What’s your definition of the metaverse?
The metaverse represents a new era of web experience design, transforming traditional internet experiences into connected, immersive virtual- and augmented-reality worlds.
Some believe the metaverse is a single, universal virtual world that looks a lot like Ready Player One, where everyone lives their “second life” in one communal space. In some ways, this is Meta’s vision for its Horizon Worlds platform. Others point to popular virtual worlds and games such as Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite, and Web3 variants Decentraland and Sandbox.
Even before we can achieve a series of connected virtual worlds, imagine a network of 3D, always-on destinations, such as websites as immersive worlds where users interact with content, objects, environments, and each other through virtual and augmented reality interfaces. Next-web applications already include emerging 3D worlds that introduce immersive e-commerce and shopping experiences, hyper-personalized, gamified learning and training, dynamic events and communal activities featuring holograms and user-driven experiences, and simulations or digital twins in manufacturing and operations.
While promising, it’s important to remember we are still in the early days of the metaverse. And as these new applications start to take shape, note that the metaverse or a 3D web won’t immediately replace the internet as we know it today. It will coexist, much like Web 1.0 and social media (Web 2.0) and the mobile-app economy do today.
Why are businesses eager to experiment now?
Companies of all types are helping to shape the metaverse. As world builders explore value creation, they are also shaping the ecosystem for the exchange of value, including platform players (for example, Meta, Decentraland, and Sandbox); developers and creators that contribute assets, content, levels, immersive layers, and hardware; organizations and brands that connect with users in virtual worlds, build activations or destinations on virtual lands, set up shops for commerce, training, or recruitment, or even create their own purpose-built worlds; and infrastructure and services enterprises that facilitate design standards, transactions, currencies, smart contracts, and blockchains.
There’s a sense of excitement and urgency this time around. Businesses are increasingly shifting digital budgets to metaverse-related activities across almost every industry. Perhaps it’s a way of trying not to repeat the mistakes of previous digital revolutions. For the most part, incumbent companies were a bit too late during the Web 1.0, social media, and mobile revolutions.
In the example of e-commerce, it continues to evolve slowly almost 30 years after the launch of Amazon.com in 1994. Sites are still mostly 2D digital catalogs connected by search and transaction capabilities. It wasn’t until 2020, when companies really had to accelerate their digital investments, that we saw faster innovation with new digital-first and hybrid models such as buy online, pick up in-store, curated shopping, and others. Businesses have to reimagine all digital investments to be more intuitive, productive, and value added now, because the digital-first customer demands it.
Perhaps the current excitement is also reflective of the continued momentum behind Web3 and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), where leading brands such as Nike and Gucci have generated significant new-revenue creation already.
How will the metaverse create value?
Value is in the eye of the beholder and is defined by what someone is willing to invest or pay. At the same time, not everything has to deliver direct ROI immediately. Learning, expertise, and experience also represent investments that lead to positive ROI over time.
For developers and platforms, value can be defined by the economics of the virtual world they create, including subscriptions or memberships, land deals, and in-world transactions between platform and users and between users themselves.
For users, their time, attention, and engagement activities are also currencies. For them to invest in any virtual world, they have to find it entertaining, beneficial, productive, or relevant. What is it that they value and how is that value delivered in perpetuity? What’s going to compel them to pay to play, shift their attention to an experience, or engage with a brand’s products, services, or assets? Additionally, their data and content are also currencies. Social media has taught them that their data and content are valuable, and now they are looking for returns on their contributions.
Businesses and organizations know they have to be present where their customers, partners, consumers, and employees are active. To participate in virtual worlds or create purpose-built 3D destinations— whether for branding, e-commerce, talent recruitment, learning and development, product or digital-twin simulations, or research— they need to assess the ROI of their investments against user expectations, culture and technology trends, and mutually beneficial outcomes across the board.
Creative companies will also find opportunities to communicate and create personal value for users who provide data and content. It’s important to note that as Web3 technologies become part of the metaverse, user data, digital assets, and identity will become portable. Users’ Web3 wallets contain their assets, experiences, achievements, behaviors, credentials, affinities, and interest and social graphs. Users will become even more empowered.
In what ways will the metaverse impact society?
Metaverse world builders should prioritize ethics and the positive types of behaviors they want to encourage within their worlds. They must also consider the physicality and emotionality of being in a new world for extended periods of time without training or conditioning. They have to consider haptics and the ability to touch and be touched. As the immersion around us becomes more “real,” the ability to run or move in place and the ability to feel the world around us is going to require literacy and guidance to help us navigate these new worlds safely and productively.
The metaverse, I hope, will be about building communities differently from the ground up—open, inclusive, personal, safe, and useful.
How should businesses approach the metaverse?
The metaverse, as I mentioned earlier, will be about community. The value of belonging to any community is one where belonging matters to all stakeholders, including world builders, creators, developers, brands, and users.
Sometimes executives and decision makers are not the ultimate users of the next web. This leads to adapting legacy engagement and business models for new opportunities without building upon the tenets of these emerging communities.
Experience and empathy are essential components of human-centered design and value creation. This is one of the reasons companies have started hiring metaverse-focused executives and partnering extensively: to focus and accelerate the efforts they’re ramping up.
I think overall this is a real opportunity to be curious, ask questions, test drive, and experiment, all with the best of intentions. The more questions we ask, the more curious we are, the less judgmental we are, the more empathetic we can become, the greater the connection to value creation and delivery will be.