One of the 2022 buzzwords is Metaverse but specialists do not really agree on what it will look like and how important it will be. To some extent it is already here with avatars representing users in gaming and artists in shows. Some are hopeful seeing social and commercial possibilities while others think it’s just a hype. A majority of experts in a Pew Research survey say that by 2040, the metaverse will for a half billion people or more globally be a well-functioning part of daily life.
US-based Pew Research and Elon University collected forecasts from 624 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists. “Experts are split about the likely evolution of a truly immersive ‘Metaverse.’ They expect that augmented- and mixed-reality enhancements will become more useful in people’s daily lives”, Pew Research said.
Many experts in the survey worry that current online problems may be magnified if Web3 development is led by those who built today’s dominant web platforms.
The research center says that early 2020s technological advances and societal transformations brought about by the pandemic have pushed the development of the metaverse to the forefront, inspiring tens of billions of dollars in new investments and prompting predictions that the metaverse is “the future of the internet” or “the next internet battleground”.
USD 5 TRILLION BY 2030
Consultancy McKinsey says that while estimates of the potential economic value of the metaverse vary widely, its bottom-up view of consumer and enterprise use cases suggests it may generate up to USD 5 trillion in impact by 2030.
”The potential impact of the metaverse varies by industry, although we believe it holds implications for all. For instance, we estimate it may have a market impact of between USD 2 trillion and USD 2.6 trillion on e-commerce by 2030, depending on whether a base or upside case is realized. Similarly, we estimate it to have an impact of USD 180 billion to USD 270 billion on the academic virtual learning market, a USD 144 billion to USD 206 billion impact on the advertising market, and a USD 108 billion to USD 125 billion impact on the gaming market.”
Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies in a white paper offers four future metaverse alternatives from a free metaverse (perhaps mainly for nerds) to one more autocratic metaverse dominated by for instance one big tech company.
To these attempts to predict what the metaverse really will be can be added the skepticism expressed by CEO’s in a study by marketing and research firm Gartner. Artificial intelligence is the most impactful technology for CEOs but a majority don’t see the metaverse as a priority. 63% of CEOs and senior executives say the metaverse is not applicable or very unlikely to be a key technology for their business.
McKinsey asked over 1,000 consumers aged 13 to 70 and talked to advocates and early adopters of the metaverse to understand current sentiment about the metaverse. McKinsey’s conclusion is that consumers are unable to give a precise definition of what the metaverse is but they are familiar enough with it to be able to describe it. 55% said they had heard of at least one existing metaverse platform, such as Roblox, Fortnite, or Decentraland. Nearly 30% said they had used or played at least one metaverse game.
47% of early adopters who had used metaverse platforms described the metaverse using terms such as “immersive,” “interactive,” or a “scaled network.” One of the most articulate descriptions came from a teenager who described the metaverse as “a scaled and interoperable network of real-time, 3-D virtual worlds”, McKinsey reports.
MORE TIME ONLINE
20% told McKinsey they will spend more time online exercising, working, reading, and shopping in the future. “Furthermore, people’s interest in immersive digital activities and experiences is growing. In fact, roughly 10% of the population (in the study) has already tried augmented reality (AR) or metaverse dating, and a majority enjoyed it more than the real-life alternative.”
“Moreover, consumers told us that they expect the metaverse to be a significant part of their everyday lives, spending four hours a day in the metaverse within the next five years. Generation Z and millennials expect to spend close to five hours per day, but older generations also expect to spend several hours in the metaverse each day. This expected shift is driven by a desire for greater convenience, connectivity, and entertainment. Along with recent fanfare and strong medium-term interest from consumers, we believe that the metaverse is the future, not a fad”, the McKinsey report concludes.
Copenhagen Institute of Futures Studies stresses that there are many uncertainties related to the development and shape of the Metaverse: What technologies will be included? Who will implement it? How will it be accessed? Will it be centralised or decentralised?
The institute presents four alternatives for what the Metaverse can be.
THE FREE METAVERSE
In this scenario, groups of interested people – some voluntary, some commercial – come together to create a metaverse that they see as the replacement of the World Wide Web (or ‘Web2’), a new decentralized, interoperable go-to interface to the internet; one that blends the physical world with a shared virtual universe using various XR technologies.
This scenario incorporates blockchain technologies that enable decentralised proof of ownership of both digital and physical assets.
“In this scenario, we see a new range of business models where decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) own many of the big brands, and where new ‘Web3-native brands’ have grown to become the biggest and most powerful in the world.”
The institute says this ’the Free Metaverse’ is built around non-proprietary open protocols for how virtual 3D objects, spaces, and digital assets are represented and interacted with, making it easy to use the same digital assets across multiple instances, much like a JPEG image can be imported into all sorts of content.
“When users create avatars, they automatically gain the rights to the looks and close variations thereof, with an NFT proving ownership across the Free Metaverse.”
“Because of the decentralised nature of the metaverse, there are few rules beyond those hardwired into the protocols, but many metaspaces have codes of conduct – such as no virtual nudity and abuse of other users – and have integrated “personal boundaries” tools such as setting limitations of personal interactions.”
“Much like in Scenario A, groups of interested people are working on creating the metaverse as a successor to the World Wide Web, but sustained interest turns out to be limited once the initial curiosity has passed”, the institute says.
“Much like earlier ‘betaverses’ like Second Life, the metaverse does not offer anything that most users feel they really need, the technologies around the metaverse haven’t really proven their worth, and the big ‘legacy’ brands who invested heavily in entering the metaverse didn’t manage to integrate the new Web3 logics into their solutions, hence failing to understand the new consumer needs of co-creation and co-ownership.”
The white paper says the metaverse in this scenario is a world where the ideology of Web3 failed because of politics and power struggles of the new virtual economy.
“The metaverse only brings few improvements to the existing World Wide Web with the addition of some blockchain technologies and limited options for using VR and AR (like how the option of using smartphone touchscreen interfaces was introduced in the 2010s), and people, in general, are satisfied with what they have.
“In a rush to cash in on the (somewhat nebulous) hype of the metaverse, a dozen major Big Tech companies each come forward with their own product they say is the metaverse. Superpowers like China and Russia make their own public, censored versions. About all they have in common is the use of virtual 3D metaspaces that can be accessed by XR technology as well as by more conventional interfaces.”
None aim to replace the World Wide Web as a general internet interface but are basically virtual social spaces where you can represent yourself with an avatar, interact with others in public or private metaspaces, and buy all sorts of things from virtual marketplaces – with the company behind the individual ‘metaverse’ taking their cut.”
The institute says these ’Metaverses’ are better-termed Betaverses, since their lack of interoperability and limited options prevent them from becoming a ‘true’ metaverse: the seamless convergence of our physical and digital lives, creating an interoperable virtual space.
“Users in one proprietary betaverse find it impossible to interact with users in another Betaverse, much like today, where Messenger, Telegram, WeChat, and Signal can’t send messages to each other.”
ONE METAVERSE TO RULE THEM ALL
“As in Scenario C, many Big Tech companies rush to build their own versions of the metaverse. However, one of them quickly becomes far more popular than the others, either because of better functionality, better conditions for the creators, having the best advertisement campaign on the right channels, or simply being a successful first mover.”
“This popularity becomes self-reinforcing as the greater income deriving from the greater popularity allows continual improvement and expansion of the functionality and aesthetic experience of their metaverse to a degree that the competitors can’t follow – and, of course, users want to go where other users are. After all, it isn’t much fun bowling alone.”
“As functionalities are added to this metaverse, it grows to become a unified metaverse where people can work, play, learn, relax, socialise, communicate, interact, transact, and own digital assets. That this version of the metaverse is proprietary doesn’t bother most users, who are used to everything being proprietary.”
“The open-source community has fallen on hard times because authorities demand governance and certification that the decentralised open-source organisations find it difficult to live up to, such as checking all content against copyright and trademark violations and policing forums against hate speech and fake news. Most successful open-source systems have been de-facto acquired by commercial interests that can afford to handle the complex and extensive regulations. “
ENTERTAINMENT AND MEDIA
Consultancy PwC in a forecast stresses the metaverse’s importance for entertainment and media. The company predicts that in the not-too-distant future the metaverse could become a stunningly realistic world where individuals access immersive virtual experiences, through a VR headset or other connecting device.
“Because the metaverse is an evolution that may profoundly change how businesses and consumers interact with products, services and each other, its potential financial and economic value goes far beyond VR. In time, much of the revenues associated with video games, music performances, advertising and even e-commerce could migrate into the metaverse”, PwC said.