For a while there, it was all anyone could talk about.
In October, Facebook reorganized its mission statement and changed its name to “Meta,” thereby declaring itself a leader in the realm of virtual reality.
Over the next few months, a flood of venture capital pumped into metaverse startups. Metaverse platforms experienced an explosion in traffic.
In the spring and summer, a number of publications were asking experts about how augmented reality will impact our lives. By fall, some people had already noticed that their children’s vocabularies included “metaverse” —a term describing virtual worlds where physical objects are duplicated for use by computers. Oxford Dictionary even shortlisted “Metaverse” for the word of the year.
Facebook spent $150 billion on its VR headset, Quest, and talked up a whole new world of immersive entertainment that would change everything. But almost two years on, things haven’t gone to plan. Facebook may have changed its name to Meta and announced publicly its intention to invest in the metaverse but so far, it has nothing to show for it. Most people aren’t even clear on what metaverse is.
But hype around metaversal worlds had all but collapsed a few months later, as did the populations of these hyper-resilient ecosystems.
All attention was ripped away by the billion dollar dominoes falling in broader crypto space—when blockchain itself started to feel like just another get rich quick scheme rather than an agent for sustainable environmental transformation.
The Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, perhaps fittingly, ended up going to “goblin mode.” Which refers to someone who gobbles up things in a greedy manner
The problem comes down to user adoption.
The metaverse promised to onboard millions to a new vision of the internet—one where we can go anywhere with anyone at any time and do anything we want without leaving our rooms.
In early March, the digital crowds flocked to check out metaverse platforms like The Sandbox and Decentraland.
Users shelled out hundreds of millions of real dollars for virtual land plots in those worlds. In February and March,
Decentraland averaged 50,000 daily visitors, according to the company.
But that figure soon thereafter plummeted by over 80%. Articles started popping up all over the place showing that almost no one was using the platform, and was a huge waste for advertisers.
Decentraland’s core following of around 10,000 people is an ideologically-motivated group that will likely stick around more for the theoretical promise of virtual reality, income opportunities and a weird attachment to virtual worlds, than for tangible perks.
“What happened?” you might ask yourself. “Why did so many people flock to these platforms in such a short period of time? And why did they leave so quickly?”
There are no compelling reasons for people to visit these digital spaces. Additionally, many developers do not know how to make their applications more valuable for users who are seeking deeper experiences.
Here’s the truth that most of us don’t want to admit:
The ‘metaverse’ is a pie-in-the sky marketing concept that imagines the future without considering how things work in the present. Its proponents focus on capturing a market rather than building a shared space where no single entity controls it.
No efforts at interoperability, common standards or open governance have been made—the very things that the developers are touting as the distinguishing features of this new technology. This seems extremely short-sighted by pretty much everyone.
Because these virtual environments are extensions of our physical world and not wholly distinct from it, their interactions feel redundant—they rarely surprise us in the way they might have had they been built to operate within a different system.
Although there are multiple reasons for virtual reality’s failure, some patterns have emerged as important for metaverse:
1. Many people are intimidated by the challenges of converting analogue life to digital. People are not only interested in games, but also in the ability to interact with people and things outside their immediate social circle. The metaverse provides an opportunity for this kind of interaction. However, if it is too difficult or expensive to use, then users will be discouraged from using it.
2. It’s a good idea to challenge your own assumptions/presumptions. For example, people assume that the virtual world will be like the real one. For example, users might assume that a digital space should have a floor, walls and ceiling. However, these assumptions may not be valid for an immersive environment.
Many forms of virtual reality are based on misconceptions about who we really are and how we identify. As the metaverse takes shape, it will alter how we interact with each other and limit our need for physical contact. This poses the question of how we can prove identity without relying on physical documentation – this is where decentralization comes into play. Also, what exactly do we want to “represent” us? Is it really another avatar that looks human?
3. Analyzing trends in technology without considering decades of social science research is like trying to understand the ocean by examining just one wave. Almost all of the studies done about the Metaverse are based on early adopters, or more importantly, those in the industry, who see the metaverse as something cool to make money from, and even “anti-establishment.” This is no way to build a platform.
On top of this, the entire block-chain structure of ownership hasn’t been really fleshed out to make sense to the average consumer, or even explain to them how it can create a new identity structure.
It’s clear a lot more “thought-leadership” needs to go into the Metaverse on how it can be more than just another 3D Environment that we’ve had for decades. Making another “Second Life” shouldn’t be the goal here, even if it’s nicer and better, but instead, to make something that will stand the test of time, that will last, and become a new “world” for consumers.
Despite the challenges, big-name brands remain interested in developing a presence in the metaverse. PwC finds that 66% of CIOs and CTOs are actively engaged in how the metaverse will deliver sustainable business outcomes, according to a recent study
PwC believes that the full development of virtual reality will encourage executives to experiment with 3D environments, according to Emmanuelle Rivet, TMT & Global Technology leader.
However, let’s not beat around the bush here: some serious changes need to be made, lead by advertising agencies and CMOs making it clear they won’t waste money on pipe dreams that don’t have a long term solution for the metaverse.