Metavers: time for the first evaluation

On October 18, 2021, Meta (parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram) announced the creation of 10,000 jobs in the European Union over the next five years, in order to invest in new talent and help build the metaverse.

A year later, Mark Zuckerberg announces the shedding of 11,000 jobs, triggering the first wave of layoffs and acknowledging the toughest changes in company history.

However, a recent McKinsey report estimates the metaverse market at $5 trillion by 2030, the equivalent of the world’s third largest economy after the United States and China. The investments are valued at more than $120 billion. The metaverse project surpasses the ambitions of a single company, no matter how large.

Renowned retailers and brands such as Nike, Balenciaga or Louis Vuitton have positioned themselves in these virtual spaces. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon or Google have confirmed their investments. The situation being ambivalent, we decipher the differences in perception of the metaverse and investigate the ingredients that may contribute to its success.

Why isn’t the metaverse meeting the expected success?

The first source of ambiguity is related to the simple fact that we don’t all agree on the definition of the metaverse(s). The metaverse is an under construction concept and no one really knows what it will look like, or even what should be included behind this term. Web 3, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and blockchains are all modern creations revolving around the metaverse. The lack of knowledge of these technologies and the blurred boundaries between these concepts and that of the metaverse do not facilitate understanding by the general public.

In May 2022, Ipsos released the results of a survey which indicated that only 28% of French people knew about the concept of the metaverse. While large groups, states and the EU are investing, 62% of French people still don’t see the usefulness of virtual worlds. It is therefore crucial to inform citizens to better understand the metaverse and associated technologies.

The mission’s interdepartmental report on metaverse development published in October 2022 defines the latter as “an online service that provides access to real-time, shared and persistent 3D spatial simulations, in which we can have immersive experiences together”.

This definition places the virtual experience at the heart of the matter. However, virtual reality viewers are still little adopted and have obvious limitations (cost, autonomy, weight). In a desire for inclusion, the main players present a metaverse accessible via a virtual reality viewer, but also from a browser or mobile application. While immersion is, according to some actors, necessary, according to others it would be a brake on the democratization of the metaverse.

An example of a metaverse: Roblox.
An example of a metaverse: Roblox

To date, several hundred metaverses can be identified, and the largest (Roblox, Second Life, Zepeto, Minecraft, Fortnite) have millions of users. The colossal figures we see circulating are inflated by the success of massively multiplayer online games. However, one may wonder whether the latter can be considered metaverses. The question needs to be debated, especially since some articles have highlighted the very low attendance of platforms regularly cited as metaverses (Decentraland, The Sandbox). While these figures have been contradicted, we are not achieving the level of commitment we hoped for.

What does the success of the metaverse require?

Metaverse adoption is too slow for watchers. Anticipation is high, as major players showed up early and made a long-term bet. Despite a record 400 million monthly active users in 2022 (the equivalent of the number of Internet users as of the year 2000), mass adoption is a long way off. Just recently, at the DealBook Summit, Mark Zuckerberg hinted that the metaverse wouldn’t be profitable until 2030 at the earliest.

A Gartner study indicates that in 2026, 25% of people will spend an hour a day in the metaverse. Its methodology cycle advertising campaign (curve describing the evolution of a new technology) posited the metaverse as an emerging technology. It is estimated that its productivity plateau will be reached in more than ten years.

Companies looking for better productivity could be a major driver of adoption. A large number of gamers believe that the metaverse is about to revolutionize remote work. The health crisis has largely contributed to the acceleration of the adoption of this type of format. According to a report by Forrester, at least three of the next four flagship solutions – Zoom, Slack, Webex and Google Apps – will add metaverse-like capabilities in 2023. A recent PwC survey revealed that 51% of companies are integrating virtual reality into their own strategy or has already integrated VR into at least one line of business. Institutions of higher education have also identified beneficial effects of the metaverse.

Technology adoption patterns remind us of the importance of usability and utility criteria. To date, these are not really satisfied. The effort to enter the metaverse will no longer be a brake when our motivations are sufficient. For those who have taken the plunge, Capgemini indicates that three-quarters still use it and will continue to do so.

Among the many conditions that allow for the large-scale deployment of the Metavers, the following criteria are regularly proposed.

The metaverse must be interoperable. This means that designers and platforms that enable the creation of virtual universes should rely on common protocols to facilitate modification of the virtual space. In the end, navigating from one space to another should be as simple as navigating from one web page to another. This work is ongoing with the efforts of the Open Metaverse Alliance (Swiss-based association) or the Metaverse Standards Forum (industry consortium).

To obtain a satisfactory experience, it is essential to be able to benefit from an interaction in (almost) real time. The number of operations per second is a fundamental limit. Scene rendering and timing are subject to technical performance. The metaverse, to reach a large audience, will therefore have to rely on ever more efficient technologies. This also raises the question of the power consumption of virtual universes. The latter will have to register in the best possible way in the field of digital sobriety.

Technological developments will also have to find solutions to reduce the cybernetosis (term adapted from motion sickness – a discrepancy between visual perception and the vestibular system that generates motion sickness) from which almost 40% of users suffer, as well as eye fatigue, l muscle fatigue and mental load. Likewise, theft of data, digital assets or invasion of privacy due to security or ethical concerns could lead to a loss of trust between users and investors.

Tools should be more easily accessible without presenting unnecessary complexity. Creating a cryptocurrency wallet, buying NFTs and creating virtual experiences will need to be more intuitive.

One expected advance is that of the finer capture of our senses, including touch, smell and spatialized sound. Haptic vests are starting to emerge and help perceive virtual interactions in the physical world. They allow, for example, to feel the sensation of the wind or even that of the rain. Omnidirectional mats let you run, swim and move around virtual universes with real gestures.

Today video games are a gateway to the metaverse that has already conquered the youngest, but struggles to convince other audiences. The metaverse is in the hands of young people, with almost 51% of users in some virtual universes being under the age of 13. If the metaverse is regularly confronted with waves of skepticism, the new generation seems already immersed in the virtual universe and actively participating in its construction.

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