History and Evolution of the Metaverse Concept

From Science Fiction novels to modern day movies - Metaverse was a concept that gained fast traction

Metaverse as a concept isn’t new but what is the history and evolution of the metaverse concept? Read the evolution from science fiction novel to modern day reality and future dystopia.

The Metaverse is an ever-evolving, quasi-fictional digital world comprising various websites and platforms. It was first established in science fiction as a virtual world that users could access and explore (albeit with a dystopian twist). The concept eventually emerged in the real world with the invention of the internet and has since evolved to include social media sites, video game worlds, and interactive online experiences.

The concept recently gained much traction after Facebook rebranded itself as “Meta” in 2021, sparking excitement about the potential for fully immersive virtual reality. While there are still many technical and legal issues to be resolved before this can be achieved, the idea is gaining momentum. Many industry experts have predicted that we will see significant developments on this front in the coming years.

Quick Refresher: What is the Metaverse Concept?

The Metaverse is a persistent virtual world, or a collective space of virtual worlds, that provides a shared space for users to interact and experience information, content and activities. The concept envisages the seamless integration of virtual reality (or augmented reality), enabling users to live, work and play in a simulated 3D environment.

Full article: The Metaverse explained – Definition, Introduction and Examples

The Origin of the Metaverse Concept

The concept of a metaverse first appeared in science fiction in the 1950s, with early works such as William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer and the 1982 film Tron. These stories described an immersive virtual world for humans to explore. Expanding this definition to “virtual reality”, the French poet Antonin Artaud used the term as early as 1938 in his collection of essays “The Theatre and its Double”. The first real simulation was created in 1962 with “Sensorama”, a machine that simulated the experience of riding a motorbike through New York City via a 3D film with a vibrating chair and even fans and smells.

After these early attempts at virtual reality, author Neal Stephenson coined the term “Metaverse” in his bestselling 1992 novel Snow Crash, imagining a virtual multiverse in which people interact and experience shared virtual worlds in a dystopian future. In 1997, famed video game developer Richard Garriott used the term to describe an online role-playing game he was developing called Ultima Online, which was released a year later and is widely considered to be the first MMO (massively multiplayer online) game. In 2003, the 3D online virtual world called “Second Life” was released, allowing people to create virtual worlds, interact with them and exchange virtual goods. Only 3 years later, Roblox was released, creating a hype for users who could easily create virtual worlds (from “blox” blocks) or use other users’ virtual worlds to play in, which became a quick success.

Over time, more and more technology companies began to explore the concept of virtual reality and create versions of this new digital world. In 2012, Oculus, the first low-cost 3D headset for the masses, was launched and just two years later, in 2014, it was bought by Facebook. With faster smartphones, internet connections and devices, the emergence of platforms and games such as Pokemon Go, which combines AR and real-world gaming with the virtual game, or Fortnite, which now hosts over 250 million players in its virtual MMO game world, began.

The next phase of metaverse hype began in 2021, when Facebook renamed itself ‘Meta’ and Microsoft released its ‘Mesh’ platform. Both Facebook’s (Meta) Worlds and Microsoft’s Mesh are trying to get businesses to use VR and virtual worlds for meetings, workshops and more.

The trend has continued, with new hardware and software being released every year, making VR headsets lighter, with better resolution, faster hardware and, most importantly, cheaper. However, mass adoption has yet to happen as there are still many barriers to overcome.

The “Vague Definition” of Metaverse

When we take a broader and more “vague” definition of the Metaverse, then eventually, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram could be considered as a simplistic “Metaverse”. These social media platforms are virtual spaces where people spend time, interact, exchange information, and almost “live”. So even todays social media platforms could be a very simplified version of a Metaverse as it is always there (persistent), people live in it (people spend most of their time in this virtual world), and they create their world (even your feed, videos, pictures, etc. would count). The major difference is the experience of 3D worlds vs. 2D screens for scrolling and the limited/bad user experience coming from playing on a small 2D screen.

Metaverse in Movies and Novels

The concept of the Metaverse has become very popular in movies, video games, and novels. In films like Ready Player One and Tron Legacy, we see a fully realized metaverse where people can explore new worlds and live out their fantasies. In novel form, authors like Ernest Cline and Neal Stephenson have written extensively about the Metaverse.


  • “Neuromancer” by William Gibson (1984)
  • “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992)
  • “Altered Carbon” by Richard K. Morgan (2002)
  • “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (2011)
  • “A Frayed New World” by Damini Rana (2021)


  • “The Matrix” (1999), directed by The Wachowski Brothers
  • “Tron” (1982), directed by Steven Lisberger
  • “eXistenZ” (1999), directed by David Cronenberg
  • “The Thirteenth Floor” (1999), directed by Josef Rusnak
  • “Ready Player One” (2018), directed by Steven Spielberg
  • “Free Guy” (2021), directed by Shawn Levy

Metaverse history is shaped by technological innovation

Technological breakthroughs have been closely linked to the development of the Metaverse. From early experiments in virtual reality to the development of the Internet infrastructure, each step in the evolution of technology was a precursor to the current metaverse.

  • Early virtual reality experiments: The journey to the Metaverse began with visionary experiments in virtual reality. In the 1960s, Ivan Sutherland, a pioneer in computer graphics, created the first VR headset, but we will get later to this in detail.
  • Birth of the internet: The advent of the internet in the late 20th century was a pivotal moment for the metaverse. As global connectivity expanded, so did the possibilities for creating interconnected virtual spaces. The Internet provided the necessary infrastructure for the development of early virtual worlds and online communities.
  • Graphical User Interfaces: The introduction of graphical user interfaces (GUIs) to computers made digital environments more accessible and visually appealing. This advancement was crucial to the development of early virtual worlds, where users could navigate and interact with graphical elements.
  • Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs): The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the rise of MMOGs such as Ultima Online and World of Warcraft. These games introduced large-scale virtual environments in which thousands of players could interact simultaneously, offering a glimpse of the potential of the metaverse for social interaction and collaboration.
  • Virtual reality hardware development: The resurgence of interest in VR technology in the early 21st century, led by companies such as Oculus, brought significant improvements in VR hardware. More affordable and sophisticated headsets enabled a more immersive and accessible virtual experience, pushing the boundaries of what was possible in the metaverse.
  • Augmented and mixed reality: Alongside VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) technologies began to emerge. These technologies blend digital content with the physical world, opening up new possibilities for the Metaverse to expand beyond purely virtual environments.
  • Advances in networking and cloud computing: The growth of high-speed Internet and cloud computing has been instrumental in supporting the complex data and processing requirements of the Metaverse. These technologies enable seamless, real-time interaction and collaboration in virtual spaces, regardless of geographic location.

The Development of Virtual Reality Technology

The earliest VR experiments can be traced back to the 1960s, when computer scientist Ivan Sutherland developed the first VR headset, the Sword of Damocles. However, it was in the 1990s and early 2000s that VR technology started to gain momentum with the rise of VR gaming and entertainment. With more advanced computing power and graphics capabilities, VR gaming became a more immersive and interactive experience, allowing players to enter virtual worlds and interact with them in real time. Especially the entertainment industry saw the potential of VR, creating virtual experiences such as theme park rides and movies, and erotic films and pornography were one of the early adopting industries.

In recent years, the VR industry has experienced a significant resurgence, with the emergence of companies such as Oculus, and Microsoft (with its Hololens product) and X-Box and Playstation VR headsets. These are just some examples of companies that have developed new VR and AR technologies that have expanded the reach and capability of VR, making it not only a tool for gaming and entertainment but also for business and industry. From training simulations to virtual product demonstrations, VR has become a powerful tool changing how many companies operate.

The Modern Metaverse Concept

Ever since Facebook changed its name to Meta in 2021, the modern Metaverse has been a constant ‘buzzword’ in the technology industry. This has led to a surge of investment in the metaverse space, with blockchain companies attempting to link their ideology to the metaverse. However, these efforts have yet to add much real value to the space, as the concept of ‘limited land’ or ‘limited goods’ doesn’t apply in a digital space, making it unscalable.

Nevertheless, the growth of VR/AR platforms and social VR experiences has continued to accelerate, with companies such as Microsoft and Meta (with Oculus) offering business solutions and early virtual classrooms, and virtual worlds such as the revamped Second Life platform and others.

It is important to note that the current state of the Metaverse is still in its infancy, and adoption has been slow due to limited computing power, bad experiences, expensive hardware, and also the technical limitation that only a few users can be in the same room together before the system reaches its limit. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as several technological challenges need to be overcome for the metaverse to reach its full potential.

These include the development of haptic sensors, improved VR headsets (lighter weight, better resolution, more computing power), smaller processors that can fit into glasses or VR headsets, and the overall computing power (servers) to create large-scale, high-resolution persistent worlds for millions of users.

Future outlook

The Metaverse is both exciting and uncertain. While there is no doubt that the Metaverse has the potential to be a transformative technology, there are also many challenges that need to be addressed to make it a reality. Some of the biggest challenges are the issue of content moderation, as well as addressing concerns around identity theft and protection, which will need to be addressed if users are to feel confident in the Metaverse.

Despite these challenges, investment in the Metaverse continues to grow and, as more technologies are developed, it has the potential to be a game changer for many industries. One of the critical questions to be answered in the coming years is whether there will be a ‘winner takes it all’ scenario where a dominant player emerges in the Metaverse due to the well-known network effects.

The use of digital twins to create replicas of cities or buildings will also play a greater role. Even real estate companies are using virtual worlds to sell expensive properties to customers around the world, giving them a first impression of their home without having to travel. The same will be used more and more for traffic planning, data analysis, smart city planning and other use cases that primarily involve the virtual reality space.

It is important to note that governments will play a critical role in the future of the metaverse. They will need to be proactive in managing this technology, as the Metaverse has the potential to have a significant impact on legislation, taxation, citizenship and social impact. Governments must therefore take a proactive approach to this technology to ensure that the Metaverse is a positive force for change and not a source of harm.

The Metaverse as Dystopia

While the Metaverse has the potential to open up exciting opportunities, it also has a dystopian potential that needs to be recognised and addressed. If not properly regulated and managed, the Metaverse could become a tool for widespread surveillance and control by governments or corporations. Centralised management of such a vast network of information and experience could lead to censorship, manipulation of information and loss of privacy. The Metaverse also raises ethical concerns about the impact on physical reality, as people spend more time in virtual environments and potentially lose touch with reality. The potential for addictive and escapist behaviour in the Metaverse is also a concern, leading to a loss of productivity and meaningful human connections, and therefore to declining fertility rates and shrinking populations. These challenges must be addressed in the development and implementation of the Metaverse to ensure its positive impact on society.


There is no doubt that the Metaverse has the potential to change everything we know. As a natural progression from the first forms of the Internet, where only professionals could create content and consumers could only consume, to the second generation of the Internet, where users can easily create and share, the Metaverse represents the next step in this evolution. The Metaverse will allow users not only to create “information” but also to experience it, and possibly even to live in this created reality without the need for a physical world. (Why live in a small, cheap apartment when you can have a villa on the beach in the Metaverse).

Despite the challenges ahead, the potential of the Metaverse to shape the future is immense, and it is certain to have a significant impact on the way we live, work and play in the years (or decades) to come.

Benjamin Talin, a serial entrepreneur since the age of 13, is the founder and CEO of MoreThanDigital, a global initiative providing access to topics of the future. As an influential keynote speaker, he shares insights on innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship, and has advised governments, EU commissions, and ministries on education, innovation, economic development, and digitalization. With over 400 publications, 200 international keynotes, and numerous awards, Benjamin is dedicated to changing the status quo through technology and innovation. #bethechange Stay tuned for MoreThanDigital Insights - Coming soon!

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