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Author Matthew Ball says “the nature of the metaverse will depend on who launches it”

We all have questions about the Metaverse. How can it improve our lives? How will it be different from the Internet as we know it today? How do you separate fact from fiction? In his latest book, Matthew Ball seeks to bring some clarity by exploring the past, present, and possible future of the metaverse.

Defining the metaverse in 2022 is a lot like trying to define the internet in 1992. It’s even harder to make predictions about the future, given that the technology is still in its infancy, and also considering of the fact that human beings don’t have the best track record of predicting the future of technology. (Example: the original “Blade Runner” was created in 2019).

There are vague hints about what the Metaverse will look like and how it could eventually shape the rhythms of our lives, but it’s still too early to know exactly how it will evolve. Nevertheless, Matthew Ball’s latest book – titled “The Metaverse” – was written with the aim of providing a comprehensive definition of the Metaverse, as well as insight into “how it will revolutionize everything” (the book’s subtitle) .


Matthew Ball’s new book offers deep insight into the burgeoning metaverse. (Credit: Matthew Ball)

Here’s how he sums up popular beliefs about the Metaverse:

“To the extent there is a common understanding of the metaverse, it could be described as: an endless virtual world where everyone dresses up as comical avatars and participates in immersive VR games to earn points, jump into their franchises favorites and realize their most impossible fantasies.”

And here is his own definition:

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“So this is what I mean when I write and talk about the Metavers [he uses a capital “M” throughout the book]: A large-scale, interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be synchronously and persistently experienced by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and with the continuity of data, such as identity, history, rights, objects, communications and payments [underlines in original].”

To learn more about Ball’s vision for the Metaverse, we asked him a few questions about what the future might bring.


What commonly held predictions for the future of the Metaverse are you particularly wary of?

A common critique of the Metaverse focuses on its origin in dystopian science fiction. It’s true that in Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash” the metaverse isn’t portrayed favorably – Stephenson suggests he’s making an already bad world worse. However, the human drama is the root of fiction. This is why utopias are rarely the setting for gripping stories and why science fiction generally uses new technologies to challenge the societal order; it is rare that he improves it immediately.

And so I’m generally suspicious of people who say the metaverse will be dystopian because it’s portrayed that way in the stories. Also note that the many early efforts to build the metaverse – Roblox, Second Life, Fortnite – were not about subjugating humanity, but about social collaboration. It’s a better lesson and more likely to represent our future.

The metaverse will, like many technologies, have its downsides. But I believe that the nature of the metaverse and its contributions to society depend on who pioneers it, under what business models, philosophies, and regulatory environments. That’s why I don’t like the “metaverse is dystopian” narrative – it’s fatalistic, when in fact we all have power over the development of the metaverse.

Which companies do you envision playing the biggest role in the development of the Metaverse?

A problem with metaverse stories is that we think of singular companies – Facebook, Epic, Roblox, Microsoft – when in fact it’s an ecosystem. The Internet is “the Internet” because it brings together countless technologies, from devices to wireless standards and physical infrastructure, to software languages, content, user-generated content, and more. But if we fundamentally think of the Metaverse as real-time 3D support, Epic and Unity are, at least today, unwaveringly central. They are the underlying physicality of the virtual world and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

How do you think the United States and China differ in their adoption of the metaverse in the coming years?

In many ways, China is likely to have a more interoperable and unified metaverse. This is because Tencent, for example, publishes almost all virtual content in the country, and also because the government can impose collaboration. This may produce a more “comprehensive” and “cohesive” metaverse in China compared to the United States. At the same time, it is not yet clear what the government will allow in China. The game is already heavily, heavily regulated, and therefore it is possible that the government will severely limit the metaverse in the market, resulting in a less technically developed Chinese metaverse compared to the one known abroad.

What do you think will be the greatest benefit to society as a whole when the metaverse becomes as accessible and mainstream as the internet is today? What will be the biggest downside?

I sincerely believe that it can improve the bond between those who live far apart and also do a better job of including people with disabilities. The most important thread is that the Internet was built by government and researchers, largely as a public good. The metaverse is built for profit.

Who has more to gain from the metaverse: individuals or businesses?

I believe that the success of the latter depends on the benefits received by the former.

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