What is the metaverse and what does it mean for learning & development? – Pt. 3

We’re back once again to continue our look at what the metaverse could mean for L&D, training and simulation. In parts one & two, we looked at what it is, and isn’t, conceptual structures of the metaverse, who’s poised to contribute towards building it and some of the potential blockers to adoption. In this part we’ll look at some real world examples plus start pulling apart the metaverse, how it is or isn’t linked to web3 or web 3.0 and where can expect to start to see it creeping into our every lives.

Ready Player None

We’re going to use the Stephen Spielberg film “Ready Player One“, released in 2018 based upon the novel by Ernest Cline of the same name, as a simple example of what the metaverse could be, right or wrongly. The film itself divides opinions; many dunk on it from a great height whereas others adopt it as the ultimate end goal (early Oculus employees used to be given a copy of the book in their welcome pack when starting at the company apparently).

In the opening scene, shown below via the YouTube link, we are shown a glimpse of some of the experiences and use cases people have for entering the metaverse, here called The Oasis. From sports to fitness, gambling and education, a variety of worlds or portals are briefly glossed over before focusing on the main function of The Oasis in the film, gaming (and to a degree, socialising), collecting coin, rare artefacts and ultimately overall control over The Oasis.

There are a few key takeaways here that are likely to be common in the real world metaverse:

  1. A series of portals to worlds for a specific purpose – whilst unknown how these will function currently, it is intended that one user account is interoperable across domains, carrying your user data between verses, providing a continuity of persona whilst building up one irrefutable record of behaviours, achievements and connections.
  2. Customisable avatars – whilst nothing really new, avatars have existed since we were first able to customise and create digital characters we have agency over within controlled parameters, here we can see rapid changes, styles, looks and outfits based upon the activity currently being carried out within a specific world. Like in The Oasis, we typically take on virtual personas to represent ourselves online, whether they be a close proximity to our real world selves, or are a totally alternative version, gender or even species, reaching into fantasy more than realism.
  3. Currency – digital currency is also nothing new, with many games having their own economies operating within worlds for players to collect and spend. Many systems allow spending of real world money to top up a digital balance but there are typically no options for in-game coin to be converted to real world currencies, for a variety of reasons, but some virtual worlds have enabled conversion and business to thrive. With the rise in popularity of blockchain and cryptocurrencies of late, many new revenue streams are being touted as a way to make money out of the metaverse. In The Oasis, we’re not told whether transferring digital to real is possible other than because everyone is there, perhaps virtual wealth is as or more important than real world.
  4. Social connection – a key part of The Oasis is to make friends, hang out and complete activities together, or against each other in the case of Planet DOOM. Virtual worlds and social networks have long existed since the first few computers were connected to each other, from MUDS, BBS, ICQ, Ultima Online, Second Life etc to Facebook and the early VR social applications today like AltSpace and Engage.
  5. Technology stack – everything shown in the clip above, from a technology standpoint, from the headsets to the haptic vests to the treadmills exists in some form today. Whilst the film is set in 2049, in 2022 (even 2018 when it was released) it is possible to recreate the setup and to a degree have the same experience, albeit at considerable cost with a high level of faff-factor that would put off the average user or organisation.

Some of the assumptions we make about the film are enabled because of a few key points about how The Oasis is owned and operated. Many of these go against our previous statements about how the metaverse should operate, crucially that no one single entity should control it. However many aspects shown in the film mentioned above are enabled by the fact that one company defines the standards and technical stack, therefore this is key to the importance of the conglomerate of organisations and standards bodies necessary to work together, much like web 1.0, to formalise how the metaverse will operate and how users can plug into it in future.

Another aspect that’s gaining popularity today that appears to be absent from the film in detail, is user generated content, or custom assets being able to be brought into the metaverse. Seemingly the one company that controls and owns The Oasis determines which avatars, assets, easter eggs and artefacts are within the world for use and discovery. Speaking from personal experience, some of us know all too well the issues surrounding the unofficial use of licensed IP and characters but in the film, it’s assumed that these agreements are in place for those who want to be represented by a well-known design rather than a self-customised avatar.

However much of the talk around the metaverse today and advances in 3D capture technologies are allowing organisations and users to generate and bring their own designs or assets into virtual spaces. Coupled with the rise in blockchain-based cryptocurrency payments for digital assets, there’s potential revenue streams and business models appearing and proving to be attractive to many brands. At the moment, much of this activity is centred around Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) in the form of creating digital scarcity for digital artwork (or rather, a receipt of ownership of a link to a digital asset at least).

Like the film, NFTs are another contentious area of discussion, where on one hand some argue it enables artists to control ownership and value of their output, away from the traditional curators of value and access, whereas others will argue it’s a fragile ponzi scheme, rife for abuse by fraudsters and artificially inflated in value by those with the most invested in the emerging space (not to mention the current environmental impact of mining and digital gas costs, associated with enabling transactions to occur, although greener versions are emerging).

Currently the NFT space is being ushered towards what is known as web3 / web 3.0, a decentralised version of the internet, whereas the metaverse is being touted as the definitive social space for a variety of activities, a clear distinction between digital camps with different desires of intended outcomes. However the underlying technology of blockchain and the ability to trace irrefutable ownership and actions is key to aspects of how the metaverse will operate, allowing users to traverse worlds with one persona with a level of security enabled.

We aren’t experts in web3 or NFTs as they currently are not related to our area of business, so for further reading we suggest you check out articles like 101 Blockchains, the PwC guide and others we have already referenced in parts 1 & 2. We think you’ll find that there is a fairly large crossover area between the two in a Venn diagram and many of the arguments on either side are the same but defined by a particular camps’ desire for ownership, control and financial opportunity. It’s certainly an emerging technology area we are monitoring to understand how it could become beneficial in the future, once some of the more obvious issues and barriers to acceptability are overcome.

To wrap up this blog post, as we opened talking about a film set within one vision of a metaverse, we’re going to leave you with a list of a few other films that are based around concepts and components related to the metaverse and immersive technologies. Whilst the weather makes its mind up what it’s doing, there’s a number of titles here for all audiences. Just remember that sci-fi incarnations tend to be dystopian warnings of technologies gone wrong, or misused, and shouldn’t act as a guide to implementation! Also some of them aren’t very good films but review scores (πŸ…Rotten Tomato, 🍿audience) included for reference, with IMDB links for how and where to watch them:

The Matrix (1999) 88%πŸ… 85%🍿

Total Recall (1990) 82%πŸ… 78%🍿

Dark City (1998) 76%πŸ… 85%🍿

eXistenZ (1999) 74%πŸ… 69%🍿

Tron (1982) 71%πŸ… 69%🍿

Ender’s Game (2013) 62%πŸ… 65%🍿

Tron Legacy (2010) 51%πŸ… 63%🍿

Lawnmower Man (1992) 35%πŸ… 31%🍿

Hackers (1995) 32%πŸ… 68%🍿

Johnny Mnemonic 19%πŸ… 31%🍿

Get in touch

We’re always happy to talk to you about how immersive technologies can engage your employees and customers. If you have a learning objective in mind, or simply want to know more about VR, send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.