The definition of the metaverse varies, as do predictions about when it will actually arrive. Because for the time being, the metaverse – in the global and unified sense that underlies it – is not a reality.
What is the metaverse?
As is often the case when discussing an IT topic in the making, Gartner’s definition summarizes the key features of continuous “innovation.” For the analysts of the consultancy, the metaverse is a 3D environment:
- persistent and compelling;
- collective and shared;
- created through enhanced digital and physical reality;
- accessible from any connected device (smartphones, PC, VR headsets, tablets);
- powered by a blockchain-based currency.
What are the different variants of the metaverse definition?
The metaverse can therefore be defined as: a completely virtual space in which people communicate through avatars.
But in a broad sense, the metaverse can also be a mix of real and virtual experiencesfor example, spectators attending an otherwise very real concert from home who can see, hear and interact (through their avatars) with the other people who are on the site or who are ‘visiting’ the metaverse.
In either case, the metaverse could include the ability to transact with non-fungible tokens (or NFT for “non-fungible token”), cryptocurrencies, or any other digital currency that relies on a blockchain. A metaverse thus 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 transact is part of the definition of metavers, but not for everyone.
Ultimately, a fully realized metaverse will depend on major progress in three areas:
- the ability to be easily transported and evolve in another space;
- a faithful 3D representation of a physical world (even if it is 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 showing up, but when they come together, we’re going to see a real metaverse,” anticipates Marty Resnick, VP of the Technology Innovation team at Gartner.
For Jeff Wong, chief innovation officer at consultancy EY, the metaverses we hear about today are neither a single destination nor a fully realized specific space. For him it would rather be a collection of emerging digital worlds, a series of small metaverses, some public and some not, each built for its own purposes.
While the arrival of a unified metaverse isn’t expected for another ten years, a number of companies are testing 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 determine the axes on which they could become dominant. .
But they are not alone. Manufacturers or distributors – such as Nike, Carrefour, Walmart, Heineken or Ferrari – are also crossing what is being presented as “a new frontier”.
In other words, instead of one metaverse, there are a number of metaverse-like projects in development.
Marty Resnick likens 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 weren’t interoperable. The fact that the concept of metaverse doesn’t have a really uniform definition is a sign of its immaturity.
Today’s technology is also just not ready to support a fully immersive and shared metaverse. Interoperability, computing power, protocols, networking capabilities, and degrees of sophistication don’t create a truly unified space with a successful UX.
An ecosystem of interconnected virtual worlds powered by cloud computing requires interoperability and a strong partnership between providers. But today, metaverse development is much more like competition than collaboration.
Note that metaverses also carry a host of risks (read below). The CIOs taking on the adventure will have a vested interest in engaging their cybersecurity and legal colleagues.
What are the technologies of a metaverse?
The main technologies behind a metaverse are:
3D modeling† More and more companies are 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 machines.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)† Both give a metaverse an immersive experience, although AR and VR separately do not form a metaverse.
NFT, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. The blockchain is a decentralized technology that makes it possible to forgo trusted third parties to buy, sell or prove the exchange of assets. NFTs are based on this blockchain technology. It is a virtual proof of ownership for goods, usually also virtual. For example, they allow to certify the identity of the owner of a digital work of art (in JPG or GIF format), of the master of a song (in MP3 or FLAC), and even of a tweet that is said to have been sold (such as when the founder of Twitter sold his first-ever tweet for $2.9 million).
Artificial intelligence. AI will be used in a variety of ways to create metaverses, including to manage non-human characters and enable realistic digital reality experiences.
The Internet of Things. The IoT is already being used to connect and share data from a wide variety of objects in the physical world. In the metaverse concept, IoT is essential to connect physical places and real objects with 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 different usage scenarios. For example, some applications will focus on employees (immersive hybrid working), others will focus on customers. Some will help with training and collaboration processes. Others will focus on 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 double the amount to buy music,” said the report from financial holding company JPMorgan. Opportunities in the Metaverse: How Businesses 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 using NFTs (which are backed 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 locations: one in the real world (store, 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 the activity of groups in metaverses indicates that at least some companies attach importance to it.
Here are some use cases of a metaverse for CIOs to consider in the more or less near future:
- immersive entertainment
- commercial activities (virtual shops, etc.)
- training improvement
- improved CX
- more staff
- advertising, branding and marketing (by analyzing customer data in the metaverse)
- digital locations
- new sources of income (sales of virtual objects, etc.)
- compelling hybrid work
What are the risks and limits of metaverses?
No innovation is without danger. Metavers are no exception. Here’s a short list of pitfalls to watch out for to avoid:
- environmental concerns;
- cybersecurity issues;
- legal issues;
- harassment of all forms;
- confidentiality issues;
- effects on mental health (decreased self-esteem; increased sense of isolation).
Likewise, the metaverse creates new considerations about compliance issues, data privacy, 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’s based on a blockchain, some of them are particularly energy-intensive. These or these new spaces can therefore have a significant CO2 impact.