The definition of the metaverse varies, as do predictions of when it will actually arrive. Because at the moment the metaverse – in the global and unified sense that it must be based on – is not a reality.
What is the metaverse?
As is often the case when discussing an IT topic in the making, Gartner’s definition pretty much sums up the key characteristics of ongoing “innovation.” For the consulting firm’s analysts, the metaverse is a 3D environment:
- persistent and immersive;
- collective and shared;
- created through enhanced digital and physical reality;
- accessible via any connected device (smartphones, PC, VR headset, 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 where people interact 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, who can see, hear and interact (via their avatars) with the other people present at the venue or who “visit” the metaverse.
In either case, the metaverse may include the ability to transact with non-fungible tokens (or NFT for “non-fungible tokens”), 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 act is part of the definition of metaverse, but not for all.
Ultimately, a fully realized metaverse will depend on major advances in three areas:
- the ability to be easily transported and to develop 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 emerging, but it is when they come together that we will see a true metaverse,” predicts 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. Rather, for him, it would be a collection of new digital worlds, a series of small metaverses, some of which are public and some of which are not, each constructed for its own purposes.
Although the emergence of a unified metaverse is not expected for another decade, a number of companies are piloting 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 decide which axes they can stay on. 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: rather than a single metaverse, a number of metaverse-like projects are under development.
Marty Resnick compares this to the early days of the Internet, when players each had their own services, companies created their own islands on the World Wide Web, and these parts were not interoperable. The fact that the term metaverse does not have a truly unified definition is a sign of its immaturity.
Today’s technology simply isn’t ready to support a fully immersive and shared metaverse either. Interoperability, computing power, protocols, network capacity and level of sophistication do not create a truly unified space with a successful UX.
An ecosystem of interconnected virtual worlds, powered by cloud computing, will require interoperability and a strong partnership between providers. But today, metaverse evolution looks a lot more like competition than collaboration.
Note that metaverses also present a wide range of risks (read below). The CIOs who want to try the adventure will have every interest in involving their colleagues from cyber security and legal.
What are the technologies of a metaverse?
The main technologies behind a metaverse are:
3D modeling. More and more companies are working on 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 provide an immersive experience to a metaverse, although AR and VR in isolation do not constitute a metaverse.
NFT, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Blockchain is a decentralized technology that makes it possible to do without trusted third parties to buy, sell or prove the exchange of an asset. NFTs are based on this blockchain technology. They are a virtual deed to goods, usually also virtual. They give e.g. possibility to confirm the identity of the owner of a digital artwork (in JPG or GIF format), of the master of a song (in MP3 or FLAC) and even of a tweet that would have been sold ( like when the Twitter founder sold his very first tweet for $2.9 million).
Artificial intelligence. AI will be used in several ways to create metaverses, including controlling non-human characters and facilitating realistic digital reality experiences.
The Internet of Things. IoT is already used to connect and share data from a wide range of objects in the physical world. In the metaverse concept, IoT is essential to connect physical locations and real-world objects for 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 distinct use cases. Some applications will, for example, be aimed at employees (immersive hybrid work), while others will target customers. Some will help with training and collaboration processes. Others will target monetization.
Because the metaverse is also another way to create, sell and experiment with content and applications. However, the potential seems to be there. “Each year is $54 billion [déjà] spent on virtual goods, almost twice the amount spent on buying music”, the report from the financial holding company JPMorgan shows ” Opportunities in the Metaverse: How Companies Can Explore the Metaverse and Navigate 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 with 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: be prepared to add a third site [le métavers] for your physical pages and your websites”.
This – still relative – intensification of groups’ activity in metaverses indicates that at least some companies attach importance to them.
Here are some examples of using a metaverse that CIOs might consider in the more or less near future:
- immersive entertainment
- commercial operation (virtual stores, etc.)
- training improvement
- improved CX
- increased staff
- advertising, branding and marketing (by analyzing customer data in the metaverse)
- digital locations
- new sources of income (sale of virtual objects, etc.)
- immersive hybrid work
What are the risks and limits of metaverses?
No innovation is without danger. Metaverses are no exception. Here is a short list of pitfalls to be aware of in order to avoid them:
- environmental concerns;
- cyber security issues;
- legal issues;
- harassment of any kind;
- privacy issues;
- effects on mental health (lowered self-esteem; increased feeling of isolation).
Likewise, the metaverse creates new considerations about compliance issues, data protection, risks and security requirements.
At the same time, concerns about environmental sustainability are growing. A metaverse can be computationally intensive to generate a huge 3D space. And if it is based on a blockchain, some are particularly energy intensive. This or these new spaces can therefore have a significant carbon impact.