Instead of focusing on what metaverse means in a way that predicts the future, the Metaverse Standards Forum is designed to focus on the building blocks of what developers need today. Other people (like me) can argue about the nomenclature.
What virtual worlds need
When designing virtual worlds – and especially those worlds that are meant to interact with the real one – it is inevitable to handle huge amounts of data. Each object or character in a video game consists of geometry data (that is, the shape of the object), textures, physical properties such as weight and mass, behavior, animations, sounds, and more.
Khronos hopes that MSF’s standards will make much of this data as easily interoperable as, for example, a JPEG is today. It is famous that JPEGs are so easy to transfer and so widely supported that no amount of cryptography can prevent anyone from right-clicking and saving one. By comparison, with 3D objects often it does not even which way is up. Move an object from one game engine to another, and – if you can import it at all – it can break.
This is a Khronos project, GLTF, aims to help. This open standard, originally released in 2015, competes with other 3D formats such as OBJ and FBX files. Allegorically, you can think of OBJ as a bit like old BMP files: They are technically images, but the format is extremely limited, inefficient, and clumsy. Meanwhile, the FBX is a bit like PSDs. They are more powerful, but it is a proprietary format owned by a single company.
In this painfully strained metaphor, GLTF would be a bit like JPEG in the 3D world. Or at least Khronos hopes it will. Part of what made the JPEG format so crucial is that it was an open standard that was easy and usable enough to achieve widespread use. GLTF may become just as popular, or it may end up being just another element in long list of file types you can import to Blender but never use.
But the need for interoperable standards will always exist, albeit simply as a control of proprietary technology. “If there’s a big delay between technology becoming available and the standard that makes it publicly available,” Trevette explains, “then there is a danger that proprietary technologies will be baked into the metaverse’s infrastructure, and I do not think so. “Someone really wants it.”
“But if there is no standard available, you have no choice.”
Selling the boring stuff
If it’s hard to embrace the idea of developing standards for a virtual world that may never exist, do not despair. You’re not alone. Despite the fact that Khronos calls it the Metaverse Standards Forum – which, as Khronos is careful to note, it helps bootstrap but will not run in the future – MSF is not too busy defining what metaverse means. Or even if the term is being used at all.
“And that texturing, ‘metaverse,’ can be replaced. I don’t think that actually matters. You know, it can go the way of the ‘information highway.’ We don’t use that texturing much anymore,” says Trevette. using the word “cyberspace” anymore, we still use the internet as it once described.
But the idea of a virtual fantasy world, no matter how impractical or even unwanted, is more exciting than putting people down and explaining the importance of interoperable, non-proprietary data exchange formats. And meanwhile, a wide range of exciting technology, from virtual film productions to photogrammetry to augmented reality, is changing the way we interact with the Internet.
Will it turn out as Ready Player One? Or will it just be a collection of different industries that do a lot of really cool stuff but do not necessarily merge into a unique fantasy world? Hard to say. Well, maybe not to difficult. But whatever the future ends up being, someone has to build it.