What is the Metaverse? What technologies power it? What can people expect in the future? What are some examples of its current use? In this article, our writer Natasha Chavdarovska discussed the topic of the Metaverse with Luke Watson, CTO for the Metaverse design agency, Future is Meta. He is one of the trainers for the final class in the SLDxDigital program alongside Supriya Singh, Product Marketing Manager at Meta, and June Shaul, Customer Growth Manager in the Meta Reality Labs B2B team.
Earlier this year, a music video by South Korean girl quartet MAVE went viral. With close to 20 million views on YouTube, this KPop girl band is set to take over the entertainment world by storm.
This occurrence would not seem anything out of the ordinary, given the successes that we have seen with other KPop superstars in the recent past. Except, MAVE is anything but ordinary – the girl band only exists virtually. Its four members – SIU, ZENA, TYRA and MARTY – exist in the Metaverse. Everything about them – their songs, dances, and even their hairstyles were created by web designers and artificial intelligence (AI).
Rewind back a few months ago – the online game Roblox gained momentum and became a major hit worldwide among children. Roblox identifies itself as a platform where users can join millions of 3D, immersive experiences created by their community. Identifying the opportunities the platform offers for it to connect with the younger audience, Walmart decided to capitalize on Roblox’s momentum by entering the metaverse through Roblox. Fast forward to mid-February 2023, Roblox reported strong Q4 earnings, which saw the company’s shares picking up.
What is the Metaverse?
Since Facebook started its rebranding at the end of 2021, the ‘metaverse’ as a term became more mainstream. But what is the Metaverse? In simple words, it is a platform that combines virtual, augmented, and physical reality and a place where anyone can interact through an avatar while socializing, working, shopping, and playing. Yet, there are many different versions and interpretations of what the Metaverse is by different organizations and communities.
“For some, the Metaverse is simply an evolution of multiplayer games where users can congregate together in a virtual space. In each of these worlds people can join together to hang out, participate in games or even go shopping. Some great examples of these are Horizon Worlds by Meta, as well as Decentraland and Sandbox, which are two Blockchain enabled platforms. Other people believe the Metaverse to be the next generation of the internet, whereby our lives both on and off line will be affected. From Augmented Reality (AR) goggles changing what we see in day to day life, to entire cities made virtually,” explains Luke Watson, CTO for the Metaverse design agency Future is Meta.
Regardless of the definition, the Metaverse is here to stay and is an ever-evolving space. As with any emerging technology, it comes with its own set of promises and perils, but before we unfold all of this, let’s briefly elaborate on the driving force behind Metaverse.
The Factors Driving the Emergence of the Metaverse?
While the terminology is still new and and still remains to be further refined, it’s good to know the main driving forces and technologies that accelerate the pathways to Metaverse adoption. Some of those key drivers are:
- 5G networks and smartphones
- Usage of different applications and platforms
- Growth of e-commerce and advertising
- Evolution of the internet and Internet of Things (IoT)
- Artificial intelligence
- Blockchain and cryptocurrency
- AR and Virtual reality (VR)
“As the internet connected the world, we have been seeking ways to immerse ourselves deeper into our digital selves, starting with email and then instant messaging, then on to social media, the Metaverse is a natural progression of an existing journey we have been taking to digitize our lives,” says Luke.
It comes as no surprise that the side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, where physical distancing was the norm, catapulted the adoption of the Metaverse, which further spurred its use cases.
“After spending months cooped up inside, with limited access to the outside world, the fragility of our interpersonal connections was shown. The Metaverse proposes a more intertwined reality, blurring the lines between our physical and our digital world. In many ways we have been progressing towards the Metaverse for the last 2 decades, perhaps even longer,” adds Luke Watson.
Opportunities and Challenges of the Metaverse
The evaluation of the impact of the Metaverse is an ongoing process. However, we can still emphasize some of its advantages and disadvantages. Among the benefits, we can name the following:
- Improvement of online learning and education – After the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning became the norm. There is a belief that Metaverse will improve this and that education will become more participatory and engaging.
- Improvement of social media channels – Social media sites and applications are two-dimensional. With the Metaverse, they will benefit from the upgrade into a three-dimensional virtual environment.
- Better digital communication and interaction – Metaverse allows immersive digital communication and interaction. People engage with others using characters in a life-like virtual world, while physical proximity is no longer a limiting factor.
- Increased business opportunities – Any technology provides new business possibilities, and so does the Metaverse. Like social media changed marketing, advertising, and customer support so is the Metaverse with the possibility of presenting businesses’ products and services on this platform.
- More significant impact on cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – Metaverse provides a safe space for blockchain technology and its use of NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and other decentralized financial applications.
- Overcoming work environment challenges – Metaverse can help address remote work challenges with the infinite office. This type of virtual office for managers and employees to meet and work opens up the possibility of improved productivity.
- More accessible healthcare – Not just that Metaverse can provide real-life training scenarios typical for the healthcare industry, but medical and healthcare professionals and staff can interact with the patient by overcoming geographical limitations.
- More sustainable tourism – an improved gaming industry, and boosted real estate are also some of the impacts of the Metaverse.
But, this platform has some disadvantages. Some of them include the following:
- Concerns about cybercrime
- Concerns about potential social and cultural implications
- Privacy and security issues
- Mental health issues
- Connection and hardware issues
Who Can Join the Metaverse?
According to some sources, children and young adults are the dominant populations in the Metaverse. Compared with older generations, younger generations, like Generation Z, see interesting and exciting opportunities on the platform because they are more familiar with VR technologies, gaming, digital avatars, and other technologies and tools typical for Metaverse.
“Overwhelmingly the demographic of Metaverse users are actually under 18. Roblox & Minecraft are the two most popular Virtual Worlds, with Roblox boasting an impressive 205 million monthly players. Anyone with younger family members will know how addicted kids are to playing in this virtual world. Much like the early stages of social media, the Metaverse is being driven by younger demographics and it’s down to the older generation to learn how to immerse ourselves in this new world,” explains Luke.
Successful Stories From the Metaverse
Brands from the luxury, sports, and retail industries and hospitality, music, gaming, and financial industries invest in Metaverse and utilize this platform. The list of industries and brands is growing each day. Here are some examples of success stories from the Metaverse named by Luke:
Gucci were quick to jump on the Metaverse trend, being the first luxury brand to release an NFT collection in mid 2021. A few years later Gucci now has a robust Metaverse strategy, ranging from building on the extremely popular Roblox platform to collaborating with Superplastic under their vault collection.
Nike are another early mover in the NFT world, being quick to notice the trend of virtual sneakers (trainers), they acquired RTFKT (artifact) in late 2021, a company which was incorporated just a year earlier. Nike has grand plans for the acquisition, using digital sneakers as a test bed to stay up-to-date with current trends while keeping manufacturing costs to a minimum. Nike can create and sell a new color of sneaker in minutes, testing the water to see what will drive demand with their physical products.
Based on the research by McKinsey & Co., “Value creation in the metaverse”, the Metaverse will grow to $5 trillion in value by 2030. This says much about how Metaverse will impact our work and live over the years.
So, anyone that wishes to grasp this opportunity must be aware of the top Metaverse trends:
- The corporate Metaverse – The Metaverse concept is closely linked with the “digital twins” idea. Businesses in the future can have virtual simulations of real-world products, services, processes, and operations. This will be especially important for testing and prototyping new ideas.
- Metaverse as a new marketing channel – Many expect that Metaverse will be the next marketing and advertising channel for agencies and businesses. And Generation Z will be the primary target group for innovative and interactive ads.
- Web3 and decentralization – The vision for the Metaverse is to be a decentralized and community-owned platform. For this development to happen, a crucial role has web3.
- Advanced avatar technology – The users in the Metaverse interact via avatars. In the following years, these avatars will become more realistic and customizable.
- Development in virtual and augmented reality technology – Metaverse will provide even more space for creators, inventors, and gamers, and with that, AR and VR technology will grow.
Inspired enough by Metaverse? Register for the SLDxDigital program and the free online class on this topic. Click here to register.
Author: Natasha Chavdarovska, with edits and contributions by Rasyida Paddy.