Chances are you’ve heard the word “metaverse.” It may have been through the mouth of Mark Zuckerberg, when he renamed his company to Meta in 2021. Calling Zuckerberg a “believer” in the Metaverse is an understatement. Meta spent $10 billion on the proliferation of an immersive virtual world in 2021 alone.
The concept of the Metaverse is nearly inescapable this year in the world of technology, marketing, business, and even education. So, what’s the big deal? Join us as we answer some common questions (in plain English, we promise) and give you the Metaverse 101.
Okay, but really, what is it?
The Metaverse is not referring to a specific website or piece of software, it’s a shift in the philosophy of how we interact online — turning the web into a virtual world where we live, work, travel, and play.
In a metaverse age of the internet, we’re moving from a static position — lurched over our computers, reading articles, and sending messages to one another — to a three-dimensional world where we have avatars and use technology like Virtual Reality to immerse ourselves. Think “immersion-verse” as a mnemonic device.
Where is it?
The Metaverse doesn’t fully exist yet. In its current form, it’s a series of disconnected digital places. Some of these are web-based platforms aimed to connect us digitally. Some are video games with interactive and customizable experiences.
As a comparison, consider the widespread adaptation of the internet in the 90s. We had limited central “hubs” where most people went to obtain all their information: Yahoo, AOL, and Hotmail. Our metaverse “hubs” today are limited to some websites and video games, but we’re still in the “you’ve got mail” phase.
These web-based platforms include VR Chat, Zepeto, The Sandbox, and Decentraland. Video games include “Roblox”, “Minecraft”, “Fortnite”, and Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing”.
Do I need a VR headset?
While Virtual reality (VR) is considered an important tool for immersing users in this new digital world, proponents of the concept do not want to limit the experience to owners of expensive VR headsets.
Extending accessibility to the Metaverse is key as VR continues to strive to attract new customers.
Anyone should be able to log on and immerse themselves with any screen available. If you’ve ever played or heard of the video game “Second Life”, you’ll know what we mean. A small screen is engaging enough to hold our attention, which is proven by the worldwide increase in screen addiction (about 6.3% of smartphone users fit this category).
What is AR?
It’s easy to think of Augmented reality (AR) as the little sibling of VR, less involved and less immersive, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Augmented reality combines digital elements with our existing peripheral experiences. Maybe it’s a dancing banana on your desk. Maybe it’s adding small cosmetic changes to your world.
One of the earliest tastes of AR in the Metaverse has already happened. The 2016 breakout game from a then-obscure company called Niantic, “Pokémon Go” saw the most widespread adoption of a mobile game ever. Before summer’s end, 500 million people had downloaded it, rocketing the free app to the top of Apple and Android stores. 7-11 gas stations turned into battling arenas for Pokémon trainers. The appearance of a charizard caused a near stampede to ensue in Long beach as “Pokémon Go” trainers rushed to get their hands on a powerful, fire-breathing digital ally.
What brands are already on the Metaverse?
As with any new technology, the brands leaping in headfirst are the ones that have extra capital to play with. Nike co-opted Roblox’s platform in November 2021 to launch NIKELAND, an interactive, digital offshoot of their flagship stores. In NIKELAND, visitors can play mini-games, grab digital swag, and indulge in a lifestyle centered on sport and play (and, of course, their brand).
D2C brands aren’t the only ones dipping their toes into the Metaverse. AMC’s The Walking Dead collaborated with The Sandbox to create a game inspired by the hit series. In the game, fans could join in on the plot of the show, meeting original characters along the way.
Are people spending money in the Metaverse?
Brands are itching to stake their claim in the Metaverse in search of new revenue streams. And there are certainly ways to commodify it.
The Metaverse economy could be an $8 trillion to $13 trillion total addressable market by 2030, according to research by Citi and Mckinskey.
The current increase in attention to the Metaverse is partly driven by the very recent ability to fully “own” virtual objects, experiences, or land. Blockchain makes possible a definitive virtual owner of an object so it can be bought and sold.
There are entire metaverse worlds based on this new economy. Decentraland and The Sandbox, for example, are both platforms that sell virtual land to businesses that build virtual buildings. Sotheby’s has a building in Decentraland where users can walk around and view their wares. Republic Realm, a company that develops land in the Metaverse, recently paid $4.3 million for a piece of virtual land in a metaverse-world via The Sandbox!
When will the Metaverse fully catch on?
Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist who has studied the Metaverse closely, wrote a series of articles last year about where things are headed in the next decade. In them, Ball breaks down the various technologies and protocols that need to come together to create The Metaverse.
Ball categorizes the Metaverse into eight core features, which can be thought of as a “stack”, as outlined in the image below:
Experts predict that within a couple of years, we’ll see massive adoption and uptake of metaverse aspects in business, technology, and communication.
Over the next 12-24 months, expect breakthroughs in “mixed reality” hardware devices to help immersive experiences. Think more affordable VR headsets, or even electromyography (EMG) movements and neural interfaces — devices triggered by only slight finger movements.
A second wave is likely somewhere in the next three or so years, when fully immersive augmented reality (AR) glasses hit the market in a bigger way. This hardware is important, because it’s the gateway to the Metaverse.
How does it apply to me?
To borrow the philosophy of Kristi Woolsey, an associate director at BCG Platinion, there are three categories to consider when joining the Metaverse:
1) Customer or consumer-facing: “If your target market is consumers from 15-30, you need to be there. You need to deliver an experience that engages your audience and is consistent with your brand. You could build a store that sells virtual goods or connects to your e-commerce offerings, or you might choose to deliver an event or other type of engagement.”
2) Employee facing: “Metaverse experiences are perfect for hybrid meetings, multi-location training programs, and institutional events. Any time you have a team that is dispersed, there are opportunities to use this technology to bring them together, building community, affiliation and engagement.”
3) Internal operations: “Metaverse technology can be used to explore industrial or operational scenarios that would be far too expensive to build in real life. Auto companies are already designing ‘digital twins,’ doing their first dummy crash test in a metaverse.”
How do I try it out?
You don’t need a fancy VR headset or a video game system to get started. Here’s a series of links so you can get your digital feet wet. The first list only requires a smartphone or laptop. The second uses specific hardware.
No specific hardware required:
Video games (hardware required for some):
5 + 5: Take 5 minutes to sign up for one of the services above. Take another 5 minutes to close your eyes and think about how you would approach working, playing, and exploring a digital metaverse. Are you excited about this idea? Anxious? What could you accomplish digitally without physical limitations?
1 Insider: Mark Zuckerberg says Meta’s metaverse project will lose ‘significant’ sums of money for up to 5 years