Disney’s move to cut its Metaverse division earlier this year marked a gloomy turn of events, and many have written the Metaverse concept entirely off by now and think that it is officially dead. But will the Metaverse come back stronger with new use cases, or will it really fade away to oblivion?
In recent years, the Metaverse — a concept involving interactive and immersive virtual environments — has been in the spotlight, with companies like Facebook (now Meta) announcing ambitious plans for its construction. However, since then, the enthusiasm surrounding the Metaverse seems to have waned. But before we write its obituary, let’s talk about what the metaverse is.
What is the Metaverse?
The term “Metaverse” was first coined in Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel, Snow Crash, as a concept that blends digital and physical existence. It is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe. It removes the barriers between genres and aesthetics, allowing users to blend various types of characters, settings, and other activities into a seamless experience.
In January 2020, an influential essay by the venture capitalist Matthew Ball set out to identify key characteristics of a “Metaverse”. Among them are:
- it has to span the physical and virtual worlds
- contain a fully-fledged economy
- offer “unprecedented interoperability”
Users have to be able to take their avatars and goods from one place in the metaverse to another, no matter who runs that particular part of it. Therefore, the metaverse faces substantial legal and technological challenges and experts say we’re still a decade away from it coming to fruition. Right now, most of us interact with the metaverse through consumer-facing, interactive and immersive virtual platforms, such as video games, AR and VR experiences, and social media.
“I think it’s an insane statement to say the metaverse is dead,” said Laura Ballesteros, the head of agency sales strategy at gaming adtech company Venatus. She offered that “gaming metaverse platforms” like Roblox and Fortnite are massively popular and lucrative, with in-game cosmetic item purchases reportedly totalling $5.8bn in revenue for Epic Games in 2021, more than the likes of Ralph Lauren or Prada making real clothes. “This offers huge opportunities for brands. Anyone saying the metaverse is dead, I think it’s quite the opposite. The numbers speak for themselves.”
A major new study from Blockchain Research Lab , shows the growing impact of avatars in the metaverse, where digital identity is an essential component of the experience. But they are not only popular on gaming platforms.
Seven times a week, the Swedish supergroup ABBA performs in front of a sold-out crowd in East London. None of the band’s four members are on stage, though. They use digital avatars to put on live stage shows with hologram-like projections and are making more than $2 million a week, according to Bloomberg. It seems to be a new concept for aging music stars as Kiss just announced, too, that they are retiring but will be replaced with metaverse avatars.
There are also a couple of TV shows out there already that use metaverse avatars. One example is Fox’s talent show Alter Ego where singers become the stars, they’ve always wanted to be through their dream avatar. It’s the next level of The Masked Singer, in which contestants stand backstage while singing and dancing, as motion capture technology projects an avatar on stage that moves when the person does. The judges then decide who has the best performance. However, the show was cancelled after just one season and the reviews were really terrible, for example “Legitimately nightmarish’: is Alter Ego the worst TV show of 2021?” asked The Guardian.
Kakao Entertainment, a leading entertainment company in Korea, is also producing TV shows such as GIRL’S RE:VERSE, a virtual survival show that features 30 female K-pop performers, both current and past, who compete with each other in a virtual world called “W” to have the chance to debut a new virtual K-pop group. The program uses VR motion capture technology to capture their physical movements and facial expressions which is then projected onto each contestant’s unique virtual character in real-time. Viewers can guess the identity of the contestants and only those eliminated are allowed to reveal their actual identity. The last five standing make it into the brand-new idol band. The show premiered in January on South Korean OTT platform Kakao TV and was also shown on Japan’s ABEMA TV platform and USA’s KOCOWA platform as well as being available worldwide on YouTube.
The success of the Korean show came down to two factors: the contestants were known K-Pop stars, so it was more fun to try to guess who’s behind the avatar, and their advanced technology. Kakao Entertainment uses machine learning, deep fake, face swap and 3D production technology for their digital avatars.
After the Hype – What’s Next for the Metaverse?
There are several factors that contribute to the ongoing development and exploration of the Metaverse:
- Technological Advancements: The Metaverse relies heavily on advanced technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), blockchain, and artificial intelligence. As these technologies continue to advance, new possibilities and features for the Metaverse emerge.
- Investment and Industry Interest: Many tech giants, including Facebook (now Meta), Google, Apple, and Microsoft, have shown significant interest in the Metaverse. They have shown significant interest in the metaverse. They have invested substantial resources into research and development to create platforms and technologies that contribute to the growth of the metaverse.
- Cultural and Social Shifts: The way people interact with technology and each other is constantly evolving. Social trends and cultural shifts can influence the adoption and development of the metaverse as people seek new ways to connect, communicate, and share experiences.
- User Adoption and Engagement: The success of the metaverse relies on user adoption and engagement. As more people show interest and actively participate in virtual environments, developers and companies are motivated to continue refining and expanding the metaverse.
- Economic Opportunities: The metaverse presents new economic opportunities, from virtual real estate and digital assets to virtual goods and services. As entrepreneurs and businesses explore ways to capitalize on these opportunities, the metaverse is likely to remain a focal point of innovation and investment.
- Challenges and Iterative Development: Building a fully realized metaverse involves addressing various technical, legal, ethical, and social challenges. Developers and companies are likely to iterate on existing technologies and platforms to overcome these challenges and improve the overall metaverse experience.
At the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in July, Vishal Sha, Meta’s Vice President of Metaverse, said that Metaverse was in a “hype cycle” and now that hype is dead. “I’m actually pretty happy that there was both a hype and a trough of disillusionment last year, it was tough to live through that… But now we have our heads down and build, because that’s what it takes to build something difficult – to iterate and do it”, said Shah, as reported by Fortune.
I think people may have been too quick to write off the Metaverse. It’s just getting started….
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