The definition of the metaverse varies, as do predictions about when it will actually arrive. Because right now the metaverse – in the global and unified sense that underpins it – is not a reality.
What is the Metaverse?
As is often the case when discussing an emerging IT topic, Gartner’s definition pretty much sums up the key features of continuous “innovation.” For the consulting firm’s analysts, the metaverse is a 3D environment:
- persistent and compelling;
- collective and shared;
- created by augmented digital and physical reality;
- accessible through any connected device (smartphones, PC, VR headsets, tablets);
- powered by a blockchain-based currency.
What are the different variations of the metaverse definition?
The metaverse can therefore be defined as a completely virtual space in which people interact with each other through avatars.
But in a broad sense, the metaverse can also be one mix of real and virtual experiencesfor example, spectators attending an otherwise very real concert from home and able to see, hear and interact with the other attendees on site (via their avatars) or “visit” the metaverse.
In both cases, the metaverse could include the ability to transact with non-fungible tokens (or NFT for “non-fungible token”), cryptocurrencies, or with any other digital currency that relies on a blockchain. A metaverse therefore also makes it possible to buy and sell products and services, and to offer a new customer experience (CX) through 3D reconstruction.
For some, this ability to transact is part of the definition of metaverse, but not for everyone.
Ultimately, a fully realized metaverse will depend on major advances in three areas:
- the ability to be easily transported and evolve in another space;
- a faithful 3D representation of a physical world (even if conceptualized);
- and the emergence of a Web3-type economy (successor to the Web and Web 2.0).
Do metaverses really exist?
“These three elements are already appearing, but it’s not until they come together that we’ll see a true metaverse,” expects Marty Resnick, VP of the Technology Innovation team at Gartner.
For Jeff Wong, chief innovation officer at consulting firm EY, the metaverses we hear about today are neither a single destination nor a fully realized specific space. To him, it would rather be a collection of emerging digital worlds, a series of small metaverses, some public and some not, each constructed for its own purposes.
While the arrival of a unified metaverse is not expected for another decade, a number of companies are testing versions of what such a universe could be.
IT or video game giants – such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta (ex-Facebook), Roblox, Nvidia, Epic or Unity – are already fighting to get their share of the metaverse and determine the axes on which they could become dominant .
But they are not alone. Manufacturers or distributors – such as Nike, Carrefour, Walmart, Heineken or Ferrari – are also crossing what is presented as “a new frontier”.
In other words, instead of a single metaverse, there are a number of metaverse-like projects in development.
Marty Resnick compares this to the early days of the Internet, when players each had their own services, companies created their own islands of the World Wide Web, and those parts weren’t interoperable. The fact that the concept of metaverse has no truly unified definition is a sign of its immaturity.
Today’s technology is also just not ready to support a fully immersive and shared metaverse. Interoperability, computing power, protocols, networking capabilities, and level of sophistication don’t create a truly unified space with a successful UX.
An ecosystem of interconnected virtual worlds powered by cloud computing requires interoperability and strong partnership between providers. But today, reverse development looks much more like competition than cooperation.
Note that metaverses also carry a host of risks (read below). It is in the interest of the CIOs embarking on the adventure to involve their cybersecurity and legal colleagues.
What are the technologies of a metaverse?
The main technologies behind a metaverse are:
3D modeling. More and more companies are building 3D environments and virtual objects. Some are already using digital twins for a variety of tasks, from improving supply chain management to predictive maintenance of complex industrial machinery.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Both give a metaverse an immersive experience, although AR and VR alone do not form a metaverse.
NFT, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The blockchain is a decentralized technology that allows forgoing trusted third parties to buy, sell or trade assets. NFTs are based on this blockchain technology. They are a virtual title deed for goods, usually virtual too. For example, they make it possible to confirm the identity of the owner of a digital work of art (in JPG or GIF format), of the master of a song (in MP3 or FLAC), and even of a tweet that allegedly sold ( like when the Twitter founder sold his very first tweet for $2.9 million).
Artificial intelligence. AI will be used in a variety of ways to create metaverses, including to manage non-human characters and enable realistic digital reality experiences.
The Internet of Things. The IoT is already being used to connect and share data from a wide variety of objects in the physical world. In the metaverse concept, IoT is essential to connect physical places and real objects with 3D simulations, especially for real-time simulations.
What are the use cases and B2B opportunities for metaverses?
The concept of immersive reality, characteristic of the metaverse, also presents different and very different use cases. For example, some applications will be aimed at employees (immersive hybrid work), others at customers. Some will help with training and collaborative processes. Others will focus on monetization.
Because the metaverse is also another way to create, sell and experiment with content and applications. However, the potential seems there. “Every year that is about 54 billion dollars [déjà] spent on virtual goods, almost double the amount to buy music,” the report from financial holding company JPMorgan said. Opportunities in the Metaverse: How Companies Can Explore the Metaverse and Beat the Hype vs. reality “.
JPMorgan began positioning itself on the metaverse in February by opening its Onyx lounge in Decentraland – one of the first virtual reality platforms where users can buy virtual land using NFTs (which are backed by Ethereum). In January 2022, Carrefour bought a piece of land on Decentraland (for €300,000).
As Gartner’s Marty Resnick reminds us, most businesses have two presences: one in the real world (store, office, etc.) and one online. According to him, “the best possible recommendation for CIOs today is this: be prepared to add a third site [le métavers] to your physical sites and your websites”.
This – still relative – intensification of the activity of groups in metaverses indicates that at least some companies attach importance to it.
Here are some use cases of a metaverse that CIOs may consider in the more or less near future:
- compelling entertainment
- commercial activities (virtual stores, etc.)
- improving training
- improved CX
- more staff
- advertising, branding and marketing (by analyzing customer data in the metaverse)
- digital locations
- new sources of income (sales of virtual objects, etc.)
- compelling hybrid work
What are the risks and limits of metaverses?
No innovation is without risk. Metaverses are no exception. Here is a short list of pitfalls to be aware of to avoid:
- environmental concerns;
- cybersecurity issues;
- legal issues;
- harassment of all forms;
- confidentiality issues;
- effects on mental health (decreased self-esteem; increased sense of isolation).
Likewise, the metaverse creates new considerations about compliance issues, data privacy, risk, and security requirements.
At the same time, concerns about environmental sustainability are increasing. A metaverse can be computationally intensive to generate a huge 3D space. And if it’s based on a blockchain, some of them are particularly energy intensive. So this or these new spaces can have a significant carbon impact.