The metaverse: What are you missing out on?
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The metaverse: What are you missing out on?

The metaverse: What are you missing out on?

A thriving metaverse is reliant on consumers buying into the hype and that’s a long way off, says Joe Baguley, VP and CTO at VMware EMEA

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For something so high-profile, the concept of the metaverse is nothing new. Many people reading this will remember SecondLife – an earlier incarnation of the meeting of physical and digital worlds. Despite gaining widespread popularity at the time, its cultural relevance didn’t last particularly long. So where is the metaverse going to succeed where previous attempts have failed?

A case of commercial FOMO (fear of missing out)
For a start, the technology we have at our disposal is far more advanced now, particularly around virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). So much so that it is perpetuating some staggering growth forecasts. JPMorgan predicts the metaverse market size will be more than $1tn while Goldman Sachs has gone on record saying it expects the market size to be up to $12tn.

Everywhere you look, companies with cash to burn are pouring money into the metaverse. Epic Games raised $1bn for metaverse plans while Facebook is investing $10bn. These, and many more, are all jockeying for first-mover advantage. They feel that, if there’s going to a place where cool stuff is happening, then they want to be there first to underline just how foresight they are. In a commercial sense, it’s a classic case of FOMO syndrome.

But a thriving metaverse is reliant on consumers buying into the hype. And that’s a long way off.

Less virtual, more real
Our Digital Frontiers research – where we asked thousands of consumers about what they think about the metaverse found that almost four out of five of people believe it’s just a fad; a short-term hype that will not amount to anything. It also found that well over half (59 per cent) don’t even understand what it is. No surprise then that, if given an hour extra a day, only 11 per cent of consumers would rather spend it exploring the metaverse than the physical world. This is indicative of a wider societal trend. That, after two years of forced digitalisation, people want less virtual and more real. There is an inherent resistance to anymore-than-necessary screen time. Also, given the pervasive messaging around personal data, consumers have serious reservations when it comes to ownership of the metaverse – who’s controlling it, who’s behind it, and what’s happening to everything they do in there which, by the way, is all being tracked, recorded and possibly shared. As a result, we’re seeing a real disconnect between the rate at which consumers are embracing the metaverse compared to business. The key question is, ‘what is required to bring the two closer together?’

The killer application
That’s not to undervalue where the metaverse is to date. For applications like gaming or esports, where it is almost tailormade to fit, it is having an enormous impact. Supersocial raised $5.2m to make games on the Roblox platform and in 2019 10.7 million users participated in Fortnite concerts online. But away from gaming, for all the limitless potential the metaverse has, none of it will be realised until it can justifiably claim to improve human endeavour. If you look back at any historic technology – from the typewriter to the iPhone, they drastically and dramatically altered people’s behaviour and delivered clear and obvious benefits. The same is required for the metaverse now and the key to unlocking this is the killer application – the Google to the internet or the internet to the iPhone.

The aim of convergence
That’s what makes this particular period so alluring. The aim that is being sought is convergence – when the hardware meets with the platform and applications all combining to improve lives. That’s the point at which the world will jump in and those companies that made the early play can bask in the glory of their vision. It goes without saying that there needs to be a monetisation model for all this although companies tend to find ways of making money. If several years ago you’d have said you were setting up a site where people can comment up to a 140-character limit you would have been met with total indifference. Now Twitter is the subject of a $43.4bn hostile takeover bid. But despite the prevalence of technologies like AR and VR that are providing a window to this future, we’re still a long way from that moment. Not least because the types of connectivity that will be required to deliver on the potential of the metaverse will require 6G technologies. Even considering the speed of change in the last decade, this is still a long way in the future.

FOMO or JOMO (joy of missing out)
There is no doubt that elements of technologists, businesses and consumers alike can all see some potential in the metaverse. But right now, it’s opaque with more questions than answers. Above all, the last couple of years have reminded us that people still need people. We don’t want to be tucked away connecting virtually but rather together, with a personal and human touch that the metaverse simply cannot offer. It means that, for the time being at least, while we’ll continue to see businesses jump in through FOMO, consumers will remain content to be on the outside looking at the metaverse through the lens on JOMO.

Read: Dubai’s new metaverse strategy to create 40,000 virtual jobs

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