worlds coalesce into a single integrated online world that is in turn integrated with the physical world. Your identity, your relationships, your money are the same online and off, and among different communities within the Metaverse. It’s probably not a proprietary, branded environment, like a single website, but a linked world of multiple environments of varying public and private nature, like the Internet. Put another way, the interoperability of a metaverse is the key to becoming THE metaverse.”