On October 28, 2021, Mark Zuckerberg revealed to the world his plans on the Metaverse and since then everyone has started talking about it or looking for information about it. It is clear that it is a virtual universe where people can live a kind of parallel life and carry out different activities. It all sounds futuristic, but actually there is much more and Zuckerberg has not invented anything new.
The term Metaverse was coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in the novel “Snow Crash” referring to a 3D virtual world where humans can interact with each other, as avatars, and with software. To remain in the field of science fiction, Steven Spielberg portrayed the Metaverse in the 2011 film “Ready Player One” (based on the story by Ernest Cline). The scenario is that of a virtual world, a refuge for humanity to escape the damage caused to the Earth by energy crisis and global warming.
Cominng back to reality (not only virtual), many hi-tech companies have been carrying out projects for several decades to push towards the Metaverse. Think, for example, of augmented reality devices or attempts at virtual interaction made in the world of gaming – for example with Second Life, very popular at the beginning of the millennium.
This evolution will be very important for those involved in marketing. It could represent an extension of current social networks and offer new points of contact between consumers and brands, as well as new ways of buying. Let’s see how each company is building its Metaverse and what the future holds.
What is the Metaverse and how it works
The Metaverse is a new version of the Internet. It is a virtual 3D dimension, parallel and interconnected with the real one, where people, as avatars, can interact with each other.
Many have interpreted it as a parallel universe to which to escape from reality, but this is not really the case. Actually, interconnection with the real dimension is one of the most important characteristics of the Metaverse which, thanks to virtual, allows to cancel the distances and barriers existing in reality.
Nowaday the access points to the Metaverse are computers, smartphones and wereable devices such as virtual reality viewers. In particular, four types of technology are involved: augmented reality, mixed reality, virtual reality, virtual worlds.
Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse: from Facebook to Meta
In last years, Mark Zuckerberg has been carrying out projects for virtual communities, but also tools for creators and companies that sell online. Through the acquisition of several companies, it now controls two of the most popular social networks (Facebook and Instagram), and WhatsApp, the most popular instant messaging service in the world. In the meantime, it is carrying out projects for virtualreality, culminating with the acquisition of Oculus VR, the manufacturer of the Oculus Rift.
On October 28, 2021, Facebook Inc. was renamed Meta Platforms, Inc., or simply Meta. To better define Facebook’s plans regarding the Metaverse was Zuckerberg during the Connect 2021. “The next platform and medium will be even more immersive, an embodied Internet where you are in the experience, not just looking at it. And we call this Metaverse. You’ll be able to do almost anything you can imagine, get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create, as well as entire new categories that don’t really fit how we think of computers or phones today.”
Zuckerberg often uses the expression “embedded Internet” to describe what he says will be the next version of the Internet. The base will be Horizon Worlds, the platform through which it will be possible to explore scenarios where you can virtually meet friends and other users, then there will be other spaces such as Workplace, the place to have business meetings. There will be a business of objects and environments created by users and purchasable online.
Currently, Horizon Worlds is in beta by invitation. You can get closer to this world through Oculus Quest 2 (available on sale on Amazon), the new augmented reality viewer. With this device you can already experience the most advanced experiences related to gaming, fitness and entertainment.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Mesh for Teams
If Facebook has jumped into the Metaverse, Microsoft is not standing and watching. A few days after Facebook Connect 2021, Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft) announced the release of Microsoft Mesh for the first months of 2022. It is a communication platform that will be integrated with Teams to provide support for remote work and make video calls with colleagues even more realistic.
Like Horizon, Mesh will allow users to interact in a virtual space through avatars. The HoloLens 2 headset will make it possible to enter this world to interact within the virtual space, while holoportation technology will allow individuals to virtually enter physical spaces through holograms. By this way, we will be able to experience a mixed reality experience that will delete distances and barriers.
A very interesting aspect for those involved in marketing is the integration of Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces – formerly Dynamics 365 Connected Store – which will allow to accurately measure user interactions also in the Metaverse. It will be possible to collect data from different devices connected to the Metaverse, customize the experience and send the right message through marketing automation.
Google and Project Starline’s virtual reality
Two weeks after Connect 2021, Google also announced the integration of augmented reality and virtual reality research programs within the projects of Google Labs, the incubator that deals with developing products and services from ideas from internal and external startups. The new head of this branch of the company is Clay Bavor who have managed Project Starline.
Project Starline is a holographic videoconferencing system that aims to connect distant people and make them communicate as if they were in presence. All of this with no need to use glasses or headphones. Research in the fields of computer vision, machine learning, spatial audio and real-time compression has allowed Google to create an innovative light field display system that creates a precise hologram of the person.
China’s big hi-techs: Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance
Several Chinese companies are approaching the Metaverse. Above all, Alibaba which, during singles day (a sort of Chinese Black Friday), launched the Metaverse Art Exhibition. Virtual assistant Ayay (which also has an Instagram page) accompanied users in a section of the marketplace with limited editions that can only be purchased through NFT. The Chinese e-commerce giant has also registered 20 brands related to the world of the Metaverse
Also Tencent (a company that owns WeChat and several video game brands, including Epic Games) has shown interest in the Metaverse already in 2019 and since then has registered a hundred brands.
ByteDance (the company that owns TikTok) has made several investments in the world of gaming and virtual reality. Among these, it is interesting the acquisition of the start-up Pico Interactive – in third place on the podium of the world’s head sets manufacturers.
The Metaverse in Gaming
As we have seen so far, the world of gaming and entertainment is at the heart of the metaverse’s developments. It is the natural terrain where you can experience these virtual interactions. Just think of Second Life that in the early years of the New Millennium had pushed towards the creation of worlds and communities in a parallel virtual reality. The difference is that back then there were no devices capable of fully immersing themselves in those worlds, while today we have viewers and devices for virtual reality.
As we have seen, Tencent – the company that owns Epic Games – is among those that are investing in the Metaverse. Nowaday, Fortnite is its most popular title and it is precisely here that it is experimenting with the virtual communities that users access through avatars. An example are the Party Worlds, virtual worlds created by users and open to anyone who wants to socialize online. As with Second Life, we see the logic of virtual worlds and avatars, but we still lack the possibility of merging them with reality.
Fortnite is increasingly attracting the attention of brands with items available only online for virtual avatars, and real events. This is the case of Travis Scott concert that in April 2020 was followed online by 12.3 million players.
Also Roblox allows creators to make 3D virtual worlds where to play and interact with other users in the form of avatars. Graphics are simpler than in Fortnite, but it still remain the concept of interaction and exploration. Here, too, brands are investing more and more. The example is that of Nike who created Nikeland, a virtual world that represents the brand values.
Investing in the Metaverse: stock market, creators and crypto
As we have seen, more and more brands are attracted to the Metaverse, or at least to those gaming platforms that are going in that direction. A battle will be played here that will amplify and extend social media marketing. It is no coincidence that Facebook has been rebranded to Meta.
But the opportunities for earning money are not only for brands. The Metaverse will give creators the opportunity to create new worlds and objects to use online. These can be sold to users and thus trigger a new market. The mechanism is what we have already seen two decades ago on Second Life.
Another opportunity for profit is that of financial investments: from shares of the companies that are betting on the Metaverse, to cryptocurrencies. The dominant currency in these worlds could be Nft (non-fungible token), the certificate encrypted and saved on the blockchain that states the ownership of a unique digital work.
A look to the future: when the Metaverse will come
Many of the biggest tech companies are investing in the Metaverse. Facebook seems the most decisive, but others also try to exploit their strengths to create an immersive experience that blends reality and virtual worlds. From Zuckerberg to Nadella, they all agree in defining the Metaverse as the new version of the Internet.
However, there are also discordant voices. Visionary Elon Musk has bluntly rejected the Metaverse, calling it “more marketing than reality.” He has also admitted that he might be like those who in 1995 were unable to understand the potential of the Internet (watch Bill Gates on David Letterman’s Show).
In any case, the Metaverse probably won’t explode in 2022, but it could start to take root to revolutionize digital world. It could have significant impact on the way we communicate and interact with brands as well as people. Workflows and business processes could also decisively change, as well as education world. Over this decade we will find out who is right between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. If the vision of the founder of Facebook (oops, Meta) were to come true, the future will be of those who manage to enter the Metaverse ahead of competitors.