Jul 18, 2022 - Technology

Interview: The metaverse won't be what we expect

Photo illustration of Matthew Ball next to abstract shapes.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Liveright, an imprint of W.W. Norton & Company

The metaverse is well worth building, even if we don’t know exactly what will come of it, venture capitalist and tech evangelist Matthew Ball tells Axios.

Why it matters: Part of getting ready for an epochal internet change is realizing that what we expect it to be is probably very wrong.

Meta-what? Obligatory attempted definition, this time via Ball: Metaverse = massive, interoperable 3D virtual world that is persistent (still there when you log off), synchronous (everyone experiences it the same way) and supporting of unlimited users who can have their own identity, virtual objects and access to payment systems.

  • Maybe it’ll provide a new way to learn, work, shop, socialize and entertain.
  • But it won’t necessarily be the visions of the metaverse promoted by Meta and other big companies.

What they’re saying: “You see these examples like, well, what are we going to do in the metaverse? 'We're going to sit at a 3D conference table with VR glasses.' I'm pretty sure we're not going to do that,” Ball says.

  • He says early internet pioneers couldn’t have predicted Robinhood, Fortnite and Snapchat and recalls that Apple used to think it was a good idea for the iPhone’s note-taking app to resemble lined paper.
  • The smartest people really can’t predict.

Ball gives a lot of credit to the gaming industry for working through constraints and ideas about what the metaverse could be.

  • He calls game developers “the world’s leading experts” in building synchronous virtual online spaces, attracting millions of people to them and prioritizing that they are having a good time inside.
  • Game design, he tells me, may have “seemed like a toyetic profession” to outsiders but “has turned out to be one of the most important skill sets of the modern era.”

The bottom line: The most impactful builders of all may not have even gotten started yet.

  • Notice the delayed waves of innovation of Roblox creators or YouTubers, Ball notes, pointing out the explosions of those platforms when those who grew up with them were old enough to make popular work in them.
  • “To some extent, we're constrained by the fact that most of the quote-unquote metaverse products of today are still created and imagined by those who long preceded it.”

Go deeper: Axios Deep Dive: Inside the metaverse

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