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Finding a Second Life In the Metaverse

In January 2022, the representative metaverse platform Zepeto collaborated with the beauty brand Hera by opening the brand’s official pop-up store, which attracted much attention for experiencing digital interactive space. As people have had few opportunities to meet face-to-face due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it has become popular to create alternative characters in a virtual space. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will introduce the origin of the metaverse, explain various ways to use the metaverse, and provide suggestions for future improvements based on this trend.

What is a Metaverse?

Origin and Development of the Metaverse

Metaverse is a word that combines the words universe and meta. It generally refers to the concept of a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize. The word metaverse was derived from Neal Steven’s novel Snow Crash, published in 1992. Characters of the novel usually work through avatars representing themselves in the virtual world. Since daily businesses and economic activities can be done by using virtual currency, avatars can entail the same social responsibilities and duties as the real world. An avatar indicates a being that is beyond simply replicating people in real life; people not only project their various personalities into their avatars but also use them to act as agents under authorized responsibilities in the virtual world. After the portal era in the late 1990s and the social networking era in the 2010s, metaverse has been newly developed in the 2020s. As COVID-19 spread and face-to-face contacts decreased, people tried to perform their daily lives inside the integrated virtual world. Moreover, the growth of the metaverse was spurred by the appearance of Generation Z. Generation Z has emerged as leading consumers of the metaverse since they are less reluctant to its concept due to online games and social media.

Current State of the Metaverse

Currently, the metaverse industry is expected to grow further as participating in the virtual world beyond watching through a screen has become possible. According to Statista, the global metaverse market is going to grow from about ₩35 trillion last year to about ₩347 trillion in 2024. Representative metaverse platforms include Minecraft, Roblox, Zepeto, and Party Royale. Roblox is a game platform established in 2006 that provides a three-dimensional virtual world comprised of blocks. People can enjoy Roblox’s games with individual Lego-shaped avatars and even create their own games. Zepeto is another popular metaverse platform with over 250 million users: 80% of them are teenagers, and 90% are overseas users. In Zepeto, people can interact and participate in diverse activities through their own avatars in the virtual world. In the United States, Fortnite’s social media space, Party Royale, is leading the metaverse market. It has about 350 million users and provides a new virtual space where users can simply enjoy time with each other.

How to Utilize the Metaverse

Metaverse and Entertainment

At one of the representative metaverse platforms Party Royale, users are provided with virtual social spaces where they can enjoy music and relax. Famous American rapper Travis Scott held an online concert here and earned ten times more than he did from offline concerts. K-pop industries are also searching for new business models and creating content by using metaverse platforms since offline events have become impossible due to COVID-19. For instance, in September 2020, the famous K-pop girl group Blackpink held a signing event on Zepeto, gathering 46 million users. This shows that the metaverse can be successfully used as an entertainment place because marketing through a metaverse can be done regardless of physical distance. From now on, if technologies that encompass real-time Visual Effects (VFX) and virtual production develop, more various contents will be produced. Virtual production is a technology that utilizes light-emitting diode (LED) walls to direct the shooting scene in real-time. Because of its efficiency in time and budget and autonomy in expressions, virtual production is receiving attention as a solution for the next generation. In addition, entertainment producers now create works that were hard to visualize and reduce the economic burden by using VFX studios.

Travis Scott’s Concert in the Metaverse (dokdo.co)

Metaverse Linked with Social Media

As people started to use the metaverse as an extended version of social media, they created multi-personas through the metaverse. Multi-persona refers to showing multiple personalities according to different situations. Beyond simply consuming these multi-persona plays, people started to participate in the metaverse world directly. As relationships and networks have become more complex in the digital era, people differentiate their online identities from their reallife identities and tend to choose their identities according to the situation. This multi-persona phenomenon in social media has been extended to customized avatars and alternate characters in the metaverse. This is possible since Travis Scott’s Concert in the Metaverse Profile of Gang Members in Money Heist Season 1a metaverse is a virtual space that utilizes one of the key points of social media, life-logging. Life-logging means recording, saving, and sharing information about one’s daily life in real-time, which is usually done through social media. When designing their own world including avatars, people selectively choose images that they want to present and form different social personas. This allows people to go beyond reality. Individuals start new relationships with a different persona from the one in real life in the metaverse.

People Having Multi-persona

Dark Sides of the Metaverse

Technical limits of the Metaverse

Although fifth Generation Mobile Telecommunication has been introduced worldwide, the actual speed of networks still remains in the third and fourth Generations, hindering smooth use of the metaverse. There are physical limits since most of the equipment is wired, and people have to wear thick, heavy glasses or controllers to make use of Virtual Reality (VR) devices. As these technical limits disrupt reality and immersion, the devices need to develop to support users to have a more real-life experience. Furthermore, the metaverse lacks competitiveness in the IT market. Even if Meta sold more than 10 million units of the VR device “Oculus Quest 2,” professionals still estimate that it would take at least three years to sell over 20 million units, which is needed for the metaverse to have a stable user base. Furthermore, contrary to its name, the metaverse is still just a microverse or closed metaverse. A closed metaverse refers to a metaverse where users cannot move freely between services and different platforms. They should log out first and log in again to choose a new avatar for a different platform. There are no shared standards for building and connecting the virtual worlds, and companies only focus on achieving individual goals. This makes the metaverse just a set of isolated services.

Vulnerable Systems and Users

In May 2020, the metaverse platform Roblox’s access to the internal system was hacked, so the personal information of 100 million users was infringed. This created a controversy as to whether the company can freely make use of users’ personal information without permission. In the case of the metaverse, it requires careful attention to personal information security since users’ personal information is tracked every minute if lifelogging is done. In June 2021, Google released Android 12, a next-generation mobile operating system focused on privacy protection, and Apple released a strengthened privacy policy in June 2020 to prevent reckless tracking and exploiting personal information. However, the metaverse industry does not have an integrated privacy policy yet. In addition, users can suffer from identity disorder and ruin their lives due to excessive immersion in the virtual world. The closer the metaverse is linked to daily life, the higher the likelihood of causing escapism and derealization disorder occurs. As the metaverse has emerged as a playground for teenagers, cybercrimes that target them have become a huge problem, too. Teenagers are becoming a target of child sex offenses. Even worse, there is a high possibility of exposure to sexual exploitation and sexual violence since there is no clear punishment for virtual space crimes. Concerns about legal regulation and restrictions have been raised since the metaverse is considered an unprecedented virtual world.

Attacks to Metaverse

Suggestions for Future Development of the Metaverse

Technical Implementation

In terms of technology, the metaverse industry could 26 Business People Having Multi-personaAttacks to Metaversefurther develop only when sixth Generation Mobile Telecommunication becomes possible, enabling fluent data usage. In case of equipment problems, developers should create an immersive and experiential metaverse by fusing devices with Brain-Computer (BCI) technology. The performance of devices should be developed to an extent where they can directly connect with a brain and deceive senses. Also, the industry can make efforts by increasing budgets to develop these devices. Meta is aiming to minimalize devices and develop a Mixed Reality (MR) technology that superimposes virtual reality over the real world. Besides, 5 millimeters thick Augmented Reality (AR) glasses “Project Nazare” and wristbands that detect electric signals passing between human muscles and a brain are being developed for daily lives. Moreover, to transform a closed metaverse into an open metaverse, developers will need to build compatible infrastructures and assign independent qualities to each metaverse by using blockchain technology. For interoperability between different metaverses, metaverse industry standards must be established. Although an open metaverse is a hierarchical structure or an independent form, it is possible to interoperate and maintain the individual characters, products, and services even if users move from place to place.

Suggestions for a Healthy Metaverse

To protect personal information, the government should discuss legal regulations such as regulating the use of private information and disclosing traffic when problems arise. To strengthen security, the government should clearly define real-life protection when people have privacy issues in the virtual space. Also, people have to remember that escaping to avatars does not solve the problem of the real world. It only makes them imprisoned inside the metaverse. Drawing a line that can both separate and link their avatar and themselves is important. For a further solution, it is necessary to analyze the characteristics of Generation Z and approach them from a different perspective. Policies and institutional devices that induce teenagers to a balanced experience should be developed based on the analysis of how teenagers understand the metaverse differently, which activities they like to do, and the values they reflect on their avatars. Moreover, in case of child sex offenses happening inside the metaverse, the government should first strengthen the responsibilities of metaverse companies. There can be ways such as mandating a reporting system that enforces companies to report to the police if any sexual exploitation or grooming is suspected. For the metaverse to be a healthy platform for everyone, the scope of the current legal system should be extended to an extent where all sexual crimes could be properly punished, and the interactions between avatars should be evaluated based on the norms of the real world.

The Future of the Metaverse (Indiatimes.com)

The metaverse’s leap as a new platform is currently attracting many people’s attention. However, as it is a totally different virtual world, it is important to clearly understand its limits and responsibilities and prepare for them accordingly. Although the hardware and software ecosystems are not fully ready yet, people can look forward to a different future with accelerating technological development.

김하진  0804grace@g.skku.edu

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