At the end of 2021, during the Facebook Connect 2021 event, Mark Zuckerberg revealed the name change of the company that owns the social network, from now on it will be called Meta, in order to reflect the company’s priority for focusing on virtual reality. As naci the metaverse, and since then nothing else has been talked about, it even has its own real estate market. An announcement that came at a delicate time for Facebook, after the leak of several internal reports that indicated that the company ignored that Instagram could be harmful to young people.
However, this It is not the first time that a company tries to make a virtual parallel world where to spend time and money. Before Zuckerberg came other developers whose digital worlds ended up collapsing and disappearing, or still persist as witnesses of what they wanted to be and were not, with hardly any connected users and activity. The reasons why they failed may be the key to the success of the Facebook metaverse or the omen of its end.
This word defines an immersive experience in a virtual online space (which does not have to be three-dimensional). In these environments, humans interact through avatars in a cyberspace. You can socialize, go to conferences or talks, go shopping, attend concerts or political rallies, the possibilities are almost endless. Currently, this definition would include technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, cryptocurrencies and even non-fungible tokens (NFT), but it is not even comparable to those linked to this concept when it was born in 1992.
The novel Snow Crash, written by Neal Stephenson in 1992, established the most basic foundations of the metaverse. In the work, integrated within the cyberpunk genre, concepts such as avatar and metaverse are included. It only took a year for this theory on paper to come to life on the screen, at the hands of the publishing house Steve Jackson Games (known for the conspiracy card game called Illuminati). The company launched The Metaverse, an MOO (multi-user object-oriented domain, ie a text-based virtual reality system) accessed through its BBS (something like a bulletin board system).
This archaic ecosystem was the forerunner of Internet forums and the first virtual site through which users exchanged different information and even files. In December 1996, this metaverse disappeared, although the publisher continues to retain ownership metaverse.net. The main reason was that it appeared too soon, when the use of the Internet was hardly widespread.
In that same year, OZ Interactive launched OZ Virtual with an interface more similar to the metaverse proposed by Zuckerberg. To be 1996 and 1997, avatar modeling and the environment itself was quite acceptable, in addition, it allowed several users to interact in real time with characters that made body movements and even made communication with voice chat possible. Rather than fail OZ Virtual evolved and ended up becoming a video game. The technology used in this metaverse spun off into a different company, SamrtVR, which in 2003, under the name CCP Games, launched EVE Online, an MMORPG that still works today.
In the year 2000, with the new millennium, Habbo Hotel made its appearance leaving three-dimensional modeling behind, betting on an aesthetic pixel art rendered in isometric projection. This environment, created by two Finnish developers, was designed so that young people and adolescents will use it as a chat but with avatars. The service allows users to design their own chat rooms (in the form of hotel rooms) where they can host parties, meet people and chat, play virtual games and even have virtual pets.
It had its golden age between 2004 and 2005, although it has had peaks of fame between 2009-2010 and 2012-2014, especially in Latin America. During the strict quarantine of Covid-19 worldwide in 2020, many of the users who had left this virtual environment years ago, they came back to socialize with other people without leaving home.
The concept of this metaverse, with its economic part, is similar to the current one, since through SMS, credit or prepaid cards, game credits with which to purchase avatar accessories and furniture for hotel rooms. Its popularity was such that it created its own jargon and even had real criminal cases.
There were several cases of adult men who came to Habbo Hotel looking for contact with minors. There was also the case of theft of accounts of other users in order to steal their furniture. Even if to this day it still works, the decline in online users has been remarkable and, furthermore, it continues to drag the reputation of being a place that is not suitable for minors. The failure is probably due to the lack of adaptation of the formula, which has tried to remain the same for decades, and to the lack of controls or age filters.
Second Life, the first metaverse as we know it
In 2003, Linden Lab debuted its virtual reality baptized as Second Life. His Free access It was one of the keys to the initial success. Both the environment and the avatars are three-dimensional, being able to interact in open common areas more similar to the concept of a virtual world, a place in which to live a second life. Of course, this metaverse, aimed at adults, also had a lucrative purpose, as in Habbo, users could buy virtual currency, Linden Dollar, with real money, to be able to buy clothes, drinks in a bar and even a mansion.
From 2006 the boom of this metaverse began, all companies had to have their place in Second Life and all celebrities their alter ego. That same year, IBM bought property in this metaverse, American Apparel opened its own online store, and over the years other giants like Nissan, Sony, Coca Cola, Dell, Intel, and Microsoft established businesses and advertisements in this metaverse.
Countries such as the Maldives, Sweden, Estonia, the Philippines, the Republic of Macedonia or Macedonia, opened a virtual embassy in Second Life in which to offer advice on visas and other queries. They also took advantage of the opportunity to have a presence in the metaverse religious institutions such as LifeChurchTv, Islam Online and even created a anglican cathedral. Education also had its place in this multiverse, with representation from universities such as Harvard, Oxford, and the University of Puerto Rico, in addition to several language schools.
Political life also had a place in this virtual world. The then leader of Izquierda Unida, Gaspar Llamazares, came to hold rallies with his avatar before a three-dimensional audience or 2.0 voters. The politician bet so heavily on Second Life that he even became involved in a controversy, burning a photo of the royal family within the metaverse.
In 2007, the resident population multiplied, confirming Linden Labs to Vandal that the highest peak has been of a total of 57 million accounts registered in Second Life, but it took a year for the bubble to burst. In 2008, companies based in this metaverse began to shut down their stall, more or less surreptitiously picking up cable. The reason is that users did come to the opening, but soon these spaces were permanently empty, stores without potential buyers.
Second Life once had 57 million registered accounts
In addition, another of the burdens of this metaverse is that being a 3D environment and at a time when access to technology was not so widespread, the scope was not comparable to what social networks were beginning to have, with more user-friendly interfaces. simple ones that required less powerful machines. Nowadays, Second Life is still alive, is still free to access but has a subscription system that provides extras such as a house, a weekly payment of Linden Dollars, customer service, access to exclusive areas and events, among others.
Sony also had its metaverse on PlayStation from 2008 to 2015, PlayStation Home. Each user had an avatar with its own space or apartment, which could be decorated with items that could be obtained in different ways. In appearance it was practically the same as Second Life, with common and private areas. Even if it was not very well received by users, I know it was a commercial success in the sense that despite having fewer users than Second Life, it was profitable.
Despite the fact that Sony decided to close its metaverse, in 2021, the company renewed the PlayStation Home brand until October 1, 2028, months later, a user of Reddit I discovered an update on the file of this product at the European Union Intellectual Property Office. Something that could point to a resurgence of this technology, perhaps in the face of Virtual Reality on PS5.
the other metaverses
Other lesser-known metaverse attempts or those that had fewer resources have also been left behind along the way. One of the oldest in this category is IMVU, a social game more like a 3D chat concept, which came out in 2004 and quickly became un Second Life +18. This environment is still alive, but with an almost residual number of users. IMVU also has public rooms and private rooms, as well as subscription memberships. Learning from Habbo’s mistakes, the developer company, IMVU Inc, introduced a title to add to the avatar to verify that someone real of legal age is on the other side.
VRChat, distributed through Steam, is another attempt to unite chat and virtual reality which ends up becoming a chaotic place where users enter out of curiosity and end up never coming back. In this environment, users can create their own worlds where they can interact with other people. VRChat allows you to import 3D models of characters from various franchises, giving rise to endless memes and comic situations that, in the end, were the engine of its popularity. Like the previous examples, this environment is still accessible, but with a much smaller number of users.
It seems that the keys to creating a metaverse that attracts users and maintain them over time lies in the ease of access to technology, the continuous adaptation to trends of users, the security against hacking and some option of parental control or filter. In addition to achieving a perfect intermediate point between being a lucrative metaverse, sufficiently abusive in terms of paid extras, so that users agree to consume the services it offers, that is already in the hands of Zuckerberg.