What is the Metaverse?
Many of the definitions of the Metaverse describe it as being a combination of interlinked, persistent, shared, synchronous, 3D virtual reality spaces. Whilst a necessary description to understand the different components, it’s also a fairly surgical description for a social and technology trend that has the power to alter human experience and e-commerce. You’d be forgiven if you were scratching your head and asking what it all means.
The answer might well be that the Metaverse (or more likely, the metaverses) is only as limited as the power of your imagination. Humans are the only species who have evolved to have a pre-frontal cortex, the centre of our imagination and creativity. This unique aspect of human evolution gives us the ability to imagine a better or a different future. Much like how we have imagined (and re-imagined) how artificial intelligence might evolve, we are starting to imagine what the Metaverse might be like.
Big Tech and early platform architects (notably in gaming and e-sport) have laid out their stalls as to what the Metaverse might look like that they'd like you to subscribe to (and capture their share of your wallet at the same time!). Meta, Fortnite, The Sandbox, Otherworld are only a few of the big platforms.
But the truth is, it's still very days. Nobody really knows how it might evolve or how fast.
A key goal of the Metaverse appears to be to enhance existing human reality through the convergence of the digital and physical worlds (aided by technology and other hardware, such as virtual and augmented reality etc.). It is not necessarily only about being transported from the physical world to the digital world. If you subscribe to this point of view, then the opportunities to participate in the Metaverse are many and apply across all domains - not just gaming and entertainment, from where the initial 'metaverse-esque' use cases have captured some of the biggest headlines.
Global organizations are already experimenting with applications such as: hyper virtual business interactions - exploring next generation virtual reality accelerated by rapid online presence and remote working; specialist simulations and digital twins - that can be deployed in domains such as medicine, education, risk management, preventative maintenance, construction, and health (to name a few). These are early forerunners to what might be comprised in a fully-fledged Metaverse. More transformational aspects such as pushing the boundaries of e-commerce with experimentation on Metaverse ‘alternative land’ platforms seems to be focused on customer experience (and being present where your customer or future customer is), and to provide novel ways to engage your employees, with more forward-looking organizations seeing it as an area ripe for business growth. Big brands see the Metaverse as a means both to communicate with their customers and to learn from them.
As with all disruptive opportunities comes risks. We can only guess as to what these might be in a future incarnation of the Metaverse, as many of the risks to existing business models are still largely to be understood. Part of the issue centres on how the Metaverse might evolve and how fast. Will the Metaverse follow a similar path as with the World Wide Web? Or are there other competitive forces that will influence how it develops? What are the technology components that are needed to develop it? How do existing governance mechanisms, laws and regulations need to evolve for a fully functioning Metaverse? What is the role of blockchain, crypto assets, NFTs - already becoming embedded into business models and business processes - and the intersection of decentralized finance (or DeFi) with the Metaverse? This is by no means a fulsome list but asking these kinds of questions can help to unpack some of the important issues to consider and help organizations to understand both current and potential future risk (that can be mitigated) as well as current and potential future opportunity (that can be exploited).
Whilst the Metaverse may not yet fully exist today in terms of its full potential (however you might imagine it) one thing for certain is that the seeds that will grow into what it might become are already here.
If you’re interested in this topic, why not take a look at our blog on Inside Tech Law in which we explain what the Metaverse is and some of the key technology aspects that are needed for it to be successful.