If we build the open metaverse, they will come
Every major digital revolution shares a common thread – availability and accessibility. And although every invention and innovation has the potential to make a big impact on society (think: smartphones, airplanes, televisions), moving humans into a new era of digital interaction is entirely world changing. It’s happened before with the invention of personal computing, then again with the rise of the internet, and today we see it happening with the metaverse.
Or at least, it will happen if we lay the foundation needed to make the metaverse a truly open and accessible environment. And it starts with standards for an open metaverse.
In this article
- Metaverse standards – the moving parts
- Creating 3D worlds for all
- We want a universe, not separate galaxies
Metaverse interoperability is a huge undertaking with countless moving parts — from the scenes and settings of various experiences to the ways people interact, to how content (especially 3D) is created and shared in different virtual environments.
Metaverse: an immersive, interactive, always-on digital experience where people can interact with digital objects, digital environments, and each other —in a three-dimensional digital world.
We believe brands and creators should be able to make content, or a full-fledged virtual experience one time and distribute it everywhere for people to enjoy. What’s more, we believe in industry-wide cooperation on interoperability in the metaverse, which is why we’ve partnered with Meta, Microsoft, Epic Games and other leading companies to form the Metaverse Standards Forum.
Without accepted standards for an open metaverse that work across every one of the dimensions listed below, we believe there won’t be a metaverse that delivers on its true promise.
Metaverse standards – the moving parts
The first step in setting these standards for the metaverse is to understand all pieces in play. We caught up with Forrester analyst, David Truog, who has conducted extensive research into the interoperability standards required to create a compelling and cohesive metaverse.
For Truog, the required standards fall into five categories, broken down below into three levels of urgency. All of these moving parts ladder up to the same endgame: to create better value for users and drive metaverse adoption.
Level 1: Navigation
- Just as people can navigate between websites across the web, the ability to navigate between different 3D worlds across the metaverse will be fundamental to its success. “Not being able to move from one world to another in the metaverse would be like visiting websites that each only link back to themselves and never to each other. It would be just a bunch of disconnected islands,” says Truog.
Level 2: Scenes and Interactions
- Metaverse scenes are the settings where virtual interactions occur, be it a room in someone’s virtual home, the lobby of a digital department store, or the playing field of an immersive game. A number of interoperability standards have been proposed to describe scenes and their contents in a way that transfers smoothly between metaverse worlds, including gITF and USD for 3D content creation, which complement each other.
- Metaverse interactions are users’ behaviors. Just as people adopted new interaction mechanics for smartphones like swiping and pinching to zoom, to engage with 2D content, the metaverse will breed a host of new ways to engage with 3D content like wrist rotation for summoning a menu or gaze-and-dwell for selecting an item.
- “Interaction is more about behaviors than technologies,” says Truog. “And it’s in every brand’s best interest to promote consistent interaction behaviors in the metaverse if they want to draw customers in with user-friendly experiences.”
Level 3: User Assets and Devices
- The final two standards categories focus on improving 3D experiences for users. The first is asset portability, i.e., being able to build an avatar or other virtual asset in one metaverse world and use it in another one too. Asset portability has already accelerated the way gaming companies create immersive worlds, and this will grow in importance as the metaverse expands to include new industries and use cases.
- As for devices, will all metaverse experiences happen on a head-mounted display (glasses or headsets) like Meta’s or Magic Leap’s or Snap’s? Most likely, no, but we don’t know yet, just as few people would have predicted in the mid 2000s that the world would primarily access the web via smartphones. The focus for metaverse designers today will be to tap into an abstraction layer that ensures immersive experiences are compelling across a range of devices, allowing consumers to choose their preferred gateway into the virtual 3D world.
Creating 3D worlds for all
Content creation and accessibility are two of Adobe’s core values, which is why we are fully invested in building a metaverse that is equally rich in opportunities to build and consume 3D experiences. For that to happen, we need consistent definitions of how virtual assets behave in a 3D world.
Guido Quaroni, Head of 3D and Immersive Engineering, explains the importance of getting content standards right: “Nobody will embrace the metaverse unless we make it easy to create and engage with 3D content across virtual environments.”
“If every brand set different definitions for how objects behave in a 3D world, it would be like having the format of every document or webpage you read vary depending on which software or website you’re viewing it on.”
Guido Quaroni, Head of 3D and Immersive Engineering, Adobe
Consider the rise of PDF as a simple analogy. The world needed a common way to create, share and print documents in high quality across almost any device and operating system. PDF ticked every box. Today, it has become a universal standard for documents, e-signatures, and a range of other content because it transcends any single brand or industry. HTML also had a similar effect when it defined a standard for content consumed on the web, allowing a fast adoption across many industries.
“As we move towards an immersive 3D metaverse, we’re adding a third dimension to the challenge of content interoperability, and with that comes incalculable complexity,” says Quaroni. “Without universally accepted standards that work across all those dimensions, there’s little hope of the metaverse delivering on its promise for brands or consumers.”
Quaroni’s advice for brands today? Invest in building the best possible 3D asset library. “Whether you make shoes, furniture, or technologies, make sure your products are well represented in 3D and stored in open formats that retain as much as the original information as possible. USD is a great candidate for this,” he says. “You can always convert your data into another format once the world agrees on a common standard.”
We want a universe, not separate galaxies
The success of the metaverse will be directly linked to the number of companies and users who engage with it. The more open the environment, the more attractive it will be. By contrast, the more insular and closed we are in building 3D worlds, the less likely it is that people will see value in the experience.
“Think back to the early days of texting, when telecom companies in the United States only allowed you to text people if they used the same carrier as you. They eventually opened up to allow anyone to text anyone, regardless of carrier, because of Metcalfe’s Law,” says Truog. “The same dynamics will play out, driving toward an open, interoperable metaverse and away from the collection of proprietary, siloed 3D worlds we are starting with today.”
Through organizations like the Metaverse Standards Forum, the Metaverse Interoperability Community Group, Open Collective, and others, companies like Adobe are taking crucial steps towards building a rich and accessible immersive world. Things won’t be perfect right away, but it will be a shorter wait if all the entities involved in building the metaverse agree to head in the same direction, with the same uber-objective of making the metaverse open and more easily accessible.
The alternative? It won’t be the 3D universe we’re dreaming of today. It will be different galaxies, each with its own tribes, spread out, and not connecting to each other. Given we’re on the cusp of a new digital revolution, that would truly be a wasted opportunity.