There are many online virtual experiences, spanning several decades of internet history, cited as precursors to the metaverse. From the vibrant narrative-driven worlds of MMORPGs to fluid social hub ecosystems like Second Life and others, we have long relished the opportunity to take control of personalised avatars and jump into virtual worlds where we could meet real people, explore swathes of interactive content, participate in rudimentary economies, and carve out our own unique identities amongst it all.
The proliferation of these kinds of applications has undoubtedly inspired the evolving conception of the metaverse as communal virtual space. However, engaging as they are in their own right, all of them share characteristics which cause them to fall far short of its ultimate vision. Built with siloed architectures, hosted on proprietary servers, and largely relying on processing power, memory usage and bandwidth provided by the end-user, their design and functionality have been shaped according to an inherently limited infrastructural paradigm. Under this paradigm, the following traits are practically inevitable:
- They exist, first and foremost, as products in isolation from each other, wholly owned and controlled by a single company, each with its own limited architecture and scope.
- Beyond contrived business partnerships, their communities, economies, and assets do not mingle, and there is a clear delineation between their state of play and that of others.
- They do not achieve 100% runtime, nor do they persist in any meaningful sense beyond the company’s ability to keep the servers that they are tied to up and running.
- Users can’t claim transcendent ownership of any asset that exists within the application, meaning that their value and functionality pertain only within its walls.
- As a consequence, there is a lack of interchange between these applications and the real world. They are regarded as escapes and diversions rather than having any meaningful bearing on the user’s ‘real world’ activities.
By inverting these limitations, it is easy to picture what the open metaverse aims to be, and why it would represent a true technological and cultural revolution rather than a trendy rehash of already-done concepts with a fresh futuristic rebrand.
What is the Open Metaverse?
At its core, the idea of the open metaverse is that of linking virtual worlds, each with its own uses, designs, and aesthetics, into a seamless, interoperable ecosystem, undergirded by a continuous shared infrastructure. In doing so, each world in the metaverse is given a far greater scope than it could achieve individually. Not only would a shared infrastructure permit virtual worlds and their creators to benefit from unconstrained implementation of third-party tools, data sets and ongoing technical innovations to fulfil their creative vision, but also, by converging into an ecosystem that is easily traversable for users, would unlock highly fruitful commercial network effects. Importantly, an open metaverse also defends against the prospect that most of us wish to avoid: an online future monopolised by a small handful of big tech behemoths, leveraging the overwhelming market dominance of their closed digital ecosystems to wield insurmountable power over the world’s data.
But perhaps the most crucial and forward-facing of its innovations is the following: through a continuous shared infrastructure, the open metaverse aims to enable a sense of underlying persistence that mirrors that of the real world, including our sense of unique personal identity. It does this by allowing economic systems, asset ownership, and self-sovereign user identities to transcend the boundaries of the various federated virtual worlds built upon it, and in doing so, sets the stage for an entirely novel kind of harmonic interplay between virtual worlds and the physical world.
While there is certainly still room for roleplaying and escapism in the metaverse, its underlying ability to reliably mimic and synchronise with the persistent state of the ‘real world’ also presents us with a stable virtual layer in which to live out our ‘real lives’, allowing digital systems to synergise with physical ones in an unprecedented manner. Things like working, shopping, banking, visiting a therapist, and seeking help on dishwasher repairs, will become available online in a new way, blending the seams between our avatars and our everyday selves, characterised by a greater sense of immersion, interactivity, realism, and ultimately, utility.
With this, the metaverse brings the next generation of the internet into fruition, also known as web3, unlocking the potential of seamlessly connectible virtual spaces for a broad range of meaningful use cases, and letting these benefit from exponential advancements in digital technology, including AI, Machine Learning, and digital twins, as well as novel ways of managing finance and democratising decision making through decentralised cryptography, all of which merges with the activities of wider society.
Foundations for the Open Metaverse: Common Standards and Scalable Infrastructure
The idea of the next generation of the internet as a single massively accessible layer of interlinked spatial simulations running in step with the physical world is admittedly a grand one, with many as-yet-uncrossed technological barriers. Nonetheless, the recent formation of the Metaverse Standards Forum, which Hadean is proud to take part in, signals a strong commitment within the industry to tackle the challenges of building the best possible version of the metaverse in communion. Its intention is clear: to define the standards and protocols that must be put into place in order for the metaverse to achieve the universality and ubiquity of the world wide web, and to establish common foundations for driving the technological innovations required to bring it into fruition.
Establishing a common protocol for enabling scale and interoperability for virtual worlds in the metaverse is paramount. While there is a clear technological continuity between the isolated virtual worlds of the present and the metaverse worlds of the future in terms of the broad functionality of interactive virtual space, the interlinking of virtual worlds into a continuous ecosystem that mimics the persistence of the real world is an entirely novel enterprise.
Recent attempts to implement nascent metaverse and web3 concepts into virtual worlds have suffered from infrastructural limitations, including lack of performance at scale (for example, Decentraland only supports 100 players per server), not to mention the complexity of creating an architecture that can support frictionless interplay between very different kinds of virtual experiences and assets. These limited first forays into building the metaverse have therefore shown us that a true open metaverse cannot rely on the same fragmentary infrastructure that continues to power most software today.
Running an interconnected ecosystem as vast and dynamic as the open metaverse aims to be requires an infrastructural technology that can scale and evolve along with it, with the ability to deploy live data in real-time to vast multitudes of active users everywhere.
In part 2, we will explore how cloud-native infrastructure enables interoperability, scale and security in a truly open metaverse.Back