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What does the metaverse mean and how are Austin developers thinking of gamifying your life in the new realm

Facebook changed its name to Meta because of the promise it sees in the metaverse. Other Austin companies are getting in on it. (Pexels)

Joshua Johnson's work is centered on advancements for the metaverse where he’s immersed in a world of portals and digital twins.

If it sounds like it’s out of a science fiction novel, that’s because it is. The metaverse—a combination of meta and universe—traces its history back to a book released in the 90s called "Snow Crash."

But the idea has developed since then. To Johnson, a smart world architect for Beyond Meta, what he calls spacial Web3 is at the heart of the metaverse. That includes augmented reality, extended reality and virtual reality tech.

In some ways, it’s had a shaky start. Facebook, which changed its name to Meta because of the promise it sees in the space, spent $10 billion on it last year and saw profit drag. Others note that the equipment commonly used in the metaverse like VR headsets and augmented reality glasses can bring discomfort and motion sickness.

Still, Johnson thinks the coming years will see wider use of the metaverse. He sees a future where everyone has their own verse in the metaverse, similar to how people have a social media presence or website.

And he finds brands will have an important role, too. He sees a key development for this will come in the form of containers called Meta Pods. They’d likely be standard shipping containers that people walk into, serving as a physical portal to the metaverse, and it could be customized by brand.

As an example, Johnson said it could involve someone buying a pair of Nike shoes and you also buy a “digital twin” of them that you can wear in the metaverse and then play in Roblox.

“More and more now what we’re focused on is digital twins and connecting real-life value. And then connecting that and making gamified commerce and we call it 'ownification,'” Johnson said. He went on to say ownification is owning your own data and processes. “Ownification is really helping you gamify your life in a way that benefits you.”

In Austin, it’s not just large companies making moves on the metaverse. Emanuel Palalic has been in game development for years working on big-name mobile and PC games like DOOM Eternal and Quake Champions. But after work, he’s running his own company that works in tandem with the Metaverse.

Known as Empty Vessel, it’s a team of four in the early stages of sharable content that Palalic is quiet on until it reaches closer to its launch. It also helps Web3 projects with 3D pipelines.

Palalic notices Austin has game studios, big tech like Meta and Apple, plus a growing crypto scene.

“I think it creates this weird, but perfect blend for these types of projects because I think Austin will have easier access to the talent pool required for that,” Palalic said. “And the city’s culture is very entrepreneurial and forward-thinking when it comes to tech.”

From the user standpoint though, there could be some barriers to wider adoption as concerns rise of cybercrime in the metaverse. For example, a beta tester of Meta’s VR platform Horizon Worlds was reportedly virtually groped last year. Palalic considered this and the potential for other problems like hate speech, saying bigger companies may be working on mitigating these harms using tools like AI or blocking capabilities.

“I am very curious what the conversation will be like on a legal standpoint because as more people get on board and as more people are interacting with universes, the public’s opinion of what happens in digital, physical spaces is going to completely change,” Palalic said.

Still, being a part of shaping the metaverse in its infancy is a thrill to Palalic.

“I think that excitement just carries over with everyone you’re working with or everyone you meet, especially in Austin; there are so many people in Austin working on this stuff,” Palalic said. “It’s always neat when you go to some of the meetups and everyone’s just as excited, just as giddy building out all these different types of projects.”


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