How to build a massive virtual world

Facebook wants to be a metaverse business, Epic Games wants to be a metaverse business, most of the world’s biggest tech companies want to join in on the action. But before we can even think about life in a massive virtual universe, we’re going to need a huge upgrade in internet networks and tech “cheaters,” according to one expert.

The metaverse is a much talked about concept that is gradually creeping into reality. Definitions of the metaverse vary, but most agree that it will be a massive virtual world where millions of people – or their avatars – interact in real time. The metaverse will have its own economy, span the physical and virtual worlds, and be accessible to anyone at all times.

In 20 years you may be working in the metaverse. Instead of driving to the nearest arena, you could attend a rock concert in the Metaverse, at a virtual stadium with thousands of other fans. You can walk into an Amazon store in the mall, put on a pair of AR glasses, and see one of the millions of different items it has in stock in a virtual store.

Big tech companies are already starting to build “proto-metaverse” projects. The recently released Horizon Work Rooms from Facebook, for example, create a virtual office, where you can interact with coworkers, collaborate on work, and see what your coworkers are doing on their screens. It’s not a futuristic concept: it’s available today, if you and your team have the right VR headsets.

Epic’s Fortnite is moving forward with metaverse-type entertainment, such as the Ariana Grande concert that took place in-game earlier this year, the latest in a series of concerts attended by virtually tens of millions. people around the world.

But these proto-metaverse projects are silos. You can’t leave work in a Facebook workroom and go straight to an Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite. The metaverse is not yet connected. To achieve this, we are going to have to rethink the entire Internet infrastructure.

Networks on a scale we’ve never seen before

Jerry Heinz is the co-founder of Ball Metaverse Research Partners, a company that does a huge amount of research on the metaverse and what it will take to get us there.

Heinz believes that even today’s massive data centers and increasingly fast broadband networks are not going to cope with the demands of the metaverse. “I think the biggest challenges ahead are really at the fundamental level,” he told the SamKnows Podcast.

“You need highly concurrent and highly persistent experiences, on a scale and magnitude that we haven’t really seen before. At the network level, it’s funny, but these are the same issues that we have encountered throughout the history of the network. It really comes down to the latency, bandwidth, and reliability of our old friends.

Imagine a virtual universe where every movement of the face, every gesture, every movement of the lips must be reproduced in real time to make your avatar convincing. According to Heinz, simply transporting this weight of data at speeds fast enough to avoid lags will require new network infrastructure, new protocols and standards.

“If you are interacting in real life, there is obviously no lag,” he said. “When you work on a computer network, you have physical laws that you have to obey. And this isn’t a Twitch game we’re talking about, it’s an ultra-low latency experience because there is that sense of realism you are looking for. With the slightest perception of latency, it just doesn’t feel real – something is wrong.

Latency is less of an issue on fixed fiber networks, but on mobiles even 5G connections have large variations in latency. SamKnows measures the performance of mobile broadband in many countries and its figures show that latency on 5G networks can reach hundreds of milliseconds in the worst case, which would ruin a metaverse experience.

“The network itself and the protocols that need to be developed, we will have to keep that [low latency] in mind, ”Heinz said, adding that latency“ has not been the primary focus ”in the development of the Internet to date.

Find new tips

In the same way that today’s broadband networks use content delivery networks (CDNs) to push, say, Netflix movies closer to the end user, ensuring that data has less distance. To go through, the Metaverse will require similar ‘cheats’ to make sure the user experience is not ruined.

Games like Fortnite “actually predict to some extent” where the player is going to move next, Heinz said, which means Epic Games can “just add a little bit of latency to the experience and not ruin it. “.

Similar techniques will need to be developed for the metaverse. “We’ll have to invent some tricks there to … reduce the latency and build the experience.”

How long will it take?

The massive infrastructure changes required mean we’re not going to be executing a full-scale metaverse anytime soon. Mark Zuckerberg has talked about Facebook becoming a metaverse business over the next five years, but Heinz thinks the timeline is ambitious.

“We need visionaries to lead this,” he said. “I would love to see Facebook and Mark lead Facebook in this direction, especially over the next five years. It will take this bold vision from leaders, especially on the infrastructure and content production side to really get things done, but if they believe in it, then amazing things can happen.

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