For one, the average consumer does not understand what the metaverse means, according to eMarketer. Secondly, it requires an investment: in a headset, in a game, in time. And most marketers aren’t willing to make that leap when they don’t understand the value.
From my perspective, though, the industry has been overcomplicating the concept of the metaverse rather than making it accessible for audiences. Rather than pointing back to the origin of the word from the 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” let’s instead compare the metaverse to something widely known and understood -- not the obvious like The Sims or Fortnite. Instead, let’s discuss how MySpace created the gateway to the metaverse.
How Tom Became Everyone’s Friend
While Mark Zuckerberg may be the kingpin of the metaverse today, the face of MySpace, Tom, was ahead of his time in building another world online.
Though no longer in its heyday, MySpace created a defining moment for the world of social media. At the height of its popularity in 2006, the platform became the most visited website in the world, surpassing search engine behemoths Google and Yahoo, according to Wikipedia.
MySpace provided a platform for real-time digital interaction between individuals and their friends, family, and peers, as well as brands, artists, etc. Users could customize their pages and build a world that was a reflection of themselves, from background to profile music to a favorite mirror selfie to selecting their top favorite friends (and yes, for some that was Tom). And their connections could see when they were online and available to chat.
In many ways, MySpace is to Web2.0 as the metaverse is to Web3.0.
In the metaverse, people too can customize avatars to their preferences, creating a virtual identity that either imitates real life or is idealized. They can build and explore other worlds and invite people to engage with them. They can put on a VR headset and feel like they’re next to their friends.
This elevates the 2D social connection of MySpace and creates a 3D immersive social platform, just with more sophisticated technology.
But will the metaverse ever reach the hype status of MySpace?
The Metaverse, in Its Current State, Lacks Social Status
If the staying power of social media and online gaming is any indicator, it’s likely the metaverse will eventually reach the mainstream and be a viable marketing channel. In its current state, the metaverse is still squarely in its infancy. Most brands will still hesitate to put a stake in the metaverse because their consumers are not yet replacing time spent with Netflix and TikTok in favor of Horizon Worlds.
Consumer behavior has a domino effect. There needs to be a wave of adoption before something becomes a staple activity rather than just a marketing headline. And for that to occur, there needs to be greater accessibility, ease of use, and practicality.
So, my advice to marketers: Stick to social for now and let Meta continue to be the loss leader until the time is right for your audiences.
Well, the problem with the 'Metaverse' is that it's one word for at least four different technologies/platforms/products:
It's debatable which of the above technologies is the true 'Metaverse', or if all of them will somehow contribute to 'the Metaverse', as some (including Neil Stephenson himself through his company/product Lamina2, providing cryptocurrency for 3D virtual worlds) claim.
For example, it's not an absolute certainty that all financial transactions inside 'a Metaverse' require cryptocurrency to work; establishing proof of ownership of digital content using NFTs is not the only way to do so (Second Life predates Bitcoin by several years and already included a system to automatically prove ownership and/or licensing between users; OpenSimulator, the reverse-engineered, open-source version of Second Life, even does the same across different 'grids' — each run by independent operators — since ca. 2010, well before the word 'NFT' was even coined).
It's also unclear that decentralised data storage is a must for 'the Metaverse'. It would certainly help to pool resources — i.e. the idea expressed in Stephenson's Snow Crash, where each user of the Metaverse would 'bring their own computing power' to the overall network. That would require sharing data storage, spread across laptops and desktops, but also CPU power, which is usually not considered when talking about the Metaverse today — except perhaps in the sense of mining cryptocurrency.
And finally, the future Metaverse should, indeed, allow to create 'digital twins' in the sense of a hyperrealist replica being visitable inside the virtual world, which would, in turn, be continuously updated with new information, in real time; however, such a scenario would be complementary to the virtual world experience, and not the reason for the Metaverse's existence. Just like computer games might become a favourite leisure activity in the Metaverse, they won't be the sole reason for the Metaverse to exist. One might say, instead, that digital twins in the Metaverse will just be one of its many applications...
Last but not least, it's worth mentioning that the combination of all the above has already been tried, i.e., a virtual world platform that was essentially open source, would run from users' computers in a distributed/federated way, and used cryptocurrency mostly to compensate users for the CPU, memory and disk space that each contributed towards the overall system — the more resources you provided for others to run the virtual world, the more you'd get compensated via the internal (crypto)currency. The more resources you required from others, the more you would pay them. The company developing the platform would essentially get a revenue from the fees for exchanging fiat currency into crypocurrency — similar to how Stephenson is designing Lumina2, in fact.
Has any of you heard about that company?
Well, I guess not. It's called High Fidelity, and it's been around since 2013. It used to offer the virtual world platform of the same name; now it sticks to spatial audio solutions. Its founder and owner, Philip Rosedale, was the founder of Linden Lab, the company that makes and runs Second Life; recently, he bought his way back into the company. In a sense, that was a 'proof' that virtual worlds do not need crypto, NFTs, or a decentralised CPU/memory/storage solution to be a success; Second Life, as said, is still around and steadily profitable, while High Fidelity — the virtual world, that is — has long been gone.
I would certainly listen to your final advice to marketers. It's too early to worry about Meta, even if their core technology has been in development for more than eight years now. It's hardly stable or production-ready (in spite of any claims otherwise). Be wary of all those claims about technologies that are 'required' for the Metaverse to 'be built' (even if they come from the mouth of the person who coined the word 'Metaverse' — Stephenson himself). In case of doubt, resist the attempts of elevator pitches about how the 'future Metaverse' will look like and what it brings. Just log in to Second Life and see with your own eyes what a Metaverse could look like — since that's the closest you can get these days to the original definition of a Metaverse, and it's been around for two decades, well predating any of these new fancy technologies that suddenly are 'required' to operate a Metaverse. They aren't. The proof is there for anyone to see. Nobody else has developed and maintained a working, running 'Metaverse' for as long as Linden Lab with its flagship product Second Life.
Granted, some of those technologies might give you a revenue stream, if you wish to look into them. More specifically, if you want your customers to get rich in a pinch, get them to join the NFT bandwagon. They'll make a few millions or billions (depending on how well you can advise them) in a very short time, and then their NFTs can go bust — it won't matter, since they will already have gotten all the money from the first batch they sold. NFTs are the ultimate Ponzi scheme — the only ones profiting from them in an almost-guaranteed way are those who launch a NFT 'collection' for others to buy (and attempt to sell). So long as no regulation kicks in into this 'market', you can do it over and over again; never mind if all your NFT launches end with a lack of interest after a few months, making the price of your cryptoassets go down to zero. That is all irrelevant — you have already sold them for the first time (just resist the temptation of buying them back again, in the attempt to raise their prices due to artificial 'scarcity'). Just dump them and get your cash out; and then launch a new set, and another one, and another one. With every new product released through your company, get a set of NFTs to accompany the launch — and watch how people will pay more for those NFTs than for the actual products you sell!
But is that the so-promised 'Metaverse'...? Well, hardly. It's just a way to get rich quickly, which is still legal in most jurisdictions (and possibly will be for a while longer). 'NFT' is a stupid acronym that doesn't make any sense outside the financial world ('Smart Contracts' would make a bit more sense, but, alas, we're stuck with 'NFT' now), and 'Metaverse' has a much nicer ring to it. By rebranding NFTs as 'Metaverse', many companies have positioned themselves into the 'same' market as those producing 3D immersive experiences — while offering completely distinct products, which have absolutely nothing to do with what the 'Metaverse' is supposed to be.
It would be like selling power drinks in the 1980s and claim to be a 'computer company', since, well, stereotypical computer 'nerds' have power drinks all the time, to keep themselves sharp and focused during long programming hours. You wouldn't have had a 'revolution' of the desktop computer without those 'nerds', and therefore, without those power drinks; so, a 'power drink' is a cornerstone of the 'computer revolution', right?
But that doesn't stop all sort of shady, shifty new 'business models' to emerge, slap the 'Metaverse' sticker upon their products, and enjoy a quick, profitable ride on the wave of buzz.
Good enough, perhaps, for the short term, until the word 'Metaverse' gets so tainted that it becomes toxic; and, by that time, you'll thoroughly regret having invested a single dollar in whatever 'Metaverse technology' you've been sold...