An introduction to The Metaverse and the three most active Metaverses today, none of which are Facebook/Meta

Twenty-five years ago I read a book by Neal Stephenson called Snowcrash that honestly changed my life. I know this sounds dramatic but it’s true, and I’ll tell you why. Snowcrash introduced the concept of “The Metaverse” a virtual world where people could interact in fantastical 3D environments, be whoever they want to be, and live a completely different life — I was fascinated.

I credit Snowcrash with catalyzing my love for computers and inspiring me to get more involved in VR and gaming, two passions that have been a mainstay of mine for a long time. When I first read Snowcrash I was convinced the Metaverse would be coming in the next few years, I was wrong, very wrong — it took a lot longer, but not as long as most people think. The Metaverse did come, and it has been here for years, and no Facebook/Meta isn’t even a player in the space, yet. It’s clear they will be, but today, they aren’t even a blip on the radar when it comes to actual users interacting in the Metaverse.

So what is the Metaverse and where are people actively using it now? I’ll try to keep this relatively short and give you an overview you can read and digest in a few minutes —ready to go? Let’s rock 🕺

First — let’s talk about what the Metaverse is. In the early days of the Internet people used something called a BBS, or Bulletin Board System to connect in chatrooms and talk. I grew up in Berkeley, CA and can still remember going to the newspaper stand and picking up a free weekly magazine that had BBS numbers in the back of it. Oh and by numbers, I mean phone numbers, because BBS’s existed during the time of modems, and slow modems — I think I connected to my first BBS using a 1,200 Baud modem to be exact.

Fast-forward a bit further into the future and IRC (Internet Relay Chat) came out and introduced the same thing, but more vast and with more features. It was still text chat, but now there were tons of different servers, channels in those servers, and a lot more functionality.

Now, moving even further into the future to present day, well — we actually haven’t come that far. Today people use Slack to text chat with co-workers, also in channels, just like IRC. And for gaming and NFT geeks like me, we use Discord to connect and chat, which is also text chat, in channels. Essentially, thirty years later we’re still using text chat in channels, the UX has just improved a lot, and now we have emojis 😃

The Metaverse is the next evolution of how we connect online, as I said, originally defined by Neal in Snowcrash, back in 1992. Rather than communicating in text chat with 2D profile pictures, in the Metaverse you have an avatar, you’re in a virtual world, and you’re talking, you know, with your voice. The early version of The Metaverse is and will continue to be for a bit longer, a bit like walking around in a cartoon, we’re not at the point where photorealism is a thing, but that will come.

So who are the dominant players in the Metaverse today — there’s really three companies, The Sandbox, Decentraland, and Roblox. I’ll share a quick primer on each, yes, it’s time to go into a primer of a primer.

The Sandbox

While this is definitely up for debate, my personal view is that The Sandbox is the current front-runner when it comes to who might become the go-to Metaverse in the future. Last week The Sandbox raised $93M from Softbank to expand it’s vision of the Metaverse.

Back in September Snoop Dogg announced that he would be rebuilding his real life mansion in The Sandbox and back in June Bored Ape Yacht Club bought a huge parcel of land there as well. NFT investors (myself included) quickly bought up land near the Bored Ape Yacht Club parcel as many of us believe this could easily turn into the Beverly Hills of the Metaverse over time.

You can buy land in the Sandbox as an NFT, buy items in the Sandbox, also as NFTs, and buy the $SAND token, which many expect will grow in value as more and more people begin to build in and interact with The Sandbox.

Decentraland

Like I said, my view that The Sandbox is the current front-runner is up for debate because Decentraland was first and many people have believed for some time it’s a much safer bet.

Technically speaking, Decentraland was the first Ethereum-based virtual world and before NFTs were all the rage (i.e. starting really May of this year), Decentraland was the top pick for crypto investors who wanted exposure to the Metaverse.

Like The Sandbox, users can create, explore, and trade in a virtual world where the land and items are all unique NFTs. Just like The Sandbox has $SAND, Decentraland has $MANA, it’s token for transacting in the virtual world. Just like The Sandbox, celebrities and big NFT projects have been involved for some time now, and there are plenty of people who are opting to buy land and build in both.

Roblox

If there’s one out of the three dominant players in the Metaverse today that most people have heard of, it’s Roblox. What makes Roblox uniquely different from The Sandbox and Decentraland is it’s focus on playing games, and it’s core audience — kids.

I’d say the average age of users on The Sandbox and Decentraland is over twenty, on Roblox, it’s likely under 15. What Roblox did that has made them such a huge success is created a platform that’s both easy to use, and powerful, for making games.

If you’ve heard of either Unity or Unreal, these are video game creation solutions used by the pros, Roblox has in many ways democratized the process of making a game, and created an entire world and userbase for these games.

While you might think Roblox is just for kids, more and more adults are jumping in and discovering the joy that comes from connecting with other people and playing games together in The Metaverse. Additionally, Roblox has announced that it has plans to make a move towards more photorealistic avatars which will likely bring in new users and open more doors to future innovations.

To me, The Metaverse came 20+ years later than I expected, but to many, it still feels like a pipedream or a fad. Some people think of Facebook/Meta when they hear about the Metaverse but the reality is, Facebook isn’t even on the map yet when it comes to actual people using the Metaverse. Given the name change and the shift in focus, it’s clear Facebook is going to double-down on The Metaverse and likely will play catch-up pretty quickly, but they have some catching up to do.

In 2020 Roblox did over $900M in revenue, in 2021 it’s on track to do over $1.5B in revenue, Facebook changed the name of their company to Meta, and some of the biggest names in gaming and entertainment are already building in The Sandbox and Decentraland. If you thought the Metaverse was just a fad, it’s time to decide what side of history you want to land on because it’s clear to me, as it has been for over two decades that The Metaverse is going to be big, really big.

co-founder at Bold Metrics| previously at Sonos | I write a lot and take way too many photos