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This article was published on March 11, 2022

You’re wrong about the metaverse

Stop worrying about VR and NFTs

You’re wrong about the metaverse

Baseball’s back and I couldn’t care less. What I’m excited about is the world champion Atlanta Braves’ new virtual stadium.

A company called Surreal Events is working with the champs to bring a virtual representation of Truist Park to life via a virtual platform-as-a-service model built in the Unreal engine.

As boring as that sounds, the emergence of an interface-agnostic portal to bespoke metaverses might be what finally convinces the cynical masses that the future is now.

It’s not so much that a digital ballpark exists, it’s what it represents.

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Surreal Events invited me to a demo of their browser-based metaverse streaming service where I got hands-on with the platform via good old-fashioned keyboard and mouse.

I’m all-in on metaverse technology, but only because I’m willing to strip away all the dumb crap surrounding the idea and view it for its potential.

The first problem most people have with the metaverse is virtual reality. And it was immediately clear that Surreal’s technology solves that problem.

I love VR. I could spend half an hour grinning at the 3D grid you exist in while a SteamVR experience loads. I’ve reviewed dozens of VR games and experiences and I currently own five different headsets.

That’s why I was shocked to experience VR sickness for the first time a couple years ago. I figured you were either among the small percentage of people who get sick in VR or you weren’t. But, as it turns out, everyone can get VR sickness.

That alone makes it a crappy platform for anything that’s supposed to have wide appeal. If playing Candy Crush or Farmville made a significant portion of the population vomit at random intervals, Facebook/Meta might not be the technology juggernaut it is today.

The fact of the matter is that Meta, Microsoft, and a dozen other companies are trying to position the metaverse as a place where business happens.

And that means there’s a zero-percent chance that the metaverse will succeed in a VR-only format. Luckily, it doesn’t have to.

Instead, just like you can still use Zoom even if you don’t have a webcam, you’ll almost certainly be able to experience most of what the metaverse has to offer without dipping a single toe into virtual reality.

During my Surreal demo, I checked out indoor showrooms, meeting rooms, and outdoor social venues. The graphics were crisp and never once lagged. And there were no stutters or glitches during voice chat despite the fact I was streaming audio in-browser for the demo and for a separate video chat with the team.

I also never needed a tutorial or help with the controls. The user interface was dead-simple and anyone who’s ever used “WASD” controls or arrow keys to move an object on a screen can navigate the virtual world.

Everything just worked. I went from clicking the link in my email to creating my avatar in a matter of seconds.

This makes the metaverse as accessible as a YouTube video or PC game, making anti-VR arguments against it moot. It also addresses the second big problem the platform has: the general public’s misconceptions on metaverse commodification.

The idea that the metaverse is just a giant SkyMall for VR nerds to buy digital collectibles is a bit silly.

Sure, there’ll be all manner of stupid crap to buy in the metaverse, but that’s no different than the real world or the internet.

Digital Truist Park, for example, probably won’t be selling unique hotdog NFTs at its virtual concession stands. But, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to interact with a link to the club’s gift shop and online ticketing agent while you’re logged in.

In the future, we’ll watch as virtual spaces grow and evolve. So, for example, your favorite band might host their own metaverse space that fills up with mementos from albums and tours over the years.

Those spaces could act as conduits to other spaces within a record label’s influence, or connect to a hive-like network including millions of other bands. The ability to transfer preferences, settings, commodities, avatars, and a record of your experiences from one entity to another, or even from one platform to another, will be what separates the metaverse from the classic internet or bespoke gamified environments such as Second Life.

But it only works if the metaverse is as easy to access as social media. My brief experiences in the Surreal Events demo showed me this is possible.

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