The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet. The word “metaverse” is made up of the prefix “meta” (meaning beyond) and the stem “verse” (a backformation from “universe”); the term is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.
The term was coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans, as avatars, interact with each other and software agents, in a three-dimensional space that uses the metaphor of the real world. Stephenson used the term to describe a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet. Concepts similar to the Metaverse have appeared under a variety of names in the cyberpunk genre of fiction as far back as 1981 in the novella True Names. Stephenson stated in the afterword to Snow Crash that after finishing the novel he learned about Habitat, an early MMORPG which resembled the Metaverse.
The concept was made famous under another term, cyberspace, which first appeared in the short story ‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson (Omni, July 1982) and was a central theme in his 1984 groundbreaking novel, Neuromancer. Since cyberspace has now, through common use, become a term that simply means the Internet, Metaverse is the preferred term for the concept of a virtual shared space that converges with actual reality. Unlike, for instance, in the fictional concept introduced in Neuromancer, which was typified by a Cartesian separation of body and mind, the Metaverse allows its users to access its environs but still aware of their mundane world surroundings. This is demonstrated in a technology called invisible to visible (I2V) that Nissan is developing, which overlays a car’s windshield with virtual information as well as features that include an ability to summon an in-car 3D avatar.
Since many massively multiplayer online games connecting millions of players share features with the Metaverse but only provide access to non-persistent instances of virtual worlds that are shared only by up to several dozen players, the concept of multiverse virtual worlds has been used to distinguish them from the Metaverse.
Conceptually, the Metaverse describes a future internet of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe, but common standards, interfaces, and communication protocols between and among virtual environment systems are still in development. Several collaborations and working groups have been established in an attempt to create the types of standards and protocols that would be needed to support interoperability between virtual environments, including:
- Virtual Worlds—Standard for Systems Virtual Components Working Group (P1828), IEEE (2010–Present)
- Information technology—Media context and control—Part 4: Virtual world object characteristics (ISO/IEC 23005-4:2011), ISO (2008–Present)
- Immersive Education Technology Group (IETG), Media Grid (2008–Present)
- Virtual World Region Agent Protocol (VWRAP), IETF (2009–2011)
- The Metaverse Roadmap, Acceleration Studies Foundation (2006–2007)
- The Open Source Metaverse Project, (2004–2008)
Many of these working groups are still in the process of publishing drafts and determining open standards for interoperability.
Timeline of virtual environments inspired by the concept
Since Stephenson’s novel appeared, improvements in internet technology, bandwidth, and computational power permitted real-life implementations inspired by the concept of the Metaverse to develop. A brief timeline of notable platforms and developments include:
- 1993 – The Metaverse was launched, a MOO (a text-based, low-bandwidth virtual reality system) by Steve Jackson Games as part of their BBS, Illuminati Online.
- 1995 – Active Worlds, which was based entirely on Snow Crash, popularized the project of creating the Metaverse by distributing virtual-reality worlds capable of implementing at least the concept of the Metaverse.
- 1998 – There was created, wherein users appear as avatars and, in addition to socializing, could purchase objects and services using the virtual currency therebucks, which were purchasable with real world money. There.com closed on March 2, 2010, but reappeared in 2011 as an invite-only world to users age 18 or older.
- 1998 – blaxxun was created 3D virtual communities that using the vrml technology. like: cybertown and Jewel of Indra.
2003 – Second Life was launched by Linden Lab. The stated goal of the project is to create a user-defined world like the Metaverse in which people can interact, play, do business, and otherwise communicate.
- 2004 – X3D was approved by ISO as the successor to the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) as the open standard for interactive real-time 3D (web3D). Today X3D is the standard defining the 3D web and mixed reality Open Metaverse by combining virtual, mirror, and augmented realities with the web.
- 2004 – IMVU, Inc. was founded by Will Harvey, Matt Danzig and Eric Ries. It started out as an instant messenger with 3D avatars and has since expanded and evolved.
- 2005 – Solipsis launched, a free open source system aiming to provide the infrastructure for a Metaverse-like public virtual territory.
- 2005 – The Croquet Project began as an open-source software development environment for “creating and deploying deeply collaborative multi-user online applications on multiple operating systems and devices”, with the aim of being “more extensible than the proprietary technologies behind collaborative worlds such as Second Life”. It was used to build virtual worlds such as the Arts Metaverse, but after the release of the Croquet SDK in 2007, the project changed names and became the Open Cobalt project.
- 2006 – Entropia Universe, the world’s first real cash economy MMORPG.
- 2006 – Roblox was published.
- 2007 – Several social networks developed to provide profiles and networking capabilities for metaverse avatars, including Koinup, Myrl, AvatarsUnited. These projects faced many challenges related to the lack of DataPortability of the Avatar across many virtual worlds and attempt to address the possibility of managing multiple accounts on a single dashboard. (AvatarsUnited was later purchased by Linden Lab, and then shut down when some social networking features were added to the SecondLife.com Website.)
- 2007 – OpenSimulator appeared, developing free open-source virtual world software that is protocol-compatible with Second Life but allowing user movement between otherwise independent installations. It is based on the client viewer of Second Life and serves as a platform for constructing a virtual world.
- 2008 – Google Lively was unveiled by Google through the Google Labs on July 8, 2008. It was intended that new features would be added over time, but on November 19, 2008, it was announced that the Lively service would be discontinued at the end of December.
- 2013 – High Fidelity Inc was founded as an open-source platform for users to create and deploy virtual worlds, and explore and interact together in them.
- 2014 – VRChat was launched as a social VR platform that enables users to publish 3D spaces and avatars that are developed with external tools.
- 2015 – AltspaceVR was launched as a social VR platform that enables users to publish 3D spaces that are developed with external tools.
- 2016 – Sinespace was launched as a social VR platform that enables users to publish 3D spaces and content that are developed with external tools.
- 2016 – Rec Room was launched as a social VR game, which was extended to support user-generated spaces in 2017.
- 2016 – Anyland and Modbox were launched as social VR games, which enable uses to publish 3D spaces that are developed with built-in tools.
- 2017 – Sansar was launched in “creator beta” to the general public on July 31, 2017. The platform enables user-created 3D spaces where people can create and share interactive social experiences, such as playing games, watching videos, and having conversations in VR. Each participant is represented by a detailed avatar that is the graphical representation of the user including speech-driven facial animations and motion-driven body animations.
- 2018 – NeosVR Metaverse was launched by Solirax.
- 2018 – Cryptovoxels was started as a project to build a user owned metaverse on the web. Land sales were opened up to the public on
- July 2018. Cryptovoxels is a virtual world powered by the Ethereum blockchain. Players can buy land and build stores and art galleries.
- 2019 – Facebook Horizon was announced as a social VR world by Facebook, Inc.
- 2020 – Decentraland, a decentralized virtual world owned and operated by its users.
- 2020 – The Sandbox, a voxel metaverse was launched by Animoca.
- 2020 – Core was launched in an open alpha version by Manticore Games.
- 2020 – Rival Peak, a cloud-powered reality show starring AI contestants in a virtual environment, debuted on Facebook Watch. Individuals or groups of viewers could directly contribute to an AI contestant’s advancement in the show by watching or interacting via Facebook.
- 2020 – Somnium Space, a Social VR platform powered by the Ethereum blockchain and featuring full-body avatar. The platform promises to bring users together in a single large VR space instead of splitting them between smaller virtual rooms.
- 2021 – Epic Games directs fundraising to build out Fortnite into a metaverse narrative
- 2021 – Microsoft Mesh, a mixed reality software enabling virtual presence through Microsoft devices such as the Hololens 2.
- 2021 – Sensorium Galaxy, a metaverse featuring VR concerts by electronic music artists like David Guetta, begins closed beta testing of its PRISM and MOTION worlds and launches an online avatar store with payments in native SENSO tokens; a migration to a Substrate-based blockchain is announced in April 2021. 
- 2021 – South Korea announces the creation of a national metaverse alliance with the goal to build a unified national VR and AR platform. This is the first state-level metaverse initiative. 
Various massively multiplayer online games bear a resemblance to elements of the Metaverse, although they typically focus on specific gaming purposes rather than socializing.
Stephenson’s Metaverse in Snow Crash
Stephenson’s Metaverse appears to its users as an urban environment, developed along a single hundred-meter-wide road, the Street, that runs the entire 65536 km (216 km) circumference of a featureless, black, perfectly spherical planet. The virtual real estate is owned by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group, a fictional part of the real Association for Computing Machinery, and is available to be bought and buildings developed thereupon.
Users of the Metaverse gain access to it through personal terminals that project a high-quality virtual reality display onto goggles worn by the user, or from low-quality public terminals in booths (with the penalty of presenting a grainy black and white appearance). Stephenson also describes a sub-culture of people choosing to remain continuously connected to the Metaverse by wearing portable terminals, goggles and other equipment; they are given the sobriquet “gargoyles” due to their grotesque appearance. The users of the Metaverse experience it from a first person perspective.
Within the Metaverse, individual users appear as avatars of any form, with the sole restriction of height, “to prevent people from walking around a mile high”. Transport within the Metaverse is limited to analogs of reality by foot or vehicle, such as the monorail that runs the entire length of the Street, stopping at 256 Express Ports, located evenly at 256 km intervals, and Local Ports, one kilometer apart.
As of 2019, writers at DC Comics have begun to use the term “Metaverse” to refer to a central version of reality which influences other versions and alternate timelines.
During the events of Doomsday Clock, the existence of the Metaverse was uncovered by Doctor Manhattan (Watchmen), who arrived in the DC Universe and was curious about why history constantly changed around one person: Superman. Realizing that this was a Metaverse and all changes within this universe affected and influenced other versions and alternate timelines (particularly the Multiverse), Manhattan tested what would happen if the Metaverse was changed by an outside source: himself, and by moving the Green Lantern a few inches away from Alan Scott, this resulted in Alan’s death and the Justice Society of America never being formed, thus creating The New 52 universe after the events of Flashpoint. The Metaverse reacted to these changes in the form of the Pre-Flashpoint Wally West, who briefly escapes the Speed Force and warns Manhattan that he knows what the latter did and the heroes of the DC Universe will stop him, before being dragged back in. In their final confrontation, Superman convinces Manhattan to regain his humanity and the latter restores the timeline, causing the Metaverse to expand itself.