Patrons attending a digital concert in Roblox
- The metaverse has already arrived and has been showing its beginning form through cross-media events
- The promise of the metaverse is to allow a greater overlap of our digital and physical lives in wealth, socialization, productivity, shopping and entertainment.
- The term “metaverse” was coined in 1992
When Cathy Hackl’s son wanted to throw a party for his 9th birthday, he didn’t ask for favors for his friends or themed decorations. Instead, he asked if they could hold the celebration on Roblox. On the digital platform, which allows users to play and create a multitude of games, Hackl’s son and his friends would attend the party as their virtual avatars.
“They hung out and played and they went to other different games together,” she says. “Just because it happens in a virtual space doesn’t make it less real. It’s very real to my son.”
The futility of throwing an outdoor pandemic-friendly event in January wasn’t the only reason Hackl’s son lobbied for a digital event. Roblox might be unknown to many over the age of, say, 25, but the 13-year-old platform is booming. Available on most desktop and mobile platforms, it is simultaneously a venue for free games, a creation engine that allows users to generate new activities of their own, and a marketplace to sell those experiences, as well as side products like outfits for a personalized avatar.
It’s also part of the “metaverse.” Once a niche concept beloved of tech enthusiasts, the idea of a centralized virtual world, a “place” parallel to the physical world, has careened into the mainstream landscape this year, as epitomized by Facebook’s decision in October to rebrand as Meta. Millions of people are spending hours a day in virtual social spaces like Roblox and Fortnite. Interest in purely digital ownership—and the technology that proponents believe can ensure the security of persistent virtual experiences—has spiked dramatically, with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrencies making headlines. Virtual productivity platforms are growing too, with Facebook and Microsoft announcing new ways to collaborate online. Nike is even, analysts say, preparing to sell virtual sneakers. Hybrid offices, video-based education and online social communities are just a few of the ways in which more of our lives—for better or worse—is spent in digital spaces.