‘The Metaverse’. Everyone is talking about, but it evades easy definition. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Recall the end of last century when everyone started talking about ‘The Internet’? No one could clearly define that either. And certainly, very few could envision what it has become today.
But just as surely as internet technologies turned out to be a truly transformative, underpinning every aspect of how we live, work, shop and play today, there is a lot of smart money betting that metaverse technologies will transform how we live, work, shop and play in the future. Life in the metaverse age promises to be a fundamentally different sort of connected experience – one in which we feel truly immersed and present in the company of the people, productions and places that virtually surround us, and interact together in real time.
Moving from a digital age of two-dimensional interaction to a virtual age of three-dimensional immersion has the potential to impact everything from employee learning, development, engagement and collaboration to customer experience and community building, to the design of innovative products, services and business models across industries.
- Are virtual worlds something we want to create? Well, a recent McKinsey report found that nearly 60 percent of US consumers are excited about transitioning everyday activities such as socializing, consuming entertainment or playing games, travel and shopping to the metaverse. Meanwhile Business of Fashion research identified that 70 percent of US consumers say their digital identity is as important as their real-life identity, positioning the fashion industry to pioneer significant growth from new metaverse business models.
- Are these new virtual worlds worth creating? Well, the gaming industry has driven early versions of the metaverse. Massive multiplayer online games engage three billion users globally in a sector that at $200 billion, is valued at more than movies and music combined. Consumers and companies are already experimenting within proprietary, immersive online worlds for everything from socializing to fitness, commerce, virtual learning. McKinsey forecast that the metaverse could create an eye-watering USD$5 trillion in economic value by 2030 and forecast that fully half of that value will be generated through a re-imagining of e-commerce.
- Can we create ‘The Metaverse’ today? Well, no. ‘The Metaverse’ of many people’s imaginations – a borderless, immersive, virtual world that augments our experience of the natural and built environments - is not, currently, technically feasible. Networks are too slow, and computing power too weak. Graphics engines need to be exponentially more powerful, and new interface hardware – such as contact lenses and embedded brain computer interfaces - will be required to truly take advantage of the technology as it evolves. But harnessing augmented and virtual reality to enhance our real world experience is well underway.
The metaverse sits in the very earliest phase of the Gartner hype cycle for emerging technologies in 2022, and the timeline of the evolution of the internet illustrates that the likelihood of realizing this new possibility will take decades. It’s taken 30 years of technological advances, the development of borderless social media platforms and mobile devices to achieve the world of connected experiences that we take for granted today.
The future of digital experience is immersive and ‘The Metaverse’ may eventuate as the ultimate expression of that. Meanwhile future focused companies are experimenting with new ways to engage a generation of customers already familiar with connecting within the virtual worlds of online gaming, where their customers control their identities and can transact with digital currencies.
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