August 11, 2023 - 13 min read
In recent years, metaverse technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, fueled by blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) technologies. While everyone has a slightly different opinion about what the metaverse is (and what it should be), the buzz around metaverse-related technologies, games, and infrastructure is only growing.
The 3D virtual worlds that were once the stuff of science fiction films and video games are slowly becoming a reality, despite significant criticism about the quality of many early-stage metaverse products and services.
In addition to advances in VR, AR, and blockchain, Facebook’s controversial rebranding as Meta has only fueled increased interest in the metaverse. While many have critiqued Mark Zukerberg’s branding choices, if any company has the clout to make the metaverse a reality, it might be Meta, with its impressive 2.96 billion monthly average users.
In general, companies and brands embracing the metaverse hope their efforts will lead to increased customer engagement. Ideally, this metaverse-focused experiential marketing will allow them to sell new and existing products and services. While many metaverse-focused companies are simply gaming or VR companies, companies in a variety of industries have adopted metaverse marketing strategies, including live metaverse concerts, social gatherings, and even virtual fashion shows, some of which incorporate augmented reality and mixed reality.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to define the metaverse and provide a variety of examples of metaverse technology in action, including a variety of games and virtual worlds at the forefront of metaverse technology.
The metaverse is most commonly defined as a virtual space where billions of people can interact together, built through virtual and augmented reality. This can enable billions of people to create, work, learn, and even conduct business in the comfort of their own homes. The metaverse also allows individuals to customize their identity via virtual avatars, allowing people to imagine themselves exactly as they like, whether or not their real-world identity matches up with their avatar.
While today’s metaverse is somewhat fragmented, many companies believe that advances in technology will promote increased interoperability, leading to seamless and coordinated experiences across multiple platforms. But before going further, it may be helpful to look at the origin of the term “metaverse.” In fact, the word “metaverse” was first written in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash by American writer Neal Stephenson. Since then, the term has become increasingly popular in a variety of science fiction and fantasy settings. However, since the dawn of the first major crypto and DeFi boom in 2017, the metaverse has, in many cases, specifically referred to virtual worlds and economies based on blockchain technology.
In addition to Facebook, multiple tech giants like Google, Apple, and Epic Games have invested significantly in its metaverse technology. And, according to analysts, the metaverse economy is likely to be among the fastest-growing industries on Earth. In fact, McKinsey & Company has predicted that the metaverse economy will reach a staggering $5 trillion by 2030.
Despite recent innovations in metaverse technology, it’s important to remember that, in some ways, the metaverse has already been around for quite a while. For example, the virtual world platform Second Life, was actually considered to be a form of metaverse technology as early as 2003. The boom in online gaming, fueled by advances in internet speeds, graphics, and computer processing, also led to metaverse-style games such as World of Warcraft and Fortnite, as well as the gaming platform Roblox. Each of these has been described as part of the metaverse in recent years.
Second Life was the first virtual world platform where users could create digital avatars, serving as their digital personas. Second Life allowed players to explore a large and relatively complex virtual world while meeting and interacting with a variety of players from around the world. Second Life was also one of the first games to include user-generated content and a virtual, in-world currency called the Linden Dollar.
Second Life players have created 70 million accounts on the platform since its inception, and the game still hosts thousands of players per month. While the platform never quite lived up to the expectations of commentators and analysts, peaking in the late 2000s, it still had a major impact on internet culture.
From the perspective of Second Life’s creators at Linden Labs, the game is still the closest thing we have to the metaverse. According to former Linden Labs Chief Architect Philip Rosedale, the platform still does about $650 million in transactions per year. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 global pandemic outbreak, transaction volumes have been increasing, but Second Life isn’t nearly as possible as games like World of Warcraft, or even newer blockchain-based games, like The Sandbox.
Fortnite originated as a battle royale game and is currently one of the world’s largest online multiplayer games. After launching in 2017, the game quickly became a worldwide hit. However, Fortnite, which was developed by Epic Games, has come a long way since its inception as a relatively simple battle royale game. Over the years, Epic Games has expanded the Fortnite gaming ecosystem to include virtual events, making it a major metaverse hub.
Fortenite’s competitive battle royale gameplay has managed to attract millions of players, and player counts are still growing. Part of its growing popularity can be attributed to the game’s unique building and shooting mechanics and its fascinating setting of a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world.
In addition, Fortnite encompasses Unreal Engine editing capabilities so users can create their own content. Fortnite has also embraced an effective cross-platform strategy that includes PCs, mobile devices, and several major gaming consoles.
Roblox, one of the fastest-growing metaverse projects, has become a major hit among Gen Z players. With its generative artificial intelligence, Roblox has evolved quickly and has developed a robust player base. As of mid-to-late 2023, Roblox had a market cap of more than $17 billion, making it one of the best-funded metaverse projects on the market today.
It’s worth noting that Roblox has had a staggering number of developers, around 9.5 million combined, working on UI-generated graphics and virtual experiences. In addition, Roblox has nearly 47 million daily users and over 214 million monthly users. Part of Roblox’s popularity is due to its well-designed and immersive interactive gameplay components, including the ability to create highly-unique and customizable digital avatars.
Ready Player One is a book written by author Ernest Cline (later turned into a movie) based on a future, all-encompassing metaverse. While not a real-world project, it’s an excellent example of what a fictional metaverse could look like. The story is based on a bleak future society, where the only escape is OASIS, a virtual world that can be accessed with a VR headset and wired gloves.
Pokemon Go is another powerful example of real-world metaverse examples, particularly due to the fact that it was one of the first mobile games to use AR rather than VR. The game, which was created by Niantic, Inc., isn’t quite as popular as it once was, but is still a dominant force in the mobile gaming industry.
IMVU is somewhat similar to Roblox, but instead of just being a life simulator, IMVU provides an all-encompassing 3D environment. IMVU’s chat rooms are fully customizable, providing users with significant freedom and flexibility.
Currently, IMVU has more than 6 million estimated monthly visitors to IMVU, and its high-quality graphics has been recognized by winning several awards, including winning Lifewire’s Best Virtual World Game Award for Realistic Graphics in 2020.
Decentraland is an Ethereum-based, 3D digital game where users can buy or sell virtual land, create virtual avatars, and develop their own NFT wearables and other NFT accessories. Launched in 2020, Decentraland has done more than almost any other game to advance and popularize metaverse technology.
In early 2022, the platform reached an estimated 300,000 daily active users, and while user counts have declined significantly since then, Decentraland is still a force to be reckoned with.
As of mid-to-late 2023, Decentraland had a $1 billion market cap, and many large brands have already invested in the platform for advertising purposes, including holding virtual fashion shows and other live metaverse events.
The Sandbox is particularly well-known for its virtual item creation engine, allowing users to create and embellish their NFT items and sell them within its custom metaverse marketplace.
In addition, The Sandbox has garnered additional revenue due to the fact that global celebrities like Ana Ivanovic and Italian footballer Marco Veratti have purchased land within The Sandbox.
Horizon Worlds is a social virtual reality application with thousands of experiences to explore inside its virtual universe. Horizon Worlds is currently a free application for Meta Quest 2 and Quest Pro VR headsets, where players meet new people, play multiple games, and attend virtual events. In addition, Horizon Worlds plans to release a non-VR social app in the near future.
The Horizon Worlds gaming ecosystem functions as a multi-player virtual platform with an integrated game creation system. It also has navigable virtual reality spaces, which makes its virtual world interactive and immersive. Additionally, it works through several key functionalities like code blocks, widgets, VR physics, and animation effects.
Horizon Worlds was formerly known as Facebook Horizons, as the platform was originally launched by Facebook (now Meta) in August 2020. Meta is also introducing closed worlds for private communities in Horizon Worlds, a functionality that has been in test mode since January 2023. These private worlds currently accommodate around 150 registered members, but only 23 can enter simultaneously.
Minecraft is a 3D-world multiplayer game where players can build using blocks and go on adventures. It is one of the first games to inaugurate a virtual economy, allowing players to trade in-game items.
Minecraft can attribute part of its stunning popularity to its highly customizable gameplay elements, incredibly interactive features, and flexibility, allowing players to create and share their content in an all-encompassing virtual world.
The use of NFTs and other cryptocurrencies in Minecraft is currently banned. Despite the game’s rejection of blockchain technology, Minecraft has one of the largest gameplay communities online, with around 176 million players as of January 2023. So, if the platform does introduce crypto and NFTs, this could have a major impact on both the gaming and the crypto community.
Axie Infinity is a metaverse game where players can gather, grow, breed, and battle digital creatures called Axies and trade them on an open NFT marketplace. Axie Infinity, which was inspired by Pokemon, was originally built on the Ethereum blockchain but later transitioned to the Ronin sidechain, which significantly helps improve scalability and minimizes gas fees.
Axie Infiinty’s robust play-to-earn mechanics have stood out, with many individuals in developing countries like the Philippines becoming full-time players and receiving scholarships from wealthier players in exchange for a portion of their earnings. While this trend has cooled down alongside a drastic drop in Axie’s token price, many still use the game as a significant source of income.
The game has two tokens – Axie Infinity SHards (AXS) and Smooth Love Potions (SLP). AXS, its native token, is one of the most demanded metaverse coins and, despite the crypto downturn, still has an impressive market cap of nearly $700 million as of mid-to-late 2023.
Nikeland is a virtual playground that is often referred to as a ‘micro metaverse.’ Built within the Roblox ecosystem by Nike, it targets passionate gamers who can create their personas and interact with other players while playing a variety of sports.
Nikeland is reported to have around 200 million monthly active users. Users can access Nikeland via both mobile devices and PCs. In addition to traditional gameplay, users can buy Nikeland NFTs on the platform, making it one of the first concepts for mainstream metaverse e-commerce.
Somnium Space is an open-source VR metaverse hosted on the Ethereum blockchain. The platform functions as a play-to-earn game where players can purchase digital land, build homes, and engage in other interesting activities. Currently, the game consists of 5000 land parcels owned by individual users.
Like other virtual blockchain worlds, it has fully customizable environments and programmable independent VR experiences. Somnium Space can currently be accessed through VR, PC, Web, and mobile phones.
With Somium Space, users can also play hyper-realistic video games, which many consider one of the best virtual reality experiences on the market today. The platform was launched in 2017 by Founder Artur Sychov, who currently serves as the company’s CEO.
Today, Somnium Space NFTs are traded through the game’s official NFT market on OpenSea. Somnium Space currently uses the CUBE token as a utility token.
In 2021, Microsoft unveiled Mesh, a platform designed for mixed-reality apps, primarily aimed at virtual meetings and collaboration. With Mesh integration in Microsoft Teams, users can interact with 3D content using mixed-reality glasses and VR headsets. This move is a segment of Microsoft’s bold $1 billion dive into metaverse tech.
With its introduction of holoportation, participants can feel a real-time 3D presence, making virtual interactions more lifelike. Additionally, the platform offers custom 3D avatars, allowing users to have distinct virtual representations. One of its standout attributes is its multi-device compatibility, accommodating everything from standard laptops to advanced VR headsets. The experience is further enriched with immersive spatial sound provided by audio cues. Altogether, Mesh vividly encapsulates Microsoft’s forward-thinking vision for the future of collaborative endeavors.
Alien Worlds is an interstellar adventure game where players are assigned the role of space explorers called miners. The game is set in 2055 after some humans have traveled deep into space in order to escape pandemics on Earth. Miners focus on obtaining the fictional material known as Trillium, which can be used for a variety of in-game purposes.
Players have the ability to explore different planets, gather crystals, enhance their spaceships, and acquire in-game items. Alien Worlds is integrated in Ethereum, Binance Smart Chain, and WAX.
In 2023, the metaverse stands out as a groundbreaking frontier, bridging technology and imagination. The metaverse, an expansive digital ecosystem, seamlessly blends virtual and augmented realities, offering immersive experiences like never before.
Among the intriguing examples are popular platforms like Alien Worlds, where players engage in interstellar adventures, and Decentraland, which offers a decentralized virtual real estate market. These platforms leverage cutting-edge blockchain technologies emphasizing security and user engagement.
Yet, it’s not just about gaming. Virtual concerts in platforms like Roblox and digital art galleries in platforms like Somnium Space highlight the metaverse’s broader cultural impact. As we navigate this digital age, these metaverse instances not only entertain but redefine the boundaries of online interaction and commerce. The future seems promising, and these 15 examples offer just a glimpse into the vast potentialities awaiting exploration.
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