It feels like the promise of Web3.0 and VR have been talked about for years, but with Facebook going full Meta in 2021 and the public fully used to an online existence, is this the year it actually happens—or are people itching to get offline and get real?
Coincidentally, LBB’s editors had our first in-metaverse meeting this morning [pictured above]. That took place inside Wunderman Thompson’s very own metaverse, built to teach clients and brand marketers about the metaverse itself, exploring the elements of this new frontier of customer experience that will shape our future and change how we do business. It certainly feels like 2022 could be the year the metaverse finds its mainstream appeal.
We’ve gathered some of the industry’s best tech and strategy thinkers into one virtual space to share some thoughts that you can palm off as your own, should you find yourself needing to style out a metaverse chat.
Global Director, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence
To metaverse or not to metaverse? That is not the question. After all, by having a digital existence we are already dipping our toes into the virtual foray of what is set to become the next iteration of the internet. Technology has become an intricate part of our lives, 76% of global digital users say their everyday life and activities depend on tech, according to a July 2021 survey by Wunderman Thompson Data
. The pandemic has pushed the tech agenda to the fore and companies like Microsoft and Facebook are in a metaspace-race to stake their claim on the metaverse. Facebook even rebranded to Meta—serious much? And it’s not just Big Tech diving into the metaverse - fashion giant Nike acquired NFT company RTFKT in December, law firm Reed Smith released a legal guide to the metaverse in May, even governments in Seoul and Barbados are taking public services into the digital realm as of November.
Digital twins, photo-realistic avatars, and virtual teleportation already exists. As technology becomes more sophisticated and the likes of AR, VR, MR become more advanced and accessible, the concept of the metaverse slowly becomes a reality. 93% of global digital users agree that technology is our future. However, having access to technology does not void in-person connections and offline experiences—in fact, it will enhance it. As the metaverse evolves, the next generation’s sense of “reality” will be one that coexists with a digital overlay on the physical world. The metaverse is unfolding before us. The question is not whether it exists or will become a reality, but how to participate in creating the foundations of the metaverse that will be around for decades to come.
Director of Creative Technology, The Mill
We can look at 2020 as the year where the building blocks of the metaverse came into play but we’re not quite ready yet for ‘The Actual Metaverse’. The idea behind the metaverse is that our lives can seamlessly exist in both the virtual world and the physical world. From events, work, education and entertainment. These experiences can happen in both the real world and the virtual world. They are persistent. They are open. They are personal. Right now the building blocks for this to happen are being built and the technologies are progressing rapidly. Augmented reality and virtual reality are becoming more and more mainstream and accessible. Have you used an AR filter or scanned a QR code to view a Web XR experience on your phone? Then you’ve experienced just the tip of what augmented reality can do. Virtual reality as well has become much more accessible with the likes of the Oculus Quest 2. No longer is it just about gaming, but where VR is used to attend concerts, festivals, conferences and even for your day to day work-out regime. But are all these things the metaverse? No. They are just some of the blocks that will build out this future platform.
Now why is everyone talking about the metaverse and blockchain? Well, technologies like Web 3.0 are crucial to the future of the metaverse because Web 3.0 means decentralised. It is open and distributed. Users own their data. Not big tech. It’s one of the big reasons why the Meta announcement was shocking to say the least. Many are pushing for an open metaverse, and for this to happen, web 3 and blockchain based technologies will be the backbone infrastructure to make it happen. But there’s a long but exciting road to take while we get there. We need to equally think about the kinds of experiences users want. How will users want to interact with their content? With public content? And how do we think about the accessibility & ethical implications of these experiences, content & tools? The Metaverse may not be here quite yet, but there’s lots of work to be done to make sure that when it comes, it's something we all want and need.
Jason Alan Snyder
Global Chief Technology Officer, Momentum Worldwide
Yes, people are itching to get offline and get real, having endured the pandemic. But hybrid experiences, mixtures of real and virtual, for engaging with family, friends, and colleagues is here to stay. That is why at Momentum Worldwide, we built WhiteBox. Experiences in virtual spaces are not any less valuable or less real. We now celebrate weddings, birthdays, and more in the metaverse.
According to research published by the American Psychological Association, avatars are beneficial in managing anxiety. Like those in Roblox, Decentraland, The Sandbox, and Spatial, avatars can help us manage cognitive distortions about social interactions and even control anxiety in social situations. With “return to the office,” we have learned how it was easy to leave but coming back is hard. Avatars, it turns out, can be a key element in the treatment and management of social anxiety. Adoption of these metaverse experiences can be both useful and healthy.
Another key element to drive adoption and engagement are the engines that enable bespoke generation of experiences. Roblox is a platform where people play games made by others. That may not seem engaging, but over half the kids aged 16 and under in the US played it last year. When you pair engagement and scale with a marketplace to sell experiences and virtual goods for personalisation, we find commercial success that is impossible to ignore.
Global Real-Time Director, Framestore
My answer to this is twofold. Firstly, it‘s difficult to truly measure something taking off now compared to something taking off, let's say, 10 to 15 years ago – simply because audiences expect a greater level of immediacy. It's also harder to keep things under wraps. In the past things used to be developed in the shadows or within a small community of specialists and enthusiasts, now it seems impossible to keep advancements from getting out into the wild and discussed on a global scale.
Secondly, we can see that everything in this space is trending upwards – the market is growing, consumer sales are growing, PlayStation, as just one example, recently announced their new headset which will be plugged into millions of homes worldwide, Quest 2 sales and titles were through the roof in 2021. It feels like there's momentum building but whether or not it will be this year or the following few years is difficult to predict. “Actually happens” will be measured differently by different audiences too; advertisers will be wanting eyeballs, so “actually happens” to them may need an audience in the 100s of millions, whereas for other audiences the yardstick may be something different.
However, I do know that everything that we can and can't talk about here at Framestore shows that VR is trending upwards. Amazon, Meta, Epic and all those key players are spending so much money making this happen, that it will happen (and this is backed up by their ferocious levels of recruitment), but if you had to quantify the moment it will come to fruition I feel that’s subjective.
Global CSO and Co-Founder, AnalogFolk
The elements of The Metaverse are already here
Initially envisioned as a form of a decentralized open internet, the concept of The Metaverse allows users to use virtual avatars to move and interact across digital worlds, using or exchanging digital items across platforms.
Despite the visual representation in films like Ready Player One, The Metaverse is less a place and more a concept. Think of it as the next iteration of The Internet. So to that extent, key elements of The Metaverse already exist in fragmented and bespoke formats.
The audience for The Metaverse also already exists. Six billion of them are currently spending their time in the top 10 virtual worlds and have no intention of giving that up to get offline. This is where they connect for real! Over the next five years we’ll see tech companies like Epic, Nvidia, Tencent, Microsoft and (yes) Meta competing to grow the audiences for their own versions of this vision. All vying to be the dominant voice in the codifying of protocols to create an open metaverse.
It will be enabled by Web 3 technologies like cryptocurrency and NFTs to facilitate less centralised virtual worlds, where users retain more personal control over the data they put online. It will continue to be accessed by screens. But VR, AR and MR technology already feature retina-level graphics in high end headsets like Varjo, that are almost imperceptible from real life. And advances in haptics are increasing both the immersive experience and overall usability. Over time these will filter down to entry headsets and may even be subsidised by providers to accelerate adoption.
But what is unclear right now is how a ‘combined’ Metaverse will make anything better. The internet as we know it is already so much bigger than what was envisioned by The Metaverse in '90s sci-fi novels like Snow Crash, because it's not just one shared environment. It's vastly more flexible, a connecting medium for whatever broad or niche virtual worlds we want to create.
What is clear is that there will be a bigger role for creators, incentivised to build, own and earn within these open environments. And of course, that means more opportunities for brands as super creators. So even if interoperability across worlds and platforms is a long way off, that is no excuse for brands to put off testing and learning with hardware and across the open environments that make most sense for their audiences.
Chief Technology Officer, Imagination
Facebook’s employee handbook states: “If we don’t create the thing that kills Facebook, something else will”. Despite the serious privacy concerns and general dystopian direction, Zuckerberg’s all-in approach makes sense, for Meta, as one of many future virtual destinations where people will communicate and share their lives. A VR headset fully immerses you in the experience by shutting you off from reality, which naturally limits the amount of time you can spend there. Keeping you connected to the real world through AR, but with extra ‘powers’, is going to have a far wider impact, once the technology can deliver this to consumers at scale.
While Neil Stephenson’s description of the Metaverse in the 1992 novel ‘Snow Crash’ is often - and rightly - referenced, Facebook’s pivot is closer to Ernest Cline’s seminal dystopian gamer novel ‘Ready Player One’ in its execution. Spielberg’s film adaptation is a fun assault on the senses, but it is the book that best represents the Meta model, its potential, and risks.
While we will continue to benefit enormously from the remote working revolution kickstarted by the pandemic, our mandatory online existence has heightened our awareness of the need to escape technology and value in-person experiences more than ever. The rapid recovery of foreign travel, and success of live music festivals and events in 2021 demonstrates this. I am perpetually excited by where this new technology is taking us - its ability to transport us to new and exciting worlds is indisputable. However, I believe that the ability to ‘touchgrass’ is more desirable than ever.