Imagine that you through a crowd, thousands of people donning everything from casual wear to the most over-the-top dresses. Even though the case is completely packed, you don’t have to use your elbows to shrug. Like a ghost, you pass everyone you meet, and they also intertwine, turning the regular Brownian dynamics of the crowd into something truly phantasmagoric.
That’s how the crowds worked in “Snow Crash,” the 1992 novel by Neal Stephenson that introduced the world to the metaverse. But how does Meta’s version deal with it?
This question is not nearly as trivial as early impressions suggest. While we’ve yet to see this all-encompassing digital reality, experts are already breaking spears about how amazing or dystopian it can be. Ironically, in either case, the answer depends heavily on the code and data infrastructure that will power every interaction in the realm.
When you make your way through the proverbial crowd in a metaverse, your VR headset has to display every other avatar next to you based on your perspective and spatial location. When you run into someone, the backend servers need to calculate the physics of your interaction, ideally with a full view of the vector and momentum of your movement.
Then, optionally, they should send the appropriate signal to your haptic gloves, suit, or any other device you wear, which would translate into the actual impact you feel.
The metaverse that the current data infrastructure can handle is a very separate metaverse: a network of small digital spaces for close-knit groups.
Our example here requires a lot of math, even if it’s just two avatars meeting each other. The task of handling a large number of such interactions in a crowd of even a few hundred avatars is probably enough to send a weak backend server into a meltdown.
And let’s not forget that inputs directing each avatar’s movement are beamed in via optical cables, with varying latencies, with delays, which makes spinning the whole thing without negating the suspension of disbelief all the more challenging.
From a stage dive at a virtual rave to a digital beach volleyball game, this is true for any other interaction involving many digital personas operating through precise motion controls.
The idea of bringing thousands of people together in a virtual space isn’t exactly new: online multiplayer games have been doing that for a long time. In fact, Fortnite has already hosted metaverse-style concerts with as many as 27 million people tuned in. So it should be a piece of cake for Meta to do that much right?
Well not really. As always, the devil is in the details.
Divide and render
While the gaming industry can indeed teach Meta a thing or two about online interactions, even the biggest and most ambitious multiplayer realms rely on clever tricks to avoid overloading the back-end. The general rule of thumb here is to avoid cramming too many users into one digital location at once.
In other words, they avoid exactly what the metaverse, with its live event ambitions, wants to achieve.