In mid-January, Microsoft mentioned that the metaverse was the reason it acquired the game developer Activision Blizzard for almost $70 billion, stating that the deal would provide “building blocks for the metaverse. Moreover, Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, also bet on the metaverse when he renamed his social networking company, Meta.

But what exactly is the Metaverse? Does it even exist? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Metaverse?

The metaverse is the combination of two ideas that have been around for many years: virtual reality and digital second life.

For decades, technologists have dreamed of a time when our virtual lives would play just as important of a role as our physical realities do. In theory, in the Metaverse, we would spend time interacting with our friends and colleagues, and, as a result, we would spend money within the metaverse, be it on outfits, property, or anything our digital avatars need.

According to techies everywhere, the metaverse is essentially a virtual reality that serves as a computing platform for living a second life online. In virtual reality, you wear a headset that immerses you in a 3-D environment, you carry motion-sensing controllers to interact with virtual objects and use a microphone to communicate with others.

Does the Metaverse exist in gaming or pop culture?

To some extent, there is a metaverse in games. Some social elements of the metaverse can already be found in some video games, like in Fortnite, which is played across multiple platforms. The average Fortnite player spends hundreds of hours in the game with a personal avatar, fighting and interacting with the avatars of other players. But more than that, Fortnite developed a virtual world that is close to what the metaverse will be.

Beyond the game platform, Fortnite offers a lot of promotions and activities. For example, in Fortnite’s virtual world, they have already streamed movies, where avatars can go (alone, or with friends) and sit in a virtual field and watch something play on the big screen. They have even had several live concerts (Ariana Grande) and festivals where they create a virtual experience. So, in a way, Fortnite has already built and displayed metaverse-like experiences.

Virtual reality is more developed in video games. In 2016, Sony released the PlayStation VR, a virtual reality headset that plugged into its PlayStation 4 console, to play virtual reality games. And they’ve already announced that they have a new one fit for the PS5 on the way.

Another good example of Metaverse-like technology is in Steven Spielberg's movie "Ready Player One", which tells the story of surviving the ghastly world of 2045. The only way to survive is through a metaverse called OASIS that is accessed through a VR headset and wired gloves. You can also look at Ryan Reynolds' "Free Guy", where each character in the movie must wear a special set of sunglasses that transform him or her into a video game world– a metaverse where the characters fight to decode its mysteries.

But those are just steppingstones toward the complete metaverse, which is still taking shape. Technologists around the world attribute fast internet connections, powerful virtual reality headsets and a large audience of gamers as the reasons why it is more possible to live in a richly animated, lifelike 3-D simulation now more than it ever was before.

What do Activision Blizzard and Microsoft bring to the table for the Metaverse?

As of now, Activision doesn't have Metaverse-like technology. Having said that, their games, and their products like World of Warcraft, which have huge communities, are the base for what the metaverse will be. They helped define virtual communities and depict how people engage virtually, use virtual products, spend virtual currencies and so on. Activision's video games pull people into its virtual reality for extended periods, such that players don't want to go out into the real world and would rather stay in the online ecosystem for hours, day after day.

Ultimately, Activision Blizzard gave people the opportunity to lay the foundation and framework of what is supporting the Metaverse. They bring to the table the element of community building and are the ones who have already tapped into the communities that will most likely embrace a Metaverse kind of environment with open arms.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s work on the metaverse has been growing. The software giant already uses holograms and is developing mixed and extended reality (XR) applications to combine the real world with augmented reality and virtual reality. Recently, Microsoft showed off its plans for bringing mixed reality, including holograms and virtual avatars, to Microsoft Teams this year. Beyond that, Xbox Live, the online gaming and digital media service created and operated by Microsoft, connects millions of video game players across the globe.

We are still years away from the mass adoption of a true metaverse but everyone who's anyone is seeing the potential. That is why this word– metaverse– is popping up everywhere today; it is the future, and everyone wants to be a part of it, even if they don't know-how.

Written by Elay De-Beer, CEO of Buff Technologies