Why the Metaverse Matters

Over the past year, "the Metaverse" has become a hot topic, with companies like Facebook, Roblox, and Epic Games now citing it as their end goal, or Microsoft making it a key strategic objective. However, missing from recent discussions about the Metaverse is how it will actually be good for people—why should we, as a society, care about the Metaverse?

This guide will cover:


Why the Metaverse Matters

Photograph of Philip Wang
Phillip Wang

When we started a year and a half ago, we could not have predicted what would happen. COVID-19 flipped the world upside-down, accelerating the development of new ways to live and work. Seemingly overnight, the "Metaverse" turned from a concept I was constantly explaining to people to an everyday term as companies like Facebook, Microsoft, Roblox, and Epic Games have oriented their businesses towards it.

Yet despite its prominence, "the Metaverse" remains relatively misunderstood. Most people would have a hard time answering: What exactly is the Metaverse? Why does it matter? And how do we make sure it doesn't manifest as the dystopian futures we see from sci-fi?

What is the Metaverse and why does it matter?

The Metaverse matters because it will create meaningful human connection and unprecedented access to opportunity, no matter where you are.

Traditionally, physical location has dictated how we live. Most of us have been forced to live near where we work, which means we rarely see friends and family who live elsewhere. For many of those without the means to move, location is a barrier to opportunity altogether.

Like many others of my generation, I grew up online—my interests were shaped by the years I spent in online math communities as a kid, and much of my social interaction took place in chat rooms with people I wouldn't have met otherwise. And yet, for all it's given me, the Internet lacks the connection and joy of being together physically.

The Metaverse solves this problem: it's the next iteration of the Internet that brings a sense of place and facilitates rich human connection. In a virtual office you can work alongside your teammates, and strike up casual conversations throughout the day. Together with your friends, you can watch movies in a virtual cinema, enjoy art in a museum, or hang out in a park. You can even go to class with a teacher from halfway across the world, and take a field trip to the pyramids.

Many more people will have access to opportunity, as work and educational opportunities in the Metaverse will be open to anyone, no matter where they are. People will have more meaningful interactions with those they care the most about, as the Metaverse becomes a rich world with experiences to share together. And we will see the creation of new communities and innovation, as the Metaverse brings together people with diverse cultures, ideas, and interests who couldn't meet up before.

This is what the Metaverse means to us. It's not about virtual reality or gaming or NFTs on the blockchain, though there will be aspects of each. The Metaverse is about how people interact with each other and the spaces they create. It's a virtual layer that gives a sense of place, and connects people across many different contexts. Ultimately, it will change the way we think about physical location, and create opportunity and connection for people, no matter where they are.

While the Metaverse is still in its infancy, it isn't a far-off, sci-fi future—it's already happening today, with Gather.

We've started with a platform that combines a 2D game-like interface with video-chat. Through our customization tools, our users have extended this far beyond what we expected!

A screenshot from the Gather promo video. Three video streams display at the top of the screen for Wes, Ethan, and Chris. Beneath the video previews, their avatars are standing together in a cafe. Several other avatars are sitting at bar and at seating areas in the cafe.

We've seen over 10,000 teams embrace Gather for their virtual office, and companies that have committed to a work-from-anywhere policy because of Gather. People have told us about jobs they've gotten that weren't available to them before, and interactions with teammates that bring them joy in their day-to-day life.

We've hosted over 20,000 professional events—academic conferences, job fairs, and professional societies—many of which are crucial ways people get their foot in the door to new opportunities.  Virtual events are 10x cheaper, without travel costs and venue costs, allowing more people to participate. Attendees from developing countries have told us Gather was the only way they could participate at all, because getting visas is costly, difficult, or downright impossible.

Millions of people have used Gather as a way to get together with their friends, families, and communities in all sorts of places and experiences. We've seen family dinners, rock-band performances, birthday parties, escape rooms, late-night study sessions, or official recreations of Magic: The Gathering universes. We've even had people create wedding venues and get married on Gather!

And over the past year, we've raised a total of $77M from investors including Sequoia, Index Ventures, Dylan Field (CEO of Figma), Jeff Weiner's Next Play Ventures (Chairman and former CEO of LinkedIn), YCombinator, and many other amazing advisors. We're grateful for their support and belief in our long-term vision!

Two screenshots of Gather Spaces. The image of the left shows the Decade of Under 30 outdoor gallery in the Forbes 30 under 30 Space. The image on the right shows seven video streams and an outdoor Space full of avatars talking to each other and using emojis. The Space shows a view of trees and mountains in the background, with groups of tables and chairs alongside a stage.

It's been humbling to see all that Gather has done for people over the past year, but we're just getting started. We have a long road ahead of us as we work towards a Metaverse that creates opportunities and meaningful connections for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people.

Building the Metaverse correctly

This was the vision we started Gather with 18 months ago—but equally strong was our conviction that the Metaverse must be built correctly. Something like the Metaverse is going to have a broad impact on society, so it’s especially important to be developed thoughtfully.

To this extent, we didn't even start Gather as a business in the beginning. We wanted to make sure we built with the right incentives, and we weren't sure this was best done by a for-profit company.

Over time, we realized that a company was the most effective way for us to realize our vision. The Metaverse was not missing R&D or a protocol—it was missing products and platforms that would provide concrete value to people. To achieve this, we'd need a lot of resources.

Our intentions remain the same though, and we are committed to building Gather with the right values. I often use the analogy that building a business is like driving a car: amassing and burning fuel is merely a means to the end of getting to your destination. Similarly, the business is merely a means to our destination: building the best possible Metaverse for humanity.

With that, we operate by a few values that we think are essential for building the best possible Metaverse:

  • Our North Star is the collective, positive impact of the broader Metaverse. Judging value also requires being clear-eyed about the negative effects of your work.

    "Collective impact" means that we don't only optimize for the impact we create, but also the impact created by the broader ecosystem of organizations and creators working towards the Metaverse. We care less about what fraction of the pie we capture, and instead focus on making the pie as large as possible.

    To that end, our goal is not to beat our competitors. Instead, we seek to collaborate with mission-aligned organizations to push forward the broader Metaverse.
  • The Metaverse should be open and decentralized. A Metaverse that anyone can innovate on is the only way we're going to reach the broad impact we hope to make.

    We also believe the Metaverse is too important to be controlled by a singular central authority. No one entity (including ourselves) should have too much power. We need many entities to build and govern the Metaverse, representing the diverse population it will serve.

    While it's correct to open and decentralize every layer of the stack long-term, starting out that way locks you into architectures that are hard to change. Thus, we build centralized systems at first, and progressively decentralize as we become more confident in the abstractions.
  • Align our incentives for the good of our users. Incentives are strong, and we think carefully about how we can incentivize the best behavior possible with business models and mechanism design.

    We recognize that the best way to prevent bad outcomes is to remove them as options entirely. Thus, we reject misaligned business models where we may be tempted to trade off our users' well-being for the company's gain.

All of the recent momentum towards building the Metaverse is exciting: it's a step towards a better future. However, having some of the world's largest companies increasingly prioritizing the Metaverse means it's important to get it headed in the right direction now—a Metaverse shaped by the collective good rather than by a few powerful corporations.

Done correctly, we believe the Metaverse will be as much of a positive force as the Internet has been. We hope you join us in this movement—whether that be working at Gather, building on Gather, or being a part of the broader ecosystem!

The avatars of the Gather staff are standing in an outdoor Space, spelling out the word Gather. Picnic tables, trees, and flowered bushes are scattered across the Space.
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