Adopting this literal approach to the metaverse means it is a combination of three elements. First, it is a technology that enables digital content to be laid over the real world. This is similar to augmented reality (AR). A simple example is the popular smartphone game, Pokémon Go, although, in the next iteration of a metaverse, this technology would be enhanced. Digital content is combined with the real world. Second, the metaverse applies a hardware device that enables the real world to be interactive. Digital content is applied so that users can control the content displayed virtually and interact with it within a real-life space. Third, it is information about anything and everything in the physical world (for instance, an area, a shop, or a product) and knowledge about the user (such as the user’s schedule, location, habits, and interests). This information will be obtained from the internet and from machines learning about a user’s everyday actions. A simple example of a device learning based on a user’s everyday activities is Siri (on iOS) and Alexa (on Amazon). Real-time information is obtained instantly and virtually through the device into the physical space to optimize a user’s experience, while in the background, data is collated and applied.
A less literal but no less relevant approach to understanding the metaverse is the application of real-world characteristics to a purely online environment. In the same way that digital content can be applied to the real world, a metaverse environment can apply real-world features to a virtual environment. For example, players interacting in a virtual gaming environment can walk around a virtual London or New York, seeing digital depictions of real-life streets and buildings. They can visit a virtual Apple store to browse and buy digital depictions of Apple products that can be delivered, in real life, to their actual physical homes. In many respects, this would be only an extension of what we know today as traditional e-commerce. However, as visual technology and design capability evolves, brands can create metaverse environments that not only replicate a real-life experience but improve it. There may be no line outside the virtual Manhattan Apple store when a new product is launched.
The idea of replicating real-life environments in the virtual world is not at all new. After all, Second Life still exists. However, modern-day gaming environments have moved the metaverse far beyond the clunky, socially awkward, and often avatar-limited 3D block worlds prevalent at the turn of the century into entirely new, ever-evolving creative online habitats. Virtual platforms like The Sandbox, Illuvium, or Decentraland, which offer innovative opportunities to build, create, trade, and explore while engaging with users from all around the world, have been at the forefront of the metaverse movement.