I read my preview copy of Matthew Ball’s new book about The Metaverse with great relish. It is an instant classic in the burgeoning field of Metverse Studies. Ball has set himself a monumental task. In order to explain the Metaverse, he has to explain the history of the personal computer, the internet, mobile phones, networks, cable infrastructure, streaming, games, game consoles, and virtual and augmented reality. Because the Internet and what comes after it represents the convergence of business, history, and technology, intertwined like a golden braid, no technology, and few companies, go unmentioned.
The Metaverse is detailed, meticulously researched, and dense with observations and insight. I read it twice, just to make sure I scooped up every gem within it. As this is a book about the past as much as a book about the future, Ball begins the introduction with the story of Vannevar Bush, who theorized that an electromechanical device, a Memex (memory extender) that would store all books, records, and communications , and mechanically link them together by keyword association, rather than traditional hierarchical storage models, predicting hypertext fifty years before its creation. This is the characteristic style of the book. Ball makes a point, and where he doesn’t have data, he has history and stories about what came before, before the Internet even, when computers, like the Metaverse today, were ideas waiting to manifest.
Ball brings us pretty quickly to the essence of the book, the answer to the question: what is The Metaverse. “A massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.” Ball’s book is a detailed unpacking of these ideas in three parts: (1) What is the Metaverse, (2) Building the Metaverse, and (3) How The Metaverse will Revolutionize Everything.
No one is better suited to write the definitive overview of the Metaverse than Matthew Ball. The former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, he began his career at Accenture. Ball helped media & tech companies review their business models and products for the digital era. After five years with Accenture, Ball joined former Fox Studios honcho Peter Chernin’s Otter Entertainment, producer of the Planet of the Apes movies and The New Girl tv-series. With this experience in entertainment, Ball joined Amazon Studios as its senior strategy executive and worked there for three years, from 2016 to 2018.
“It was my experiences in 2018 that convinced me that this nearly century-old idea (and thirty-year old term) was no longer fantastical, but instead a practical opportunity,” Ball told me in an email. “Specifically, I was playing a lot of Fortnite, experiencing its rapid changes week-to-week, as well as its broader transformation from a “game” to a truly cultural product. I was also spending lots of time on the Roblox platform, which demonstrated just how powerful and accessible no-code virtual world creation tools had become.
“My first public essay on the Metaverse was written in late 2018. It was called “Fortnite Is the Future, but Probably Not for the Reasons You Think”. The sub-header says it all “Much has been said about Fortnite’s revenue, users, business model, origin and availability. But these narratives are overhyped. What matters most is instead how these achievements will enable Epic Games and Fortnite to create something truly revolutionary.” A year after that, Ball wrote a piece specifically on the Metaverse, and then 18 months later, he wrote the Metaverse Primer, ”which he posted on his Matthewball.vc web site. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who’s been talking about the Metaverse since 2016, is quoted frequently in the book.
Like many others, Ball believes VR will be a secondary device in The Metaverse. Even though he says in the definition above that The Metaverse requires “an individual sense of presence,” Ball contains games like Fortnite and Call of Duty offer users substantial presence. “No part of the Metaverse requires an immersive virtual reality or VR headset,” says Ball. Instead, the Metaverse will be browser based and will present itself through devices that we are already using like smartphones, game consoles and PCs.
“Technology frequently produces surprises that no one predicts,” Ball writes in the conclusion, “But the biggest and most fantastical developments sare often anticipated decades in advance.” At the same time, Ball cautions that the hype may have already gotten ahead of itself. “It will take time to figure out exactly what companies should build ‘in the Metaverse,’” he wrote.
Ball’s book on the Metaverse is a must-read for those in digital media. For everyone else, the first and third parts can be read without delving into the much longer Part 2, which concerns networking, computing, virtual world engines (game engines), interoperability, hardware, payment rails and blockchain. These add important detail to Ball’s argument that the metaverse is slowly forming before our eyes, and are full of great stories and history, but it may stymie non-technical readers with jargon, acronyms, and details about things like packet switching. To the general business reader, and many of my students, there is such a thing as too much information. Personally, I loved this book and can’t recommend it highly enough. Its rewards are great, and knowledge deep, but I would not recommend reading The Metaverse and How It Will Revolutionize Everything on the beach. Instead, read it as I did, with a highlighter in hand.
The Metaverse and How It Will Revolutionize Everything will be released on July 19, 2022. It can be pre ordered here.