There’s a lot of talk about all of the promises of the “metaverse,” the next stage in computing. The practical and entertainment ramifications of immersive experiences and the world painted with data are definitely staggering. But, will the cost be staggering too?
The metaverse is a network of linked, immersive, communal, virtual experiences and spaces. In some ways, the metaverse (or, at least, the building blocks of the metaverse) is already here. In other ways, this always-on, ever-present, all-encompassing way of being within the internet is still years away.
Like the internet of today, the metaverse isn’t owned by a single entity or accessed by a single piece of hardware. There won’t be a “metaverse subscription” that you pay to anyone or a single provider of any “metaverse console.” But, there will be costs associated with accessing the metaverse that will be paid in different ways to different parties.
Data Connections and Service Providers
You can look at the metaverse as a way of accessing the internet. So, the metaverse won’t be any more free than the internet is now. Even though no company can charge you a toll to access the metaverse, you will need some kind of internet or data connection to access it.
Some metaverse experiences run on the internet of today. But other more advanced applications like augmented reality will require faster connections than many people have access to today.
If you’re already using 5G internet and high-speed data, you may take these costs for granted. But others who don’t use and need high-speed internet may feel like they’re paying extra to access the metaverse.
You won’t need a VR headset or AR glasses to enter the metaverse. But, if you want the complete immersion that extended reality can provide, it will only come from these devices. And, naturally, these devices have a hefty price tag.
Consumer VR headsets are becoming more affordable, but they also lack the power of more costly headsets. Furthermore, those pricey headsets also need more expensive computers to run their programs. The same can be said of augmented reality.
There aren’t many AR glasses can do that a good mobile phone can’t. But, if you want to access spatial information in that particular way, you’ll need AR glasses. Like VR headsets, AR glasses require some kind of off-board computer. For many enterprise models, that’s a dedicated compute box, but it’s often a high-end mobile phone in emerging consumer models.
So, again, the costs to access the metaverse may be costs that you’re already paying without even thinking about. But, if you need or choose to access the metaverse in a certain way, you may experience sticker shock.
Individual Experiences and Platforms
While “the metaverse” won’t have a single subscription fee, applications and experiences using and benefiting from metaverse technologies may have purchase prices, subscription fees, in-app purchases, or other business models. This is, again, similar to how we access the internet today.
Some metaverse experiences, particularly in entertainment, have a one-time price tag. Some, particularly in enterprise, have a subscription model. Others are “freemium” services with a limited free-to-use version and a more robust option that costs money. Free experiences may also utilize ads or in-platform marketplaces to make money.
So far, we’ve looked mainly at ways in which paying for the metaverse will be similar to paying for online experiences today. However, some cost and payment systems and considerations may be unique to the metaverse.
Crypto and NFTs
The metaverse is primarily based on two mutually incompatible ideas: creator economies and network compatibility. At least, those ideas tend to be mutually incompatible with how we pay for and use virtual goods and services today.
Right now, most people talk about cryptocurrency and NFTs as speculative assets. That is, as things that we buy and sell to profit in some other currency rather than as things that have value and utility in themselves. However, cryptocurrency and NFTs have inherent functional value in the metaverse. This is largely because of interoperability.
We can already buy digital assets like character customization options in online platforms like video games. However, these assets don’t work on other online platforms. This is partially because online platforms are built using different programs and languages and partly because they are bought within their platforms to avoid microtransactions.
Cryptocurrencies work better for microtransactions than other kinds of currency without being native to a particular platform or experience. Imagine being able to buy virtual goods from any online platform with one cryptocurrency rather than using a credit card to buy Robux or V-bucks or any other platform-specific intermediary currency.
Further, NFTs can be compatible with any experiences that use the same blockchain and standards. As a result, crypto and NFTs may both be significant to take our money and possessions from one virtual world to another.
NFTs also give more power to artists to create goods for virtual environments. This will help create a metaverse that isn’t dominated by a single brand or entity. Rather than one experience provider making all of the assets in a marketplace, users will be able to create and sell their own assets usable across experiences.
Paying With Data
Your data has value. Have you ever tried to download what looked like a free, fun mobile game and been surprised when it asked you for all kinds of device data? This is a frighteningly shocking practice that companies use to collect your data which, according to the fine print buried in their incomprehensible user conditions, they can then sell.
Spatial experiences, particularly AR and VR experiences, require a lot of data to work, and they can collect a lot more data. There are theories that the Meta Quest 2 is so cheap for the same reason that that innocent-looking mobile game was free: someone wants your data.
There are also ethical concerns with outward-facing cameras on VR and AR hardware. The data you’re giving away to make those experiences possible might not always be your own.
The metaverse won’t be free. But, it doesn’t have to be more expensive than the modern internet. There will always be hardware and connectivity costs, but don’t worry about not being able to pay your metaverse subscription.
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