IN THIS ARTICLE
- So what exactly is the metaverse, and how does it work?
- What does it mean to build the metaverse? What elements go into it?
- What types of experiences and virtual worlds are companies...
- What metaverse jobs are out there?
- How can I get a metaverse job?
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In a new video series launched by Meta, formerly known as Facebook, singer and actress Keke Palmer hosts late night talk show-style interviews with metaverse experts–denizens of an incredible, interconnected virtual world so limitless in scope and customizability that no one really knows how to explain it.
In the first episode of Are We There Yet? Palmer chats with Vishal Shah, whose job title at Meta is VP of metaverse. While riding in a self-driving blue convertible whizzing through a dizzying array of colorful virtual worlds, Palmer and Shah play a game called “Now, Future, Never,” in which Palmer suggests weird and wacky propositions for things one can and cannot do in the metaverse. Want to take your grandma bungee jumping? Visit future Mars with human colonies on it? Create a giant virtual banana to go rock-climbing on? All of these things, according to Shah can be–or already have been–done in the metaverse.
Like in the early days of Web 2.0, when the World Wide Web seemed exasperatingly abstract to laypeople who weren’t involved in building, funding, or “life-hacking” the internet as we know it, the metaverse today seems to be an exclusive stomping ground for gaming companies and early adopters rather than a new way of life.
“Web3 companies are trying to break or lower the barriers to entry,” said Thomas Proust, a blockchain developer at ZILLA and a mentor for Springboard’s Data Science Career Track. “But for the regular internet user, it’s more or less like when your grandparents were trying to learn how to use the internet.”
The simplest explanation for the metaverse is that it’s an immersive version of the internet that blends our digital and physical worlds. Users can spend time with friends remotely, visit virtual retail stores, attend virtual events, play games, and buy and sell digital assets using cryptocurrencies. To some, this sounds like a future dystopia: a Matrix-like life lived entirely through a virtual reality headset. In reality, it’s just a different way of doing the things we already do on the internet, like recreating, transacting, and interacting.
“The metaverse will have a different impact on people’s daily lives depending on how they use it,” says Ian Khan, a metaverse keynote speaker and author of Metaverse for Dummies. “For some, it’ll be a place to spend a few minutes per day, while for others, it could be a place where they earn their income and work full-time.”
So what exactly is the metaverse, and how does it work?
The feeling of presence is the defining quality of the metaverse. While participating in the metaverse version of a Zoom call, you’ll be able to see the facial expressions and body language of your coworkers’ avatars. Digital art will manifest in three dimensions. Video chats and web URLs appear before your field of vision like a holograph. You can even customize a home to look any way you want, right down to the view outside your virtual “window.” Teleporting around the metaverse will be like clicking a link on the internet.
Characteristics of the metaverse
Aside from its immersive nature, the metaverse has a number of characteristics that distinguish it from web 2.0 as we know it today.
- Persistence. The metaverse doesn’t cease to operate when you log off; it continues running in the background. Interacting with objects in the metaverse will have real-world ramifications. For example, if you try an item in a virtual store and purchase it using cryptocurrency, you’ll receive the item IRL–provided that it’s not a digital asset.
- Has a functioning economy. People will be able to produce goods and services of tangible value and buy and sell digital assets on the blockchain.
- Complete interoperability. Interoperability means that digital assets and other interactive items in the metaverse are not limited to a single interface, operating system, or experience. Currently, games are defined entirely by the platform they’re created for, and players can rarely move between platforms (eg: from PC to Xbox). Some games are exclusive to specific consoles or operating systems, and the digital items players purchase within a game can’t be used in another game. In the metaverse, items, characters, and even set pieces from one game will need to mesh with another smoothly. For example, a weapon you purchase in one game could be usable in any first-person shooter.
- Driven by community content. Diverse creators can create or curate content and experiences for other people.
What does it mean to build the metaverse? What elements go into it?
Building the metaverse is no small feat, requiring physical and digital infrastructure to power, sustain, and expand it. These developments will create a spate of new jobs for software architects, developers, UX designers, content creators, data scientists, cybersecurity experts, and more. What’s more, the decentralized nature of the metaverse means that any internet user can build things within the metaverse.
Existing metaverse jobs are mostly related to the development and design of metaverse spaces and digital assets such as NFTs, which can be sold in the metaverse.
“There is yet to be a specific drive to hire for jobs where people will live on the servers and perform tasks specifically related to maintaining and optimizing these spaces,” says Khan. “This is likely to change in the next few years as metaverse-only companies spring up and start creating revenue streams that need people and providers to dedicate themselves to the metaverse.”
Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the elements that go into building the metaverse:
- Infrastructure. Connectivity technologies (5G, WiFi, cloud) that power the metaverse
- Human interface. VR headsets, AR glasses, haptics, and so on
- Spatial computing. 3D visualization and modeling frameworks
- Creator economy. Design tools, digital assets, marketplaces, AI services, creator tools
- Content and experiences. Digital apps for gaming, work, shopping, and so on. First-party content, developer content, creator content, and user-generated content. Virtual worlds (environments where a large number of users can gather, interact, create, and move in and out of different experiences)
- Platforms. Platforms that facilitate access and discovery of content experiences and apps (eg: Google Play), including browsers, search engines, visual search, app marketplaces, in-app storefronts and more
- Enablers. Security, privacy, and governance. Payments and monetization
The metaverse and web 3.0
Web 3.0 consists of the infrastructure for the metaverse. For context:
- Web 2.0 is the internet of today—which centers on user-created content (social media, blogging, sharing videos, writing reviews)
- Web 3.0 is the internet of the future, while the metaverse describes how we’ll experience it
All signs indicate that Web 3.0 will run on blockchain technology, which is a public record of transactions made in cryptocurrencies that are maintained across several computers in a peer-to-peer network. This means that if you purchase a digital asset in the metaverse, blockchain technology facilitates the transaction and authenticates your ownership of the asset.
How does blockchain work in the metaverse?
The blockchain is what enables users to create, own and monetize digital assets in the metaverse. In other words, the metaverse is essentially powered by decentralized, blockchain-enabled applications that support an economy of user-owned cryptocurrency assets and data.
Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptocurrency that can be transferred on a peer-to-peer Bitcoin network. Every time you buy some Bitcoin, that transaction is recorded to the blockchain, which means the record is distributed to thousands of individual computers around the world, unlike traditional banking books, which are stored on an internal server. The distributed nature of the blockchain makes it very hard to fool or control.
What are Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)?
Items like artwork and music on a blockchain are Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). “Non-fungible” means the asset is unique and irreplaceable, whereas currency is a fungible item. When you sell an NFT, you use a smart contract, which allows you to conduct a transaction without the help of a bank.
“Right now, what we call the metaverse is usually a virtual experience built by a Web3 company that allows you to incarnate some sort of persona, like an avatar or NFT,” says Proust. “An NFT is a unique token on the blockchain that belongs to only one person.”
The blockchain is what allows you to own digital goods in the virtual world. So, if two virtual worlds are interoperable, the blockchain will authenticate proof of ownership of your digital goods in both virtual worlds. When you access your crypto wallet in a virtual world, you can access your crypto assets such as your avatars, avatar clothing, avatar animations, virtual decorations, and weapons.
Using your crypto wallet, you can purchase digital goods such as music, movies, games, and apps. You can also buy physical items in the metaverse with the opportunity to view and hold 3D models of the item you’re shopping for. Your ID will be linked to your crypto wallet, so you don’t need to remember passwords to access the websites and virtual worlds you visit.
What types of experiences and virtual worlds are companies building in the metaverse?
The notion of a “corporate metaverse strategy” is new, but digitally mature organizations are already adopting it. For now, those who are actively involved in building metaverse experiences are typically early adopters of technology, know someone who works in the metaverse, or they work at a company that is involved in metaverse projects.
“Because the metaverse is still pretty exclusive, companies are trying really hard to onboard people that are not from the blockchain or Web3 world,” says Proust. “It’s really complicated for someone new to all this because you need conceptual knowledge of the metaverse. You need to know what a blockchain is, and you must have a crypto wallet.”
In October 2021, Facebook changed its name to Meta and announced plans to create 10,000 new high-skilled jobs in the EU to help shape the metaverse. Over 160 companies are jumping in, too, including Snap, Roblox, OpenSea, The Sandbox, and Unity.
The usual suspects—game developers, retailers, and design studios—have made the biggest strides in the metaverse. In January, GameStop announced plans to launch its own NFT marketplace. Nvidia has developed an Omniverse platform, an open-source tool that lets people actively build their own virtual 3D worlds. Epic Games streamed a virtual Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite last September, which featured the popstar’s in-game avatar. At this year’s Build Conference, Microsoft announced a “Metaverse Stack” and also acquired gaming giant Activision in order to create the “building blocks for the metaverse.”
Numerous fashion brands are building metaverse experiences within Roblox, a virtual world where millions of people socialize, play, and take part in a digital economy. Similar to the blockchain, players can purchase the in-game currency, called Robux, using real-world money, and buy items within the game or convert their Robux back into cash.
Luxury fashion brand Balenciaga teamed up with Fortnite to deliver designer skins to users in the game. Meanwhile, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren have launched their own Roblox experiences. Nike is building the world’s first metaverse theme park inside Roblox—a free virtual playspace called Nikeland. By offering a free space where people can interact with the brand, Nike creates an avenue for them to become customers in the real world. Naturally, Disney wants to become the happiest place in the metaverse.
Governments are launching their own forays into the metaverse, too. The city of Seoul in South Korea will construct a virtual replica of the city as part of its Seoul Vision 2030 plan. The virtual environment will be designed to help residents communicate with city officials, join community events, and visit museums and reconstructed historical landmarks.
For now, at least, the qualifications for landing a metaverse job aren’t that different from a “regular” tech job. The only difference is that candidates must have a conceptual understanding of how the metaverse works, including the blockchain and Web 3.0 technologies that undergird it.
“At the end of the day, the technology is not so different from what you’re using when you build a website or mobile application,” says Proust, who became a blockchain developer after taking a few online tutorials. “The code, user flows, and proxies are the same. It’s still about building a front-end interface and a back-end application, manipulating libraries, and using known programming languages.”
What metaverse jobs are out there?
Metaverse-first companies have begun to spring up, offering an array of services from building branded AR/VR experiences to providing marketplaces for buying and selling digital assets. Verseprop, a platform selling metaverse real estate, closed its first seed round in Q1 2022.
“We’ve hired engineers, designers, and marketers to help us get the platform going,” says Joel Coren, founder and CEO of Verseprop. “In short, there is a serious skills shortage in the Web 3.0 space, so there’s plenty of opportunity for specialists that are familiar with it.”
A new report published by Dell Technologies posits that 85% of metaverse and non-metaverse jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.
Here is a rundown of metaverse jobs companies are already hiring for.
AR/VR software engineers
Developing a decentralized metaverse application means building a game or experience optimized for different platforms, from VR headsets like the Oculus Quest to emerging virtual worlds like Roblox and Fortnite, to gaming consoles like Playstation and Xbox, as well as web and mobile devices. Developers will have to find new ways for users to interact with devices apart from voice and touch.
What you need to know:
Metaverse developers need to know the terminologies and concepts of XR (extended reality)—an umbrella term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and other immersive technologies. The metaverse needs engineers with expertise in large-scale system design, networking and data storage, distributed computing, AI, information retrieval, natural language processing (NLP), and UI design. Engineers will be required to work on Android Native, Android Java, FreeRTOS, and Embedded Linux. Given the distributed nature of the metaverse, there is no cap on the number of users for a particular game or experience, which presents new challenges for developers.
“On the programming side of things, developing applications for the metaverse is not so different from Web 2.0,” said Proust. “You just have different problems because the blockchain is a gigantic database that is accessible by anyone. For example, once you have millions of users on the blockchain, you start to have problems with speed and scale.”
Metaverse software engineers should know how to use third-party libraries and software development kits (SDKs) for enhancing or adding new functionalities to applications and software. Popular SDKs for the metaverse include Wikitude and Vuforia.
“Developers must have familiarity with Solidity, which is the programming language essential to the creation of smart contracts,” said Coren.
Product managers will own the end-user metaverse experience and be responsible for evangelizing the product. Their main priority is ensuring people have great social experiences within a metaverse application. This means understanding the user’s perspective, gathering customer feedback, and tracking NPS scores and user surveys. They will work with a team to design, communicate, and wireframe visions into products. Just like a non-metaverse product manager, they will A/B test features while evaluating KPIs around retention, monetization, and feedback loops.
They must keep up to speed with the evolving market of creators, NFTs, and gaming, and work with internal researchers to identify market opportunities. In their day-to-day work, they’ll partner with other PMs, engineers, researchers, content strategists, and QA, overseeing the implementation of the user experience from product conception to launch as well as post-launch design support.
3D game designer
Metaverse game designers will work on prototyping, designing, and shipping VR- and AR-based games or adding gamification elements to non-mage applications (eg: virtual meeting software). Designers will work closely with programmers on prototyping and implementing stages and ensuring gameplay functionality. Currently, metaverse games are still being built on industry-standard game engines like Unreal and Unity. Most gaming studios want candidates who have experience as a player of blockchain games.
What is a blockchain game?
A blockchain game is a game that has an “open economy”—meaning players can buy and sell in-game assets using cryptocurrencies. This means game items are no longer stuck in games. For example, a skin you purchase in one game can be used in another game. All in-game purchases are recorded on the blockchain, listing you as the owner. Still, most current metaverses are walled gardens that keep all purchases inside the respective games.
This enables a new player-driven economy where game studios don’t have to lean heavily on new releases or downloadable content (DLC) and can instead make new content that is tradable and retains players.
Blockchain games have engendered a new type of gaming model known as play-to-earn. Play-to-earn games reward participants with digital cash or NFTs, or in-game assets like crypto tokens, virtual land, skins, and weapons. Players can buy, sell, and transfer these in-game assets outside of the game’s virtual world in exchange for real money. At the moment, most blockchain-based games are too focused on NFT features, and the gameplay is not engaging.
Storytellers (similar to video game writers)
Storytellers, or those who write content for games, applications, and branded metaverse experiences, will need to create stories that enable users to immerse themselves in a narrative while creating their own characters and identities and choosing from multiple story paths.
“Most recently, we have been trying to transition from storytelling—which is more traditional, one-way communication—to this idea of storyliving, where you’re at the center of your adventure,” Vicki Dobbs Beck, VP of immersive content innovation at ILMxLab, the immersive studio arm of LucasFilm, said at a VentureBeat event. “You’re in a world, making meaningful choices and driving the narrative forward.”
Metaverse marketing specialist
The metaverse will give marketers the opportunity to create immersive brand experiences, native advertising, virtual events, and promote digital products. Brands can even create virtual worlds and digital storefronts to build brand awareness. Metaverse marketing will be used not only to sell items on the blockchain but to promote things the brand is doing IRL.
“If you’re in charge of social media strategy for the metaverse, understanding Discord is essential,” says Coren.
Instead of thinking of people who interact with the technology as “users, designers should consider them “players”—people who inhabit, live, and exist in this virtual world. UX designers must create a truly immersive design, one that allows people to live in virtual surroundings rather than just visit them. Given the always-on, immersive nature of the metaverse, designers must view it as a human civilization rather than a digital product. UX designers will also have to find new ways to smooth processes like user authentication and digital transactions on the blockchain.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, people will use a crypto wallet to connect to a website,” says Proust. “That way, the website can check the wallet address and see if the wallet holds a specific NFT to give the user access to a specific part of the website. So it’s a whole different user flow.”
While AR/VR engineers will create metaverse experiences, blockchain developers will create systems that enable secure digital transactions. This entails building databases to record and store blockchain data in a way that prevents alterations or hacks.
Blockchain developers develop decentralized applications (dApps) and smart contracts based on blockchain technology. A decentralized application is a program that exists and runs on a blockchain or peer-to-peer (P2P) network of computers rather than on a single computer.
There are two types of blockchain developers: a core blockchain developer and a blockchain software developer.
Like a software architect, a core blockchain developer designs the security and architecture of the blockchain system—the foundation others can build upon. Blockchain software developers use this core web architecture to create applications.
To land a blockchain developer job, you must understand how the blockchain works, in addition to mastering mainstream programming languages like C++, Python, and Java.
The metaverse will shake up the events industry—probably even more so than COVID did. The metaverse can be used to host events of practically any size, including major trade fairs, concerts, conferences, and more. Immersive video conferencing apps will help remove the remoteness from remote work for business meetings and conferences. In the metaverse, participants can create avatars and get a sense of being truly present in the venue. Organizers can also add an AI chatbot as guides to greet and interact with attendees.
“Event planners and managers will be required for all events, just as they are in the real world,” says Joe Troyer, CEO and head of growth at DigitalTriggers. “There will ultimately be a time when corporations like Apple introduce their newest gadgets in the metaverse, and other events such as E3 and Comic-Con may also shift to the metaverse.”
How can I get a metaverse job?
For now, technical professionals are using many of the skills they already have to build metaverse experiences. Still, many of the jobs that will exist in the metaverse—e.g. avatar clothing designer, metahuman doctor, and metaverse research scientist—haven’t been invented yet. Khan advises those who don’t currently work in the metaverse to start learning about how the metaverse works, what kinds of tasks can be done in the metaverse, and how their skills could be repurposed for Web 3.0.
“Programmers should learn the new architecture of the web and blockchain technology,” says Khan. “For financial professionals who want to be part of the metaverse, understanding cryptocurrencies, investments and NFTS is necessary. Artists might find it important to learn how to generate digital art and teach themselves about new types of creative digital software.”