The term designates a cyberspace parallel to physical reality where a community of people can interact in the form of avatars. The concept was coined by author Neal Stephenson in the 1992 science fiction novel “Snow Crash”. It refers to the merging of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space.
Some video game communities have already created embryos of meta-universes, such as Roblox (a platform that includes myriads of games created by children and teenagers) or Fortnite (a shooter and survival game that boasts 350 million players).
In April, five virtual concerts by rapper Travis Scott, who appeared as an avatar in Fortnite, were followed by more than 12 million gamers.
Gradually, screens, holograms, VR headsets and augmented reality glasses will allow fluid “movements” of virtual universes in physical places, a process Zuckerberg likened to “teleportations”.
Facebook’s metaverse journey
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality, acquiring hardware such as the Oculus VR headset and working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.
It has also purchased a bevvy of VR gaming studios, including BigBox VR. It has about 10,000 employees working on virtual reality, The Information reported in March.
Zuckerberg has said he thinks it makes sense to invest deeply to shape what he bets will be the next big computing platform.
“I believe the ‘metaverse’ will be the successor to the mobile internet, and creating this product group is the next step in our journey to help build it,” he said in his Monday Facebook post.
He told The Verge: “If we do this well, I think over the next five years or so … we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a ‘metaverse’ company.”
“Facebook has its eye on a sci-fi prize,” said Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.
“This is little more than an ambition for Facebook at the moment…if the idea comes to fruition, it could be a valuable income source.”