The metaverse – tech of the future or virtual insanity?
The metaverse – everyone’s heard of it, but what exactly is it? In short, it’s Meta’s (formally Facebook) latest gambit on the future of the internet. Taking its name from the Metaverse – a bleak, post-internet world featured in the sci-fi dystopian novel, Snow Crash – is this technology as out of touch as its namesake? Or will this prove be the next stage of the internet’s evolution and the marketer’s new domain of choice?
The tech behind the metaverse
The strange thing about the metaverse is that, fundamentally, the technology behind the idea is nothing new. The idea basically boils down to shared virtual environments accessed either through virtual or augmented reality.
Virtual reality headsets have been around in some form or another for several decades, but really started to gain traction with the release of the Oculus Rift in 2012. This headset – although still pricey – promised to deliver a true virtual reality experience to the masses. This then set the standard for consumer-grade VR headsets, with Sony, Value, and Samsung launching their own competitors. Facebook (now Meta) swiftly acquired Oculus for $2bn in 2014. Augmented reality is still yet to see widespread adoption.
What does the metaverse promise to be?
The metaverse is still a very poorly defined concept – and this is largely because it there are currently no working prototypes accessible to the public, outside of video games.
In essence, the metaverse refers to the collective idea of brining various aspects of life into an online virtual reality – a metaverse. This would principally take the place in a video-game-like virtual reality space – accessed by using a VR headset hooked up to a computer (a beefy one, mind) – that many users can ‘exist’ in simultaneously.
The idea is essentially an elaboration on extant technology – like FaceTime or Microsoft Teams – that allow you to video conference. A virtual-reality-based environment would, in theory, allow users to feel more like they’re actually in the space with their friends or colleagues.
So – a virtual environment – got it, but what could it be used for? The sky really is the limit here. Meta, in its initial sales pitch for its metaverse, pushed heavily the idea that this would guide the future of work. Pre-pandemic, this idea might have been brushed aside more easily, but as more and more companies integrate digital work-from-home solutions, perhaps virtual reality might one day creep its way into the tech stack.
But that really is just the start – feasibly, metaverses could be set up for many other purposes such as meeting friends, going to the cinema, or even education.
But what is the benefit?
This is the lingering question many are left with when delving into the metaverse: what is the point?
One could argue that it will bring about a new age of connectedness and integration – with distant colleagues and friends able to meet up in shared virtual environments. On the other hand, you could argue the technology is still prohibitively expensive and largely unnecessary in a world of video conference and, you know, real-life experiences.
For marketers, though, the metaverse presents a brand-new environment in which to nurture and convert prospects in ways not yet seen.
Marketing within the metaverse is already taking place. The video game platform, Robolox, already has an existing marketplace which is now open to external brands to sell in. As a prime example, clothes retailer Forever 21 has set up its own ‘Forever 21 Shop City’ – a marketplace within the video game where users and influencers can sell in-game items for real cash.
This presents a unique situation for marketers. The metaverse, due to its being virtual, allows for possibilities that would simply not be feasible in the real world. Users can create their own stores, add their own flare, and promote their own lines within the virtual world – and, of course, the owner of the clothing brand will take a cut of every sale that passes through this virtual store.
Fast fashion’s biggest problem – its huge environmental impact – would be largely negated by this new revenue stream. Creative companies that can think of innovative ways to leverage this new environment are sure to discover new revenues that haven’t previously existed.
Virtual reality is pretty cool technology. I’ve tried it a few times, with varying levels of enjoyment as a result. For a start, you need a beefy machine to run the software. Then, you need an expensive headset. Then, you need a space in which to move about as you would within the virtual world.
All these factors – at least for me – make the technology somewhat untenable in its current iteration. But maybe Meta’s big push for its metaverse was meant to serve more as a sort of mood board for its ambitions, rather than a straight-up plan of action.
What is certain is that technology will continue to evolve and, with it, so too will its uses in platforms such as the metaverse.
If you’re involved in tech – or indeed have any questions about how this technology might impact your business – feel free to get in touch.