In 1971, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) went operational and served the needs of the US military in the area of communications and file transfer. It was the first intranet system on which the internet was based on. The World Wide Web was later invented by Tim Berners-Lee, who published the first website on 20 December 1990. The human race then saw a boost in communications over all aspects of our lives from then on.
The advance of the internet is closely tied to the network that we have. From the 56k dial-up technology to ADSL to the fibre broadband we have today, each generation of network opens up new opportunities. But not only do we want to communicate at home, we also want to receive data on the go via our mobile phones. The 1G (first generation) network enabled us to call each other, while the 2G network allowed people to text each other. The 3G network equipped us with the ability to surf the websites and the 4G upgrades let us stream videos, all on the go.
You might have remembered that when the first phone which could surf the internet came out, many of us were still on the 2G network. A simple website could take ages to load. Similarly, watching videos on 3G network was slow but doable on lower resolutions. Today, everywhere we go, we see people on their phones. From taking an Instagram photo in a restaurant to surfing the internet during a break time, from watching a drama series on the train to playing games while waiting in a queue, the reason why everyone is staring at their phones so much is because it opens up a new world for us. There is just so much we can do on the internet, whether we are at home on a PC or holding a mobile phone.
The 5G network will bring everything to a higher level. While there are many more applications of the 5G network, today we will talk about one very specific aspect which the 5G network can bring to us – the metaverse. In short, we can define metaverse as an immersive virtual world facilitated by the virtual and augmented reality. Think of it as being connected to an alternate reality not defined by the rules of this world but by the rules of the virtual world or game.
Second Life is widely regarded as one of the first metaverse. However players control their avatar using the PC, much like how we control a character when we play a game. It is not immersive. You do not enter the world to see, hear and feel things as if you are part of the virtual world. This is the limitations of our technology at that point in time till now. Even Decentraland, with all its hype about being the next metaverse, is but a cheap copy of Second Life. In terms of player’s experience, it is no different from Second Life.
Enter Meta, previously known as Facebook, who wants to take a piece of the metaverse cake. Of course, Meta is not alone. Microsoft, Alphabet, Tencent and Epic Games are few of the many companies researching on it. However, Meta is the only company willing to spend so much money on the metaverse research – $15 billion till date. No other company is willing to throw in that much money. Of course, results so far had been disappointing, with many reports coming out to criticise Meta for showing such pathetic results for all that money spent. There had been a lack of transparency in both its research and spending so far.
Research into the unknown always cost a lot of money, time and effort. There will be many failures as people explore territories. Take nuclear weapons for example. Even with a finished product put up for the world to see, many countries do not even have the technology nor expertise to manufacture it. The first organisation to go into unchartered territories will always incur huge cost, but also huge gains as the first entrant into the new frontiers.
We go back to the business. Huawei is now known for its 5G technology, but before it releases its 5G capabilities, it had spent a lot of money on research. While the graph below does not give the breakdown of its research, we can see that its R&D spending is no small sum. Huawei has been researching on 5G since 2009, but only in recent years did it come out and reveal to the world what it has accomplished. In fact in 2019, Huawei was leading in terms of commercial 5G contracts, way ahead of its closest competitors Nokia and Ericsson. Of course, US did its usual of throwing out sanctions to others when its cake is being taken away. But even with sanctions, Huawei is still the number 1 in terms of market share. Research into new frontiers will cost a lot of money, but its rewards will also be great.
The Determination And Evolving Of Meta
The metaverse primary purpose is for social interaction, although of course wider applications in the gaming and pornography sector will also bring in a lot of money. Even gaming has and porn will have that social aspect of it in the metaverse. We can already see signs of pornography moving into the social aspect even with current technology through the livestreaming platforms.
While Nvidia, Alphabet, Microsoft, Binance and other big companies do spend money and effort into the metaverse, their core business is primarily not based off social interactions. But Meta is. Failure to adapt will only mean lesser extra profits (not lesser profits) for the other companies, but will be a life and death situation for Meta. Meta has to adapt. This is its core business. Meta has recognised that it has to change no matter what, or it will die off like Nokia in the phone industry or Kodak in the photography industry, both of which were the envy of others in their prime. Perhaps, they still had the memory of them taking down Friendster in a swift and merciless manner.
The change of name to Meta does not only reflect the company’s determination but also the direction it is taking. Meta has to evolve. But evolving does not come easy. It comes at a huge cost.
Meta’s name is also an advertisement for its company in the sector. Just like how the phrase ‘roller blade’ comes to be misunderstood and associated with the name of the equipment (roller blade) and sport (roller blading) itself, my guess is Meta is trying to do the same thing. When you think of the metaverse, you think of Meta.
For clarification, the name of the sport is called ‘inline skating’. Rollerblade is just one of the brands of inline skates.
Why People Are Bashing Meta
True, Meta does not show promising results thus far. We do not know what exactly happens inside Meta’s virtual reality division, Reality Labs. Only the people inside knows. But with some logical deduction we can make certain conclusions, which of course may not 100% accurate.
First, more money into research will mean lesser profits to share, and consequently a lower share price. Investors want to see their share price go up, and naturally will be angry that their investments are not making any money for them. They do not care if Meta live or die 10 years later, they will just withdraw their money any time and jump ship without hesitation. The concerns of the shareholders and Meta are different in the first place. Meta does not pay dividends, but we can also deduce that if it does, the dividends payout will definitely drop.
Secondly, competitors do not want to see Meta succeed. Your success means lesser market share and profits for me. Naturally, I would want to bash you and hopefully with enough pressure, you will U-turn on your direction and slow down your advance.
Thirdly, if I am Meta, I would probably hide the results of my research from the public. In the initial stages, research results are minimal and more easily copied. Letting people know too early of what you can do is a risk which does not reciprocate with proportionate profits. Despite the bashing of Meta on the various media on the failures of its research, we can see that those with the information knows what is going on.
The Financial Strength Of Meta
Even if Meta for some reason just could not manage to achieve results for its research, there is another way to go about it – acquisition. Meta is no stranger to such tactics. From Whatsapp to Instagram, there are a whole lot of companies which Meta has acquired. Should there be a company which successfully invented or developed something useful, I would not be surprised if Meta just throw cash at them for their technology. Afterall we are living in a free market society, what can money not buy? As long as the price is right, many things can be sold.
Why I Believe In The Metaverse
There is one big question that I have not yet answered – why I believe in the metaverse. It does not mean anything if companies devote all their resources to it if the concept does not even work. Just like crypto-currencies, there are many people who believe in it and devote much resources into it, but there is an overwhelmingly bigger pool of people who simply do not believe in it.
Drugs are very addictive because of 2 reasons – it provides an unforgettable high which one cannot get from other sources and your body becomes very dependent on it. But even if we take out the body’s dependency on it, its effect on the brain is very potent. For that high, people will continue to consume it. Gaming and especially pornography is one good example. Your body will not drop dead and die or suffer with uncontrollable withdrawal symptoms without it, but the brain is addicted to it and people consume it in larger quantities over time. Of course, over-consumption does have its effects.
Pornography and gaming provides a stimulation and an escape into a reality we cannot have, from a reality we do not like. The metaverse is an upgrade of the current gaming system we have, potentially sinking people into a virtual reality where they could be who they want. From being a pretty woman to a hero, from being a skilled avatar leading a guild to even player-killing (PK) without real consequences, these are the possibilities open to us even now in games. But being immersed into it one step further will bring the experience another level higher.
Even now, after a shitty day at work, people come back to watch drama series and play games to destress. When faced with unhappiness, people escape to pornography, to games, to movies as a source of distraction and comfort. If the current system we have is like smoking cannabis in limited amounts, the metaverse will be like injecting heroin straight into the blood. Simply because of this reason, I believe in the potential of metaverse as companies are aiming for the profits that comes with it.
The metaverse will be a virtual world in which even more people sink into it and cannot escape from, as it functions as a legal and potent drug without immediate impact on the physical health of the person. Just like how the coolies of the past smoke opium to relieve their fatigued bodies and as an escape to their harsh lives, so will metaverse be the opium of tomorrow.
Metaverse has a future, and Meta will be the one leading that future. Not only will Meta be providing the platform to the metaverse, it can also provide the technology to many other companies as it patents one technology after another. Just imagine every pornography site, every gaming platform, every learning avenue etc, from commercial to retail all paying a fee to Meta for using its technology. Let us remember another company doing this – Microsoft on its Windows operating system.