1.3. Interpreting the Metaverse

1.3.1. The Challenge of Defining an Impending Blue Ocean

Looking back to the 1990s, the most widely accepted definition of the Internet at the time is the “information superhighway”, commonly associated with the then US Vice President Al-Gore who is credited for his extensive work towards promoting the development of the Internet.
Fast forward to 2007, Steve Jobs originally envisioned the iPhone to ‘only’ be an “iPod that made calls”. He is even dismissive of the idea that the iPhone would become a general-purpose mobile computer, quoted as saying “the second we allow some knucklehead programmer to write some code that crashes it, that will be when they want to call 911.” [2]
The anecdotes above simply illustrates the challenge of defining an impending “blue ocean” industry. This is because our understanding of the future is based on our understanding of the world and the technologies that exist in our present time.
Back in the beginning of the 20th century, the German chocolate factory Theodor Hildebrand & Son, known for being early adopters of new technologies (in fact, they are the first in the country to use steam engines for the chocolate production line), imagined the 21st century to have “trains pulling locations” or “people walking on water with air balloons” [3]. It might seem laughable now, but for the people back then, these visions are genuinely regarded as well-informed predictions. Things might look obvious in hindsight, but the future is largely unforeseeable.
As such, while an all-encompassing definition for “metaverse” is virtually certain to age badly and succumb to irrelevance with time, laying down a guiding “bare bones” description of what constitutes the Metaverse can serve as a useful goalpost for future industry leaders to reference — in a similar manner to how the phrase “information superhighway” back in the 1990s managed to sufficiently describe the Internet on a high-level without tying itself into specifics.
Fast forward two decades later, to say that the Internet has massively grown is a huge understatement. But at its very core, the Internet is ‘still’ the “information superhighway” (or in today’s terms, “a global system of interconnected computer networks”) — evidenced by the fact that while social media and e-commerce are two very distinct industries, the only difference between both of them from a low-level perspective is on how each application/service processes and interprets the swaths of information bits (basically a string of zeros and ones) that are ultimately connected by physical infrastructures spanning across the globe.

1.3.2. Reitio’s Definition

Reitio envisions the Metaverse to be “a network of interoperable 3D virtual worlds”. Just like how social media encompasses Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, the Metaverse is a forthcoming blue ocean industry that will encompass the whole universe of future interoperable 3D virtual worlds.
The Metaverse is not and will not ever describe one company or one virtual world — it marks a monumental shift in online entertainment, a new blue ocean formed as an amalgamation of several existing red oceans. In other words, describing the Metaverse as a virtual world will be the equivalent of describing the World Wide Web as a webpage, or describing social media as Facebook.
Having said that, virtual worlds are not new by any means. As a matter of fact, they have been around throughout the last decade, with gaming virtual worlds like Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft seeing tremendous amount of success due to its rich storyline and immersive gameplay, or social virtual worlds like Roblox and Minecraft imbuing players with the ability to create their own 3D assets and craft experiences within their platforms. Fortnite takes it up a notch, offering players both gaming (via Battle Royale) and social elements (via Fortnite Creative) within the same platform.
The Metaverse denotes a state where these virtual worlds are made interoperable — a state where virtual items in a particular virtual world could be ported to another virtual world, or a state where the transaction of virtual items, no matter its underlying virtual world, does not involve a centralized gatekeeping intermediary and is freely composable [4] with one another.
Hypothetically speaking, if Fortnite and Roblox are made to be virtual worlds within the Metaverse, then trading Fortnite skins for Robux will be as easy as a few clicks, executed ‘atomically’ [5] and immediately upon confirmation from each party without requiring an intermediary. Another hypothetical example, if Minecraft is also made to be a virtual world within the Metaverse, then a game maker of two different experiences on both Roblox and Minecraft will be able to, say, release an interoperable limited edition virtual item (ex: a powerful gun in Roblox, but becomes a powerful bow in Minecraft) usable on both experiences even if they are hosted on different platforms.
In an environment of open virtual worlds and interoperable virtual items, expect game creators to introduce novel game mechanics and monetization models that would previously be inconceivable prior to the Metaverse.
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1.3.1. The Challenge of Defining an Impending Blue Ocean
1.3.2. Reitio’s Definition