So what exactly is the metaverse – or more operatively, what will the metaverse be?
Because it’s not here just yet. Meta, the biggest proponent of the metaverse shift, has repeatedly stated that the metaverse that it envisions is still 10-15 years away from being a reality, which means that the true metaverse will be built for the next generation of consumers, who will be key to maximizing its adoption and take up.
But exactly what form this new digital world will take on is difficult to imagine, because we have no true concept of how all the pieces will fit, nor even what those pieces will be.
Meta has provided several examples of its broader concept.
But of course, all of these depictions are animated - none of the experiences outlined in this video actually exist yet. Some of them involve using a VR headset – and as Meta reported this week, sales of its Meta VR units are on the rise, so you can see the beginnings of this specific element in action. Others will require AR glasses – like playing chess with a friend who’s not physically there with you.
But each of these platforms will take time to evolve to the point where, as Zuckerberg says, ‘billions of people’ will be connecting in these spaces, and where they’ll also be spending ‘hundreds of billions of dollars’ on digital commerce.
Yet, even so, the hype train has already left the station.
Sensor Tower has reported that 552 mobile apps now include the term ‘metaverse’ in either their titles or descriptions, while a quick search on LinkedIn shows that more than 10,000 people now list ‘metaverse’ in their profile description, including members with job titles like ‘Chief Metaverse Officer’, ‘Head of Metaverse’, ‘Metaverse Consultant’ and more.
It’s not uncommon to see ‘metaverse ready’ as a selling point for an NFT project, while the amount of concerts, meetings and other events that are taking place ‘in the metaverse’ also seems to grow every day. Which is not possible, because, again, the metaverse doesn’t exist – and the key point of note is that nobody, not even Meta itself, knows exactly what form the metaverse itself will take.
But it’s interesting to see how Facebook’s Meta name change has immediately placed it in the center of the discussion. Since adopting the term, Meta has effectively positioned itself to dominate the next shift - because really, it’s now the one platform that’s leading the way, by taking ownership of what the metaverse concept is and will be, which will also enable it to evolve the idea at its own pace.
And while the broader concept, based on Meta’s initial illustrations of the metaverse, seems most likely to involve many hours in VR headsets, that, at least right now, is simply not realistic.
As Wall Street Journal reporter Johanna Stern outlines in her overview of spending 24 hours in VR, spending any significant amount of time in a VR headset is going to make you feel pretty sick.
I can confirm – in my own experience using the Oculus Quest 2, the most advanced AR headset available right now, many applications made me feel queasy, while once you do take off the headset, your distorted reality and perception of space can mess with your head until you re-adjust.
Some of these issues will get resolved over time, and no doubt as you get more used to spending time in these environments, you’ll also come to feel more comfortable with such. But again, right now, we’re not able to experience ‘the metaverse’ as a wholly immersive, alternate reality, because we don’t have the tools available, nor the systems in place to support such.
Which is why trends like NFTs are confusing, at least in relation to their connection to the metaverse space. Will you really be showing off digital artwork in the metaverse? I don’t know, and no one does, because again, we don’t know what form it will take. Will people care about the cartoons of monkeys that you own, or is the true value of NFTs in the transference of these characters into 3D depictions that will eventually become your avatar in the digital realm?
Will people really want to be cartoon cats and pixelated characters when they can choose any character they like, or a customized depiction of themselves?
I don’t know, but based on what we’ve seen in other precursors to the metaverse, like Roblox and Fortnite, people will most likely gravitate towards the coolest trending digital ‘skins’ of the time, as opposed to individualized, owned artworks.
And that, really, is probably where we should be looking. Digital trends take root among younger audiences, and with the metaverse still a decade or more out, it’s the youngsters spending time in these apps that are most likely to become the key focus adopters for the space. The digital habits they’re developing right now will inform the next stage – so rather than metaverse experts and NFT proponents, you’d likely be better off spending time in these apps to get a feel for what will be the key trends of focus in a likely metaverse space.
Connection in these apps has also taken on a new level of importance and value for youngsters over the past two years, due to physical meet-ups being limited, and it’s interesting to note how they use their characters as extensions of themselves, and the ways in which they seek to connect with each other through memes and culture, and the constraints of their animated beings, within these spaces.
This is where the metaverse shift is coming from, and the company that can translate these behaviors into everyday interactions will be the one that wins out.
But it is interesting to see how Meta has taken hold of the term, and the surrounding discussion. The metaverse is already a multi-billion dollar industry, and it doesn’t even exist - yet every investor is now keen to get on board with the next stage of Mark Zuckerberg’s vision, especially those who initially dismissed Facebook, and social media more broadly, and missed that boat.
It does seem that Meta, through a simple name change, is now in control of the narrative for the next stage. And while Facebook usage may be slowing, this new focus will still see it well-positioned for major ongoing growth and development.