The definition of the metaverse varies, as do the predictions of when it will actually arrive. Because for the moment, the metaverse – in the global and unified sense that it should underpin – is not a reality.
What is the metaverse?
As is often the case when discussing an evolving IT topic, Gartner’s definition pretty much summarizes the main characteristics of today’s “innovation”. For the analysts of the consulting firm, the metaverse is a 3D environment:
- persistent and engaging;
- collective and shared;
- created through an enhanced digital and physical reality;
- accessible via any connected device (smartphone, PC, VR viewer, tablet);
- powered by a blockchain-based currency.
What are the different variations of the definition of the metaverse?
The metaverse can therefore be defined as a completely virtual space where people interact via avatars.
But in a broad sense, the metaverse can also be a mix of real and virtual experiencesfor example spectators who attend an otherwise very real concert from home and who can see, hear and interact (through their avatars) with other people on the site or who “visit” the metaverse.
In both cases, the metaverse can provide for the possibility of carrying out transactions with non-fungible tokens (or NFT for “non-fungible token”), cryptocurrencies or with any other digital currency based on a blockchain. A metaverse therefore also allows you 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 constitutive of the definition of the metaverse, but not for all.
Ultimately, a fully realized metaverse will build on major advances in three areas:
- the ability to be easily transported and to evolve into another space;
- a faithful 3D representation of a physical world (albeit 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 is when they come together that we will see a true metaverse,” teases Marty Resnick, VP of Gartner’s Technology Innovation team.
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 emerging digital worlds, a suite of small metaverses, some of which are public and some of which are not, each built for their own purposes.
While the advent of a unified metaverse is not expected for another decade, a number of companies are experimenting with versions of what such a universe could be.
The computer or video game giants – such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta (formerly 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. Even manufacturers or distributors – such as Nike, Carrefour, Walmart, Heineken or Ferrari – are crossing what is presented as “a new frontier”.
In other words: rather than a single metaverse, numerous 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 of the World Wide Web, and those parts were not interoperable. The fact that the concept of metaverse does not have a truly unitary definition is a sign of its immaturity.
Today’s technology simply isn’t ready to support a fully immersive and shared metaverse. Interoperability, computing power, protocols, networking capability, and degree of sophistication do not allow for a truly unified space with mature UX.
An ecosystem of interconnected virtual worlds, powered by cloud computing, will require interoperability and a strong partnership between suppliers. But today the development of the metaverse is much more like competition than cooperation.
Note that metaverses also present a multitude of risks (read below). CIOs who try the adventure will have a vested interest in involving their cybersecurity and legal colleagues.
What are the technologies of a metaverse?
The most important technologies underlying a metaverse are:
3D modeling. More and more companies are working on the construction of 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 isolated AR and VR do not constitute a metaverse.
NFT, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Blockchain is a decentralized technology that allows you to renounce trusted third parties to buy, sell or try to trade an asset. NFTs are based on this blockchain technology. They are a virtual title to assets, usually also virtual. They allow, for example, to certify 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 first tweet for $ 2.9 million).
Artificial intelligence. AI will be used in several ways for creating metaverses, including to handle non-human characters and to facilitate realistic experiences with digital reality.
The Internet of Things. IoT is already being used to connect and share data from a wide range of objects in the physical world. In the metaverse concept, the IoT is essential for connecting physical places and real objects to 3D simulations, especially for real-time simulations.
What are the B2B use cases and opportunities for metaverses?
The concept of immersive reality, characteristic of the metaverse, also presents different and very distinct use cases. Some applications, for example, will be aimed at employees (immersive hybrid work), while others will be aimed at customers. Some will help with the training and collaboration processes. Others will focus on revenue generation.
Because the metaverse is also another way to create, sell and experiment with content and applications. However, the potential appears to exist. “Every year, $ 54 billion is [déjà] spent on virtual goods, almost double the amount to buy music “, reports the report of the financial holding JPMorgan” Opportunities in the metaverse: how companies can explore the metaverse and navigate the hype vs. reality “.
JPMorgan began positioning itself in the metaverse in February by opening its Onyx lounge in Decentraland, one of the first virtual reality platforms where users can purchase virtual land with NFT (supported by Ethereum). In January 2022, Carrefour bought a plot of land on Decentraland (for € 300,000).
As Gartner’s Marty Resnick reminds us, most businesses have two presences: one in the real world (shop, 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 group activity in metaverses indicates that at least some companies attach importance to them.
Here are some use cases of a metaverse that CIOs can consider in the more or less near future:
- engaging entertainment
- commercial operations (virtual shops, etc.)
- improved training
- Improved CX
- increased staff
- advertising, branding and marketing (by analyzing customer data in the metaverse)
- digital positions
- new sources of income (sale of virtual items, etc.)
- immersive hybrid work
What are the risks and limitations of metaverses?
No innovation is without danger. Metaverses are no exception. Here is a short list of pitfalls to keep in mind to avoid them:
- environmental concerns;
- cyber security problems;
- legal issues;
- harassment of any form;
- confidentiality issues;
- disinformation ;
- effects on mental health (lowered self-esteem; increased sense of isolation).
Likewise, the metaverse creates new considerations on compliance issues, data privacy, risks and security requirements.
At the same time, concerns about environmental sustainability are growing. A metaverse can be computationally challenging to generate huge 3D space. And if it is based on a blockchain, some are particularly energy-hungry. This or these new spaces can therefore have a significant carbon impact.