The Metaverse

Your constantly-updated definition of the Metaverse and collection of videos and articles

What is the Metaverse?

The term "metaverse" refers to a collective virtual shared space where virtual reality (VR), augmented reality, the internet, user-generated content, and digital economies converge to create immersive and interconnected experiences. 

This Business Insider video explains the metaverse, its current state and where it’s going.

Does the Metaverse Already Exist?

The metaverse is still a theoretical concept, however, various elements and precursors to what could become the metaverse are currently in development or already in use. Here's a breakdown of the current state:

An image that depicts both real humans and virtual characters all gathered together socialising in an environment that could represent the metaverse or a social VR platform.

The metaverse promises to be a space where people can socialize, work and play. It’s expected to blur the lines between the digital and physical worlds.

  1. VR and AR Platforms: Social VR platforms like VRChat, Oculus Rooms, and Microsoft's Mixed Reality offer immersive media experiences that are foundational to the metaverse concept. These platforms allow users to interact in virtual or augmented spaces usually through hardware like smartphones, VR headsets and AR glasses, but they are not fully interconnected or as expansive as the envisioned metaverse.

  2. Online Gaming Worlds: Video games have become are becoming the new social networks. Games like Fortnite, Roblox, and Second Life have created large, interactive online spaces where players can socialize, create, and participate in a wide range of activities. While they possess elements similar to the Metaverse, such as virtual economies and personal avatars, they are standalone experiences and not part of a larger, interconnected virtual universe.

    Fortnite hosts major events like concerts that players can attend in real-time. Some events, like the Eminem concert, are so popular that Fortnite’s servers crash.

    Here’s a video of the Marshmello concert from 2019:

  3. Decentralized Technologies: Advances in blockchain and cryptocurrency have led to developments in decentralized virtual spaces, like Decentraland and The Sandbox, where users can buy, sell, and own virtual land and assets. These platforms are steps toward the economic and digital asset interoperability envisioned in the Metaverse.

  4. Social Media Integration: Social media platforms are beginning to integrate more immersive and interactive features, such as Facebook's Horizon Workrooms, which offer a glimpse into how social interaction could evolve in the metaverse.

    An image of the Meta application, Facebook Horizon Workrooms. It shows four virtual characters having a meeting. They're seated around a desk and referring to a screen.

    Facebook Horizon Workrooms aims to redefine remote teamwork with a virtual meeting space that facilitates collaboration and creativity.

    © Meta, Fair Use.

  5. Technological and Infrastructure Development: The full realization of the metaverse requires significant advancements in technology and infrastructure, including faster internet speeds (like 5G), more powerful and accessible VR and AR hardware, and standards for interoperability and security.

Key Elements of the Metaverse and How it Differs from Other Digital Experiences

The metaverse represents a significant evolution in digital experiences—it distinguishes itself in several key ways from other forms of digital interaction and virtual environments:

  1. Virtual Worlds: The metaverse often includes multiple interconnected, immersive virtual worlds where users can interact, play, work, and socialize. Virtual worlds offered by VR and Extended Reality (XR) have similar offerings but are not interconnected as the metaverse is intended to be. 

  2. Augmented Reality: In addition to completely virtual environments, the metaverse may blend with the real world through AR—overlaying digital information onto the physical world.

    An image that shows how augmented reality works. A hand holds a mobile phone in front of a supermarket aisle. On the screen of the mobile phone is information that is digitally overlaid over the real environment, the supermarket.

    Augmented reality (AR) superimposes digital information onto the physical world, usually via a mobile phone or another mobile device. The metaverse will combine AR technology, along with other Extended Reality (XR) and computing technologies, to create a shared virtual realm.

  3. Persistent Universe: Unlike traditional games or virtual environments, the metaverse is typically envisioned as being persistent, existing continuously, and independent of whether any individual user is logged in. Traditional digital experiences are typically more isolated and static.

  4. Interoperability: A key feature of the metaverse is the ability to move virtual items like avatars, assets, and even currencies from one platform or world to another. This level of integration is largely absent in current digital platforms, which often operate as closed ecosystems.

  5. User-Generated Content: Users in the metaverse can create and contribute their own content, which can range from virtual objects and buildings to games and social experiences.

  6. Economy: The metaverse can have its own economy, with digital currencies and virtual goods that users can buy, sell, or trade. Most existing digital experiences may have in-game economies but are usually limited to the confines of that specific game or platform.

  7. Social Interaction and Community Focus: Socializing is a major component of the metaverse—it offers new ways for people to connect, collaborate, and engage in both personal and professional interactions. It also focuses on community building on a much larger scale than current digital platforms, which are often more limited in their social interaction capabilities.

  8. Range of Activities and Experiences: The Metaverse is expected to host a wide range of activities, from gaming and socializing to working, shopping, education, and more, all within a single, unified space. Current digital experiences are usually more specialized and limited in scope.

A screenshot from a VR application or something similar that represents what the metaverse would look like. There are several different avatars all doing different things.

The metaverse will provide endless opportunities for users to explore, socialize, create, and collaborate in shared virtual spaces. This emerging phenomenon can revolutionize how we communicate, educate, conduct business, and experience entertainment.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

  1. Evolution of Identity and Representation: In the Metaverse, the concept of identity and representation through avatars or digital personas is expected to be more fluid and dynamic. It’s set to offer unprecedented ways for users to represent themselves in the digital realm.

  2. Immersion: Current digital experiences offer varying levels of immersion and interactivity, but the Metaverse aims to provide a more comprehensive and sensory-rich experience to create a sense of presence that closely mimics real life.

  3. Technology: The development of the metaverse is closely tied to advancements in AI, VR, AR and XR technologies, as well as faster internet speeds, more powerful computing, and sophisticated user interfaces.

  4. Scale and Accessibility: The metaverse is expected to be accessible to a vast number of users simultaneously, potentially on a global scale, which is a significant step up from current digital experiences that have limitations on concurrent users.

  5. Integration with the Physical World: The vision of the metaverse is to have seamless integration with the physical world, blurring the lines between virtual and real.

How to Design for the Metaverse

Design for the metaverse involves a complex interplay of technological, social and creative elements. Here are some key design principles to consider for the metaverse:

Immersion and presence: Metaverse experiences should be engaging and immersive. This involves high-quality graphics, realistic physics, spatial audio and intuitive interfaces that make users feel present in the virtual environment.

An illustration with five different icons, each representing a different tip for designing for immersion and presence. They include visual realist, spatial audio, interactivity and agency, narrative and engagement, and balance realism and safety.

There are various design elements that can enhance immersion and presence, particularly in immersive technologies. These include visual realism, spatial audio, interactivity and agency, narrative and engagement, and ultimately, balancing these realistic elements with safety.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Interoperability: Different virtual environments and systems should work together seamlessly. This includes the transfer of assets, identities, and information across various platforms and experiences within the metaverse.

Scalability: The metaverse needs to be scalable to support potentially millions of users simultaneously, with high performance and minimal latency. Second Life is an early example of a virtual world. It demonstrates scalability by supporting thousands of users in its persistent world with various activities and interactions.

User Agency and Customization: Users should have the ability to create, modify, and control their avatars, environments, and experiences. This empowers users and encourages engagement.

Accessibility: The metaverse must be accessible to a wide range of users, regardless of their physical abilities, technical skills, or geographic location.

Security and Privacy: It’s essential to protect user data and ensure a safe environment. This involves robust security measures to prevent unauthorized data access, abuse, and harassment.

Economic Systems: Develop sustainable economic models within the metaverse, such as digital currencies, marketplaces, and trade systems, that are fair and transparent.

Social Interaction: Facilitate meaningful social interactions and community building. This includes tools for communication, collaboration, and social activities.

Content Moderation: Provide robust content moderation and safety tools to protect users from harassment and discrimination. This includes reporting tools, block functions, and moderated spaces.

A screenshot showing VRChat's Trust and Safety System's settings.

VRChat’s Trust and Safety System strives to “give control back to the user” and protect all users from purposeful disruption and malice.

© VRChat, Fair Use.

Sustainability: Consider the environmental impact of the technology used to build and maintain the metaverse and strive for energy-efficient and sustainable practices.

Ethical Considerations: Address ethical issues, such as the impact of prolonged VR use, the representation of individuals and cultures, and the potential for addictive behaviors. 

How to Design an Inclusive Metaverse Experience

The excitement about a new technology should not leave anyone behind. All experiences should be designed with an inclusive lens. The metaverse environments and experiences need to be accessible, respectful, and welcoming to a diverse range of users. Here are some strategies to achieve this:

Universal Design Principles: Employ universal design principles that ensure the metaverse is accessible to people of all abilities. This includes designing for various sensory, cognitive, and motor abilities to ensure that everyone can navigate, interact, and engage with content.

Customizable User Interfaces: Offer highly customizable user interfaces that allow users to adjust settings according to their needs, such as text size, contrast, color settings, and audio options.

Inclusive Avatars: Provide a wide range of avatar customization options that represent diverse body types, ethnicities, genders, and abilities. This representation helps users feel seen and included.

An image that shows the diversity of Xbox One's inclusive avatars that were released in 2018. There is a crowd of different 'people' all standing together.

Xbox One overhauled their avatars in 2018 to be more inclusive.

© Xbox 1, Fair Use.

Support for Multiple Languages: Incorporate multi-language support to cater to a global audience, including translation features and support for non-verbal communication cues.

Accessibility Features: Implement features like subtitles, sign language interpreters, and voice-to-text capabilities to cater to users with hearing or speech impairments.

Cultural Sensitivity and Diversity: Ensure cultural sensitivity in the design of environments, narratives, and content. Engage with diverse groups during the design process to understand different perspectives and needs.

Education and Awareness: Foster a community that values inclusion and diversity through education and awareness programs. This can include tutorials, guidelines, and community events focused on inclusivity.

Feedback Mechanisms: Establish clear feedback mechanisms that allow users to report issues and suggest improvements related to inclusivity, accessibility and more.

Partner with Accessibility and Inclusive Design Experts: Collaborate with experts in accessibility and inclusive design to continually evaluate and improve the metaverse environments.

Economic Accessibility: Consider the economic barriers to accessing the metaverse, such as the cost of VR equipment, and explore ways to make the technology more affordable and accessible.

Inclusive Storytelling and Content Creation: Encourage and support diverse storytelling and content creation within the metaverse to reflect a wide range of experiences and perspectives.

How to Design for the Metaverse

Here is a metaverse design problem that will encourage your critical thinking and creativity to get you into the frame of mind to design for the metaverse. 

Exercise: Define Rules for Social Presence in VR

In this video, UX Design Consultant Frank Spillers explains the design problem. 

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The rules for social presence govern how avatars interact in a virtual space. Think about aspects like following, blocking, reporting, and physical interactions. Explore the impact of sounds, cross-cultural considerations, and expressing emotions through avatars. The goal is to establish a set of rules that enhance positive and engaging social interactions in the metaverse.

Learn More About the Metaverse

Learn more about the metaverse, social VR and UX for VR in our course, UX Design for Virtual Reality.

Learn more about the metaverse in Wired’s article, What Is the Metaverse, Exactly?

Read about inclusivity in the metaverse in this HBR article, Designing an Inclusive Metaverse.

Learn more about how the metaverse will be designed in this article, How will the metaverse be designed as it disrupts design? 

Check out what happened at Fortnite’s Eminem concert in this New York Times article, What Happened With Fortnite’s Eminem Concert This Weekend?

Questions about The Metaverse

How does the metaverse impact user experience and interaction?

The metaverse significantly alters user experience by offering immersive, interactive, and persistent virtual environments. It blends physical and digital experiences, which users to engage with content and others in novel ways. This transformation requires designers to rethink interaction models and user interfaces to suit a 3D virtual space.

Learn more about the metaverse and VR in our course, UX Design for Virtual Reality.

What role do virtual and augmented reality play in the metaverse?

VR and AR are central to the metaverse as they offer immersive and enhanced experiences. VR creates fully virtual environments, while AR overlays digital information onto the physical world. They enable users to interact with the metaverse in a more intuitive and natural manner. The metaverse will be achieved with a blend of VR, AR and XR, along with more advanced computing technologies. 

Learn more about virtual reality and augmented reality in our courses, UX Design for Virtual Reality and UX Design for Augmented Reality.

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What are the challenges in ensuring accessibility and inclusivity in the metaverse?

It’s challenging to ensure accessibility and inclusivity due to the diverse needs of users and the complexity of 3D environments. Designers must consider various disabilities, cultural differences, and socioeconomic factors to create a metaverse that is accessible and welcoming to all.

Learn more about inclusive design in general in this piece, What is Inclusive Design?

To learn more about inclusive design in virtual environments, enroll in our UX Design for Virtual Reality course.

How can personalization be achieved in metaverse design?

Personalization can be achieved through adaptive interfaces, customizable avatars, and AI-driven content curation. These elements allow the environment to respond dynamically to individual preferences and behaviors, which enhances user engagement and experience.

Read more about metaverse personalization and customer experiences in this HBR article, Building a Great Customer Experience in the Metaverse.

What are the implications of the metaverse for privacy and data security?

There are significant concerns regarding privacy and data security in the metaverse due to the extensive data collection involved in immersive experiences. It’s crucial to protect user data and ensure transparent data usage policies.

Here are two ways designers can protect user’s data:

  • Implement Robust Encryption and Anonymization Techniques: Designers can incorporate advanced encryption methods to secure user data. Additionally, anonymizing data, especially when dealing with user tracking and behavior analysis, can greatly reduce the risk of personal information being compromised. If designers ensure that user data, particularly sensitive personal data, is not directly identifiable adds an important layer of security.

  • Offer User-Controlled Privacy Settings: Designers can empower users with customizable privacy settings that allow them to control what data they share and how it's used. This includes options to opt-out of certain data collections or to adjust the level of personal detail shared within the metaverse. Giving users this level of control not only enhances privacy but also builds trust and transparency.

Learn more in this article, Metaverse privacy concerns and how to address them.

How can the metaverse be used for education and training?

The metaverse offers innovative opportunities for education and training through interactive, experiential learning environments. It enables simulations of real-world scenarios that enhance learning outcomes and engagement.

  • Medical Training with VR: Institutions like Stanford University's School of Medicine are utilizing VR to simulate surgical procedures. This allows medical students to practice complex surgeries in a risk-free, immersive environment, which significantly enhances their learning experience and preparedness for real-life operations.

  • Language Learning in Virtual Environments: Platforms like ImmerseMe are using VR, essentially a precursor to the metaverse, to teach languages. By simulating real-world scenarios in different countries – from ordering food in a French café to asking for directions in Tokyo – learners can practice languages in contextually relevant situations. This approach not only improves language skills but also cultural understanding, providing a holistic learning experience.

Learn more about enhanced learning experiences in our course, UX Design for Virtual Reality.

What is the future of e-commerce within the metaverse?

E-commerce in the metaverse is expected to evolve into a more immersive and interactive experience. Virtual storefronts, try-before-you-buy in 3D, and integration of social elements are anticipated to redefine the shopping experience.

Learn more about the future of e-commerce in this McKinsey and Company article, Unlocking commerce in the metaverse.

How can social interaction be facilitated and enhanced in the metaverse?

Spaces that encourage collaboration, communication, and community building will facilitate enhanced social interaction. Design elements like shared virtual spaces, interactive tools, and social events play a vital role.

Learn more about sociability in this piece, What is Socialibilty? 

Learn more about social experiences and Social VR in this article, What is Social VR?

What are the technological requirements and challenges for building the metaverse?

Building the metaverse requires advanced technologies like high-speed internet, powerful computing hardware, sophisticated VR/AR devices, and scalable cloud infrastructures. Technological limitations like latency and bandwidth constraints are a significant challenge.

Learn more about the technological requirements of the metaverse in this academic paper, A new technology perspective of the Metaverse: Its essence, framework and challenges.

How can designers balance realism and fantasy in metaverse environments?

Designers must strike a balance between realism and fantasy to create immersive and engaging yet believable worlds. Realistic physics and interactions can be blended with imaginative elements that enhance the user experience without overwhelming it.

Discover how to balance immersion and safety in this video:

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Learn more about immersion in What is Immersion? 

Learn more about VR in our course, UX Design for Virtual Reality.

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Literature on the Metaverse

Here’s the entire UX literature on the Metaverse by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about the Metaverse

Take a deep dive into Metaverse with our course UX Design for Virtual Reality .

Virtual reality is a multidimensional universe that invites you to bring stories to life, transform digital interactions, educate with impact and create user-centric and unforgettable experiences. This course equips you with the skills and knowledge to embrace the possibilities and navigate the challenges of virtual reality.

UX Design for Virtual Reality is taught by UX expert Frank Spillers, CEO and founder of the renowned UX consultancy Experience Dynamics. Frank is an expert in the field of VR and AR, and has 22 years of UX experience with Fortune 500 clients including Nike, Intel, Microsoft, HP, and Capital One.

In UX Design for Virtual Reality, you’ll learn how to create your own successful VR experience through UX design. Informed by technological developments, UX design principles and VR best practices, explore the entire VR design process, from concept to implementation. Apply your newfound skills and knowledge immediately though practical and enjoyable exercises.  

In lesson 1, you’ll immerse yourself in the origins and future potential of VR and you’ll learn how the core principles of UX design apply to VR. 

In lesson 2, you’ll learn about user research methods, custom-tailored for the intricacies of VR.

In lesson 3, you’ll investigate immersion and presence and explore narrative, motion and sounds as design tools. 

In lesson 4, you’ll delve into interface and interaction design to create your own user-friendly, compelling and comfortable VR experiences.

In lesson 5, you’ll gain insights into prototyping, testing, implementing VR experiences, and conducting thorough evaluations.

After each lesson you’ll have the chance to put what you’ve learned into practice with a practical portfolio exercise. Once you’ve completed the course, you’ll have a case study to add to your UX portfolio. This case study will be pivotal in your transition from 2D designer to 3D designer. 

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