Is the fate of the future hypervirtual? If all comes together, an emerging metaverse may prove to be the tipping point. The concept of the metaverse is nothing new, but there’s renewed interest thanks to Facebook’s rebrand as Meta. And Meta is very interested in the potential of a metaverse. Association by default with what could be the next internet sounds great to a certain Silicon Valley billionaire.
So, this begs the question: What will a potential metaverse look like, and who will actually control it? Find out what standards will define the metaverse, what entities want influence over it, and what it means for brands navigating this new virtual frontier.
The metaverse is the latest digital frontier—and Facebook knows it
We are on a path to a new digital age. Virtual and physical life are already entangled, but the metaverse would take it to the next level. But first, let’s start with a definition: What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is an extensible framework; another digital world that allows people to be in an experience rather than consuming it. In the metaverse, virtual avatars interact using augmented reality and virtual reality for everything from workouts to meetings to games—anything people do in the real world translated adapted into a digital space.
How close are we to a completed metaverse? Work to support a metaverse has developed in the background long before its wider public unveiling. As early as the 2000s, there have been groups developing virtual world standards to prepare for the metaverse. Is this the 2021 equivalent of the 1990s debut of the Internet? Sort of. There are still years of work ahead to realise an interoperable metaverse that can immerse users across any vendor, any platform, and any environment.
Now, for the big, blue elephant in the room: The company formerly known as Facebook is now Meta. This rebrand says a lot about the expected value of the metaverse, especially with Meta’s eagerness in name and intent to stake first claim. Whether this is successful remains to be seen because staking a claim doesn’t guarantee influence in an environment that still is not defined. But it does suggest that there will be real competition for influence over the metaverse.
AR and VR are taking virtual experiences to the mainstream
We aren’t living in a world with haptic gloves and sensor suits a la Ready Player One… yet. However, today’s technologies will lay the groundwork for adoption into the metaverse. Advances in AR and VR already experiment with new ways to layer virtual experiences into everyday life, from Google Lens’s AR-driven image search to VR galleries with NFT exhibitions. Cool? Yes. Uncanny? Also yes.
Given the AR and VR technologies we have today, what will move us faster towards a metaverse experience? VR certainly has its strength in complete immersion, yet it’s more of an event than a seamless experience, and there are physical confinements to where and how it’s used. VR is also an active decision, as opposed to AR, which digitally extends off users’ daily activities. AR’s flexibility may make it the preferred method for engaging in new virtual experiences to come.
Money makes the metaverse go round
During Mark Zuckerberg’s October presentation, he made one thing explicitly clear—the metaverse will open a whole new digital economy for creators (and loads of corporations). The technology needed to sustain the metaverse will require serious investment, so capitalisation and monetisation of this space is a clear goal.
What might this look like? The metaverse is non-tangible, which means it’s a ripe platform for subscription-style service. If you already think managing streaming services was frustrating, anticipate tip-style monetisation for media, artwork, and virtual items—anything duplicable in cyberspace. That’s not even touching on competition for advertising space, which the metaverse is sure to approach in creative, lucrative, and probably infuriating ways.
The race to be the master of the metaverse has only begun
We’ve already alluded to it, but there will be plenty of competition to influence the metaverse. Leading-edge technology like the metaverse grows differently than normal products and services. An idea that works for early adopters may flop with general public (sorry, Google Glass); several starts and fails are part of the process. The “winners” in the metaverse will need to iron out how they function as an interface and give users a real reason to be there. The social functions of a company like Meta might not be as attractive as a gamified environment from companies like Activision.
…the metaverse is the moment in time where our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life.
– Shaan Puri, Senior Director of Product, Twitch
Metaverse contenders will have challenges beyond attracting interest. The ongoing muddling of virtual and personal life comes at a time of heightened privacy concerns, coinciding with real action to safeguard privacy (like the inevitable eradication of third-party cookies). An expansive, immersive metaverse and greater interest in privacy protections will collide at some point. User trust, if achievable, could decide which entities succeed in the metaverse as main players.
How can brands prepare for the emergence of the metaverse?
With a metaverse looking less like a sci-fi plot and more like an inevitability, there will be new questions brands need to answer to meet the moment. What will a brand’s products or services become when they’re no longer a tangible thing? How do brands add value to their audience’s lives in a non-physical world? Customers’ online and offline journeys will be integrated like never before—and brands need to prepare for it.
It can be hard to wrap one’s head around the scale of change that could come with the metaverse, but that’s the essence of digital transformation. Embracing innovation (and plenty of trial and error) will be the way forward for brands looking to drive new revenue streams and engage metaverse audiences. At the end of the day, the metaverse is all about migrating life online. A metaverse’s existence, for better or worse, depends on virtual carrying as much meaning as the IRL alternatives.
Listen to the full episode for more predictions on the intriguing and uncanny things to come.