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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The promise of a "metaverse" is being used by companies across entertainment, tech and gaming to lure developers and excite investors.

Why it matters: While each company defines metaverse differently, the broad concept of bringing people together in a virtual interactive world seems to have taken over the chatter in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

By the numbers: The word "metaverse" has been mentioned 128 times so far this year during investor presentations, compared to just 7 times last year, according to data from corporate research company Sentieo.

  • The terms "AR or VR" were mentioned 991 times year-to-date, which is on pace with 2020 mentions, but nearly double the 547 mentions in 2015. 
  • Blockchain buzzwords began blowing up on earnings calls a few years ago.

Driving the news: Disney on Thursday shocked Wall Street by telling investors it hopes to connect consumers via "our own Disney metaverse."

  • Disney CEO Bob Chapek offered few details about the company's plan, but told CNBC in an interview that he aims to use Disney+ as a platform for the metaverse. He said it wasn't the company's plan to have headsets be a part of every experience in the Disney metaverse.

The big picture: Most metaverse visions imagine an interoperable digital environment shared by multiple companies, but most companies are charging ahead with their own plans long before standards have jelled.

  • Facebook last month changed its corporate name to Meta to emphasize CEO Mark Zuckerberg's plans to build out the VR products of its Oculus subsidiary into a vast virtual home for both remote work and social interaction.
  • Snapchat, some analysts argue, is ahead of Meta when it comes to building out a metaverse, thanks to its years-long investments in AR.
  • Roblox provides tools for users to build their own games and worlds, with an emphasis on keeping its young enthusiasts safe, as CEO David Baszucki told Axios earlier this year.
  • Epic Games, the parent company of Fortnite, announced a $1 billion round of funding in April to support future metaverse growth opportunities.
  • Nvidia, the graphics chip powerhouse, has its own metaverse software platform called Omniverse. The company's founder and CEO Jensen Huang said last week that the metaverse he's envisioning is "much bigger than the physical world."
  • Microsoft: Earlier this year, Microsoft debuted a new mixed reality platform called Mesh that it plans to combine with its Microsoft Teams product to allow people to "join virtual meetings, send chats, collaborate on shared documents and more" in a metaverse-like environment.

Yes, but: We're still many years away from any sort of shared 3D alternate reality achieving the kind of prevalence and utility of basic internet services today.

  • The tech industry has already seen several waves of investment in, and then pullback from, virtual reality and avatar-based communities in the 1990s and 2000s.

What to watch: The fight in the market will likely be over selling hardware — who's got the fastest headset or coolest spectacles with the longest battery life.

  • But the battle for control could hang on who calls the shots on the software standards that eventually get all these systems to talk to each other.

Go deeper

Battle for the soul of a new web

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A well-funded and intensely motivated chunk of tech's hive mind is finding common cause in a vast new project: rebuilding the web on a foundation of cryptocurrency and blockchain tech. They call it "Web3."

The big picture: Developers, investors and early adopters imagine a future in which the technologies that enable Bitcoin and Ethereum will break up the concentrated power today's tech giants wield and usher in a golden age of individual empowerment and entrepreneurial freedom.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 mins ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.