If you’re a sci-fi reader, the concept of a metaverse is nothing new and certainly isn’t the recent brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg despite him renaming Facebook to Meta and having the hottest VR headset on the market. The introduction of the word into our vocabulary was made in the 1992 novel, Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Since then, the metaverse has been portrayed across a variety of science fiction works – the most notable and popular being Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline and the subsequent film adaptation by Stephen Spielberg in 2018. Clearly, human imagination has been hard at work fantasizing about the digital reconstruction of our world.
The inevitable improvements in VR tech will pave the way for all of mankind to fundamentally change the way we interact with each other. It will change the way we work; it will change the way we play; it will change the way we fall in love; it will change the way we shop; it will change the way we learn; it will change everything. Naturally, brands will look for ways to tap into these emerging markets to sell their wares, and of course big tech will look for ways to reduce the cost to consumers and lower barriers to entry in order to bring as many people on board as fast as possible via advertisement and experiential models. In this rush to market, there will be huge winners and losers. The key, I believe, will not depend as much on speed as it will on understanding how all the pieces fit together and having a clear vision of where to make critical investments.
There are four fundamental technologies that you must fully appreciate in order to take advantage of what is to come:
The first is VR/AR, which involves a combination of hardware and software advancements that will represent the worlds we have access to and the tools we will use to access them. If you haven’t picked up a Virtual Reality headset yet, you are missing out on a cheap way to get a first-hand understanding of what is going on here. The technology is still relatively nascent, but it has been evolving for over 50 years, and for those keeping up, it is absolutely at a level where you can enjoy uninterrupted hours in a virtual world.
Augmented reality, or AR, has also been around for a long time and can be experienced in very seamless and subtle ways without ever putting on a headset. For example, Snapchat filters that allow us to appear as a floating potato in our living rooms, or Wayfair offering its customers an option to view furniture in their homes. The line is quickly blurring between VR and AR, and I predict that we will eventually stop differentiating at all between the two as more and more elements of the real world are brought into VR, while elements of the virtual world will be further brought into the real world.
The next three are all highly connected to each other but will allow us to decentralize the entire system so that no one single company will have a strangle-hold on the virtual worlds we experience and the way we exchange goods and services in them. The keyword here is “decentralize”. You have probably heard a lot about these technologies recently as the explosion of crypto and NFTs have rocked the financial world in a way no one saw coming before 2008. Just like the importance of having first-hand experience with VR, you must get a digital wallet, buy some crypto and buy and sell NFTs to gain a full appreciation.
As the progression of VR worlds improves and grows, brands will flock to buy virtual real estate, create digital goods, build smart contracts and offer services that are no longer dependent on the physical constraints of our physical world. We will see an explosion of digital goods to decorate our virtual spaces and these goods will have supply and demand and thus a market. We see this in a big way today, but largely isolated in closed systems using in-game currency like Robux which is used to buy digital goods in the Roblox ecosystem. You can purchase in-game currency with credit cards, but you can’t take your Robux to Starbucks. With NFTs, cryptocurrency and digital wallets, the door has been opened for platforms like Roblox to allow developers to create digital goods as NFTs – which are designed to be bought and sold independently of any gaming environment.
To bring this home, take a moment to consider the following possibility.
Imagine a day when you wake up and brush your teeth in front of a mirror that guides you through the process of seeing inside of your mouth and hitting every corner of your teeth with product and service recommendations based on your entire dental history and the current state of your teeth as detected by the cameras in your toothbrush and mirror. You then step into the shower and through the glass, you feel like you are in a real rainforest with hot springs, and wildlife all around you while you shower under a waterfall. When you get in your automated car on the way to the office, the windshield provides price and availability data on everything you pass by when you gesture towards it. You click a button, and all the glass turns black with a soothing visualization designed to help you get into a relaxing meditative state before starting the workday. You then arrive at your building, activate your smart glasses and can see your virtual assistant appear to be walking right next to you and helping you digest and rearrange your schedule for the day along with a digest of all inbound communications since yesterday. When you walk into your office, you have nothing but a high-end, custom leather chair with a built-in headset that whisks you away into a virtual showroom at the basecamp of Mount Everest, where you are the expert salesperson for a line of camping gear, and people from around the world show up as avatars to understand and instantly make purchases for your goods with Bitcoin.
The possibilities are limitless.
Schedule a consultation with one of HCL Commerce SMEs to see how you can get started in the Metaverse.