Why building the metaverse is going to be a ‘thrilling ride’

The metaverse is set to disrupt our lives — its development should not be taken lightly. 

Building it must not be hastened by a few companies; it must be careful, calculated, thoughtful and most of all, collaborative. 

This was the key takeaway of a panel discussion on the technical standards and building blocks of the metaverse at this week’s MetaBeat event. 

“Whenever you’re creating something big that involves many parties in the world, it is essential that you have good standards to build on; otherwise it’s not going to be successful,” said Rev Lebaredian, VP of Omniverse and simulation technology at Nvidia. 

As a launching point, the Khronos Group is an open, nonprofit consortium that develops, publishes and maintains royalty-free interoperability standards for 3D graphics, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), parallel computing, vision acceleration and machine learning (ML). 

In June, the group established the Metaverse Standards Forum [subscription required]. The impetus, explained Khronos president Neil Trevett, was the widespread confusion around standards. Organizations were basically coming to Khronos for guidance and saying, “standards community, get yourselves sorted out,” he said. 

The goal was to create a forum where the many ad-hoc standards groups that are forming can communicate and coordinate, he said. It started out with 37 contributing companies — and after just a few short months, there are now 1,800 companies involved. 

“That speaks to the fact that there is a real interest, a genuine interest and need to engage with the standards community, and a willingness to engage,” said Trevett. 

The forum is now dividing into working groups, he explained. 

Ultimately, the effort will provide a “big input funnel for expertise, big output billboard for visibility.”

Developing standards is no doubt difficult, Lebaredian acknowledged. There is always controversy and politics. But, he pointed out, in the early days of the web, standards emerged because people worked together to create protocols such as HTTP and HTML. 

“Without standards, the metaverse is just not going to be possible,” he said.

What’s playing out now is “exactly analogous” to the evolution of the web: It took off because it was available to everyone, said Lebaredian.

“The metaverse is the web of these virtual worlds, our equivalent of an experience, a 3D spatial thing,” he said. 

Everyone needs to participate and contribute to expand the metaverse. Without standardization, just a small group of people will construct it, which will limit its scale and value.

“I just don’t see any way for this to exist if we don’t start from the beginning with interoperability standards,” he said. 

Considering the technology and the amount of content needed to make the metaverse a reality, “no one company could do it all,” he said. “No matter how big you are, you’re not big enough”

Pervasive growth

It’s also important that organizations move slowly and carefully — and not get ahead of themselves, Trevett emphasized. For instance, the builders of the metaverse can learn from the history of the web in trying to bring 3D to the masses.

Early platforms tried to define too much, such as runtime behavior, which at the time was just taking off and changing rapidly. One of the earliest successes, he pointed out, was OpenGL for Embedded Systems, a computer graphics rendering API for 2D and 3D graphics initially released in July 2003. 

Then WebGL was released in 2011 — and it has worked because it is low-level, said Trevett — and Vulkan only just shipped in 2016. 

Similarly, it’s important not to confuse the market; he pointed to the vying of DVDs and Blu-Ray, for instance, that slowed the evolution of home viewing technology. 

For the metaverse to work, “it has to run everywhere,” said Trevett, with capability on any device. The technology has to get out pervasively, which he acknowledged is “no trivial task, no small feat.” 

Buckle up for a thrilling ride

We also have to recognize that it will continuously evolve and change, said Lebaredian — just as the internet has. “The web didn’t quite end up where we were hoping in 1993, 1994,” he said, pointing out that big players are still competing, and startups continuously disrupt the space. Geopolitical forces also have to be accounted for. 

The metaverse is the “most computationally challenging computer science problem of all time,” said Lebaredian. 

Trevett predicted that the first wave of standards will be around “hot topic” areas, including ID, geospatial capabilities, avatars and 3D asset formats (including Universal Scene Description and gITF. 

Overarching tenets will involve free and fair competition, privacy and ethics, he said. Also, many agree that some sort of decentralized ID will be necessary, but it’s unclear yet how that will play out. 

“Building a whole ecosystem — it can be a very thrilling ride,” said Trevett. But, “you have to be patient.”

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