The metaverse may still be at its infancy, but it hasn’t stopped industries from staking a claim to define its future.
Ask a hundred people what the metaverse is all about and chances are you’ll get a hundred different answers. That’s testament to the pervasiveness of this concept, that while it has entered the colloquial lexicon, not a lot of people actually understand it.
But this hasn’t stopped various brands and industries from investing and staking their claim in this emerging technology to define its direction. And why not? Bloomberg values the entire metaverse market will be worth US$800 billion by 2024, while research firm Gartner predicts a quarter of the global population would spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse by 2026.
So really, it’s the gold rush all over again. Several companies have already started to create projects in the metaverse with the hope of dominating their sector. The sooner they are able to define a practical use case for their service in the metaverse, the better their chances of profiting.
BUT FIRST, WHAT IS THE METAVERSE?
“Metaverse” was coined by writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. In it, he used the term to refer to a digital world that exists in parallel to the real world. This mostly tracks to how people see the metaverse in 2022: a computer-generated world that complements our physical plane of existence. But this definition doesn’t really capture its essence.
A better description would be that it’s an augmented reality platform where users can have interactive experiences in a digital world. While the internet as it exists now is a flat, text-based repository of information, the metaverse promises a 3D online space where you can interact with one another or a brand/service in a purposely designed virtual environment. Think of it as a more immersive internet. For example, shopping online now means scrolling through pages and pages of an online marketplace. In the metaverse, it will be your avatar entering a virtual market and shop, just as you would in real life!
But as sexy as it sounds, the reality is the metaverse is still at its infancy. And as it is, there is no single platform that supplies ready access to this world. Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, as well as other companies such as Roblox, Decentralized, The Sandbox and Cryptovoxels are all developing their own platforms. The idea is that eventually these worlds will connect to each other, creating a truly immersive and extensive environment. But despite this fractured ecosystem, the exploration and development of the metaverse continues.
The most obvious early adopter of the metaverse is the gaming industry. The basic infrastructure is already there as shown by Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite (or as far back as Second Life). They are now striking up partnership with consumer brands to offer collectible NFTs such as in-game accessories or costumes. And of course, more investment: Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, has already raised about US$3 billion from Sony and the investment arm of Lego to build and develop the metaverse.
Meta is full-on developing a VR social platform called Horizon Worlds. Simplistically, think of it as the metaverse version of Facebook where you can still connect with people but also set up your own “worlds” (instead of just “pages”) and create virtual hangouts, parties, concerts or even recreate your office environment – all using the Oculus headset.
Creating a virtual world that allows for real-time interaction is also the perfect platform to launch an educational and training platform. Educators are envisioning a classroom where students can receive 1:1 instruction or get an immersive experience such as being in the middle of Marco Polo’s travels instead of just reading about it. Axon Park is busy building a virtual campus, partnering with UCLA and Harvard, that will rival online course providers such as Udemy or Skillshare.
Another concept being popularised by the metaverse is “try before you buy”. Retailers, especially fashion brands, are exploring technology that will allow a customer’s avatar to try out a product in the metaverse before buying it out. Shopify, which recently allowed its merchants to upload 3D images have reported a staggering 94% higher conversion as a result of this move.
REMOTE REAL ESTATE
This is a no-brainer: allowing property companies to set up a version of their actual physical property in the metaverse and allow people from all over the globe to tour it from the comfort of their home – which is what Savills and Sotheby’s are already doing. But there’s another real-estate component in the metaverse: selling virtual land. Metaverse developers Sandbox and Decentraland are hoping to capitalize on this demand by offering locations that have a high virtual “foot traffic” to brands. Insane? Not necessarily – someone paid US$450,000 to be Snoop Dogg’s neighbour in Sandbox.