Entering the metaverse: how to do it, how many exist and what are the important things to know today.
In the last period there is more and more talk about the metaverse, what the advantages can be, at least in the long run, and what the potential problems for users.
The metaverse is a network of 3D rendered virtual worlds accessible through the Internet and centered around social connection. Futurist literature and science fiction have for years referred to the metaverse, describing virtual and augmented reality glasses as tools for accessing it.
In another of our articles we focus on the differences between augmented, virtual and mixed reality .
The meaning of metaverse can be traced back to Neal Stephenson ‘s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash : the term is a portmanteau of meta , an explicit reference to metaphysics as what comes after and beyond physics and the universe .
Suffice it to say that there is a company with a market capitalization higher than, for example, that of Intel and AMD combined that has felt the need to transform itself and look beyond a social network like Facebook : it is Meta born in October 2021 as “parent company” not only of Facebook but also of Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus and other minor realities. When we explained what the metaverse is, we motivated the birth of Meta, a company that wants to look to a different future, which goes beyond the current methods of interaction through traditional social networks and focuses entirely on the use of viewers to access a world virtual.
How to enter the metaverse
You will certainly remember Second Life , a project presented in 2003, which allowed and still allows today, after twenty years, access to a virtual world using one’s own avatar.
Second Life , among other things, allows you to socialize, interact, participate in activities, create or exchange goods with other “citizens” of the virtual world and much more. Over the years, Second Life, much closer to a game than to an idea that is also useful for doing business, has gradually “deflated”.
Unlike what happened and happens with Second Life , a virtual reality viewer is needed to enter the metaverse . Also, although we have used the singular, there is not a single metaverse but multiple metaverses.
Leaving aside the Meta Quest Pro viewer which in Italy can be purchased for a good 1,800 euros, a Meta Quest 2 currently costs at least 400 euros.
The Quest 2 headset , once worn, offers a resolution of 1832 x 1920 pixels per eye and can be used not only to enter the metaverse but also for gaming and for work activities (for example to access 3D representations of an object or of a product).
Touch controls and hand movement tracking allow you to interact with virtual worlds maximizing the immersive experience.
The operation of Quest 2 is based on 6 GB of RAM memory and on the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 SoC : on the occasion of the IFA 2022 in Berlin, Qualcomm and Meta signed a new agreement that will allow Mark Zuckerberg’s company to obtain even more customized chips powerful for virtual reality and therefore for its viewers of the future.
One of the best features of the Quest 2 and of the new viewers is that they are stand alone products : they do not need to be connected to the PC, as is the case with the Oculus Rift , thus proving to be much simpler and more comfortable to use.
How many metaverses exist and what are they
We have always talked in general about the metaverse: in reality, as mentioned above, various manufacturers have presented their own platform which is not compatible or interoperable with the others. In short, these are isolated worlds whose participants cannot go beyond the boundaries of the world itself in which they find themselves immersed. Is this the concept of the metaverse? No, also because speaking of ” metaverses ” in the plural does not make sense because it represents a contradiction of the general idea of a single interconnected virtual world with free participation.
The age-old problem also arises: with a centralized metaverse , user-created content remains on the platform and can be used without restrictions by the company that manages it. In the case of the decentralized metaverse, all contents always remain the property of the same subjects who created and disseminated them in the virtual environment. Quite a difference.
Horizon Worlds , is an example of a metaverse made by Meta. There are currently few users, around 250,000, with the goal of reaching 500,000 by the end of 2022, which will not be achieved.
On Horizon Worlds you create a personalized avatar, you can interact with other users, participate in online events (even shows and concerts), challenge each other in many games, use the hubs dedicated to various topics to compare yourself with others, record songs and make them learn, create mini-worlds separate from the rest of the virtual environment and much more. There is also a version, Horizon Workrooms , dedicated to users who want to try using the metaverse for work purposes.
Horizon is an example of a centralized metaverse.
Decentraland , on the other hand, is an example of a decentralized metaverse because it is built on the Ethereum blockchain .
In addition to being able to create your own avatar, in this metaverse you have the possibility to buy land on which to build, organize events, exchange objects, buy and sell as well as use NFTs ( Non-Fungible Tokens ) . All this is possible using a currency called MANA: the operation of Decentraland rests on it .
It’s one of the few examples of a metaverse that doesn’t strictly require the use of a virtual reality headset, although in this case you won’t be able to access the full range of features.
In the case of Decentraland , there are very few active users every month: according to estimates they would be just over 60,000, a marked decrease compared to the interest that the metaverse had aroused some time ago.
The Sandbox is another example of a decentralized metaverse. Also in this case there is a currency that represents the reference point on the platform: it is called SAND. The style of the freely customizable avatars and the elements that make up the virtual world is reminiscent of Minecraft .
Also in this case there is the possibility of buying lots of land, properties, using NFTs, organizing and participating in events, having fun with lots of games and much more.
The Sandbox has very limited numbers: active users do not exceed 200,000 per month.
False start for the metaverse: few users
It cannot be denied: although curiosity and interest around the concept of metaverse remain very high, active users are few. Suffice it to say that active users on Second Life are still around 500,000 today.
John Carmack, well-known programmer and appreciated video game author (just mention two names: Doom and Quake ) has leveled various criticisms against Meta, arguing that the idea of the metaverse was driven by overly ambitious goals .
Instead, we need to proceed with caution for Carmack: cheaper viewers, which can be purchased for no more than 250 euros, will make it possible to solicit the interest of users. Furthermore, rather than thinking of large-scale long-term goals, we should focus on the generation of realistic avatars using common hardware, easy to find for everyone.
Then there is the gaming aspect that Meta has until now placed in the background and which instead many consider the flywheel for the success, at least in the initial phase, of a metaverse project.
In fact, let’s think of video games such as Fortnite and Roblox : users use them every day not only to play but also to build relationships. More messages are sent every day on Roblox than on Instagram and Messenger combined: an aspect on which, according to many leading analysts, Zuckerberg and his cannot be short-sighted.
Furthermore, again, the metaverse is still an “idea” rather than something universally recognized: the lack of interoperability between platforms, which eventually only decentralized ones can ensure, is and will represent a problem for the years to come, especially if commercial realities like Meta will not find a concrete solution. Being able to switch with one’s identity from one platform to another is in fact an aspect of fundamental importance for every user.
There are also the “skeptical voices”: Intel, for example, believes that to run truly immersive applications in the metaverse, the computational power must increase by 1000 times . Today’s proposals would therefore be sketches, even rather approximate ones, of what will be possible in the future.
On the business side , there are many opportunities, it is true, but if the platform manager does not make a stimulating, complete, versatile and customizable environment available to the interested parties, the metaverse cannot grow.
Many businesses are trying to seize the opportunities of the metaverse : Randstad , for example, is the first employment agency in Italy to open its own space in the metaverse, a large area that includes a four-story building and an outdoor space dedicated to events formative. The environment was created in the metaverse of the blockchain company Coderblock , another platform to add to those mentioned above, interesting because it was born from an Italian startup .
We also cite the example of Nikeland , the virtual world of Nike that was presented on Roblox in 2021: users can dress their avatars with the well-known company’s products to check what the final effect would be once worn.
Peter Moore presented a metaverse concept based on the Unity Metacast engine – the goal is to launch fully interactive and highly engaging sporting events in the metaverse for viewers. Unity-Metacast technology could be used in many business sectors.
The Principality of Monaco has even developed its own metaverse thanks to the work done by the tech startup DWorld and by Manila Di Giovanni, the company’s Italian CEO.
” I’m thrilled to finally be able to announce that the first Alpha version of the Principality of Monaco’s metaverse is ready. We started working on it a long time ago, even before Facebook turned into Meta or other cities announced the development of their own metaverse. We were the pioneers and it was not easy to make our interlocutors understand the importance. Today, fortunately, this is no longer the case but great challenges await us “, commented Di Giovanni.
In order to understand the business opportunities behind these ideas, DWorld ‘s long-term mission is to build numerous intelligent, inclusive metropolises, replicating the concept developed on Munich but adapting it to the culture of the city in question. We want to enable an interconnected virtual economy between cities set in the metaverse and those of the real world in a complementary way, promoting and generating an ecosystem capable of increasing the level of GDP and tourism, to then interconnect cities globally and make interoperable the metaverse of each through DWorld .
Metaverse and legal aspects: the problems to manage
The lawyer Francesco Palumbo instead examined the legal aspects connected to the use of the metaverse explaining that to date there is still no real and proper ” Penal Code ” ad hoc for the virtual world.
The first issue to address, given the vastness of the “virtual world”, explains the lawyer, is the problem of any territorial jurisdiction . On this point, the question has been resolved and overcome in the light of the numerous jurisprudential interventions on the subject of defamation via the Internet.
“It is known that there are some types of crimes that can be perpetrated (also) via the Web, such as the crime of defamation, the contravention envisaged pursuant to art. 660 of the criminal code, harassment or disturbance to people which, as recorded by the jurisprudence, the case in question can fall within the category of computer crimes. However, although the sanctionability of the offense committed online is important, the question concerns the fact that the crime pursuant to article 660 of the Criminal Code is configured as a generic disturbance to public or private peace; unlike the French Penal Code, which sanctions the so-called harcèlement sexuel, concerning conduct intended to impose on a person, on a repeated basis, observations or behaviors with a sexual or sexist connotation which, therefore, harm“, observes Palumbo.
In the metaverse, therefore, all those crimes can be committed that do not presuppose physical contact between the victim and the offender which, as a rule, constitute an offense even in everyday reality.
” In this regard, the act aimed at harassing, for example, with various gropings the avatar belonging to another subject, therefore, although it may represent reprehensible and morally reprehensible conduct, does not constitute a crime “, continues the lawyer. ” According to jurisprudential orientation, in violence committed with remote telematic communication tools, the lack of physical contact is neither suitable to exclude the commission of the crime pursuant to article 609-bis of the Criminal Code, nor to guarantee recognition of the mitigating circumstance of the fact of lesser gravity “.
In addition to those mentioned, there are also crimes that are specifically committed in the virtual world. Think of cyberstalking , i.e. the crime of persecutory acts committed through IT or telematic tools pursuant to article 612-bis, paragraph 2, of the Criminal Code, or aggravated defamation pursuant to article 595, paragraph 3, of the Criminal Code; the case of digital identity theft – even if only in the form of an avatar – which could mislead other users or, for example, the issue of creating false identities using the deepfake technique .
Similarly, the threat (art. 612 of the criminal code) or the more serious acts of persecution (so -called stalking , art. 612 bis of the criminal code) can, also in this case, be committed via the Web.
” In this regard, the Supreme Court confirmed the hypothesis that the threats, made through social media, are suitable for integrating the crime of persecution “, the lawyer Palumbo pointed out to us. ” It has been highlighted how the content of the medium used to set up the crime referred to in Article 612 bis of the Criminal Code, such as IT tools, can become a sounding board for the commission of specific crimes: think, again for example, to incitement to commit a crime (art. 414 of the criminal code) or to the propaganda of racist ideas “.
Finally, the specific interventions, always carried out by our Legislator, on the matter cannot be disregarded. Law 172 of 2012 inserted a specific criminal figure in the art. 609 undecies of the Criminal Code: ” anyone, for the purpose of committing the offenses referred to in articles 600, 600 bis, 600 ter and 600 quater, even if relating to pornographic material referred to in article 600 quater. 1, 600 quinquies, 609 bis, 609 quater, 609 quinquies and 609 octies, soliciting a minor of sixteen years of age, is punished if the fact does not constitute a more serious crime “. By soliciting, we mean any act aimed at gaining the trust of the minor through tricks, flattery or threats even through the use of the Internet or other networks or means of communication.
Considering that in the metaverse users have the possibility of creating and using digital content ( user-generated contents, UGC ) in different environments, Palumbo recalls the possibility that criminal and non-criminal conduct may be identified, in matters of intellectual property or disputes regarding forgery .
Famous disputes are the Nike case against the StockX platform , which launched an NFT campaign to advertise products sold under the appellant’s brand.
Furthermore, the avatars can be traced of eye movements and facial expressions, through which it is possible to store information relating to the preferences and interests of the person as well as biometric data and even the emotional state.
The collection and processing of this data must take place in compliance with the legislation on the protection of personal data, in particular the General Data Protection Regulation ( GDPR ).