For the past several weeks, Insider reporters Kari McMahon and Lisa Kailai Han have been attending concerts with some of the hottest stars in the music industry, visiting stunning temples, skateboarding on the streets of California, and fighting undead villagers in Dracula’s castle.
This is all happening in the metaverse, of course.
The “metaverse,” a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction dystopian novel “Snow Crash,” is defined today as a 3D virtual reality world that’s supposed to be the next, more physical evolution of the Internet.
Last year, the concept shot into the global spotlight when Facebook rebranded to Meta, kicking off a Gold Rush-esque sprint into the space by companies far and wide.
Following in Meta’s footsteps, tech titans like Microsoft and Google announced their intentions to pioneer the new frontier, investors poured $106 million into virtual real estate in a single week last November, and brands like Gucci, JPMorgan, and the Care Bears swooped in to launch virtual clothing lines, corporate lounges, and games.
With all that hype, it’s easy to think that the metaverse has arrived.
But has it?
Having never stepped foot inside the metaverse before, we explored seven of the hottest virtual worlds to find out what the metaverse is really all about, whether or not it’s ready for mainstream adoption, and what’s still holding it back.
We also went behind-the-scenes to interview the founders and creators of the worlds we explored, to get their perspective on what the future holds for the metaverse.
Insider hopes to serve as your guide to the metaverse, providing unbiased and frank opinions on the good, the bad, and the ugly of these virtual worlds from the ground up. The metaverse promises a lot, and in this series, we wanted to find out if it lives up to its potential.
Click on any of the virtual worlds below to find out more, or if you’ve still got any lingering questions about the metaverse, check out our original guide to the metaverse.
In a throwback to the early aughts, 2D game Axie Infinity consists of cute creatures battling against each other in a turn-based card game — think Pokémon crossed with Neopets. What makes Axie Infinity stand out is the fact that players can earn real money by playing the game. During the pandemic, the platform became hugely popular in the Philippines when some players earned more from the game than in some minimum wage jobs there. While Axie is currently more of a gaming platform than a complete virtual world, the developers’ ultimate goal is to build Axie into a wider universe of games.
Online world Cryptovoxels is one of the smaller and more low-key metaverses on this list, since its creators haven’t really focused on big brand partnerships thus far — although that may change this year. Rather than aimed towards gaming or questing, the platform is primarily used for social events like digital concerts and fashion shows. The mostly older user base includes a huge community of artists and creators, with a large emphasis on NFT wearables modeling. The world itself has a pixelated feel and is crammed with eclectic, user-built structures, spanning from bizarre Doge temples to funky jungle gyms that are a ton of fun to explore.
3D virtual world Decentraland, one of the more predominant metaverses to make headlines in recent months, recently hosted a digitized Australian Open and has also worked with other prominent companies like Sotheby’s and Samsung to build virtual replicas of their real-life headquarters and stores on the platform. The open world, which features neon, cartoon-like graphics, is divided into over 90,000 parcels of land for users to buy and build on. While some smaller minigames and quests exist, they’re often glitchy, and the major draw of Decentraland seems to be the platform it provides for its community to attend virtual events together.
Founded in 2006, seasoned gaming platform Roblox enables individuals to interact, build, and play together. The company, which went public last year, is much more commercial than the other virtual worlds, and is also the only one not built on blockchain technology. While the platform was originally aimed towards a younger audience, Roblox is now actively trying to target an older demographic. The user experience, which was more advanced than some of the other worlds we visited, is a testament to Roblox’s existing immense popularity. Famous DJs have played sets on the platform, and key brands like Nike and Vans are also predominantly featured, with each having their own themed game. At the same time, the central ownership and commercialization has led to the exploitation of creators, many of whom are startlingly young.
Voxel-style gaming world The Sandbox has jumped to public attention for its large number of expensive real estate sales, particularly after the clamor over the re-creation of Snoop Dogg’s mansion in-game. The platform, which is still in alpha testing stage and hasn’t been widely released yet, also counts brands like the Smurfs, Care Bears, Walking Dead, and Adidas in its wheelhouse of partnerships. Compared to the other featured platforms, The Sandbox stands out because it emphasizes a mix of quest-style gameplay and events like clubbing. The platform is also unique because it actively seeks out outside game developers to create diverse quests in return for funding, marketing, and guidance.
Somnium Space is one of the only virtual worlds to primarily focus on the virtual reality component of the metaverse, with the company developing its own proprietary headsets and haptic Teslasuits for complete sensory immersion. While Somnium Space has been under development for years, the platform has managed to stay relatively under the radar — with its founders seeming to prefer it that way. Somnium Space focuses on highlighting art, housing both the Beeple and Dogecoin museums, and on providing its users with a social experience, hosting daily events for new members to meet up. While the virtual reality visuals look fantastic in the tutorials, this platform also has the highest barrier to entry.
As the name implies, Star Atlas is a space-focused game offered in an immersive virtual world with sophisticated graphics. Due to its proposed visual and gameplay complexities, Star Atlas targets more experienced gamers than the other metaverses. Users are able to earn income from the game, although we’ve found that it involves quite an outlay on the player’s side to get involved. This virtual world is still in the early innings, with development starting in 2020, but it’s already gained a lot of attention as one of the biggest games on the solana blockchain.