Metavers: time for the first assessment

On October 18, 2021, Meta (parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram) announced the creation of 10,000 jobs in the European Union over the next five years, in order to invest in new talent and help build the metaverse.

A year later, Mark Zuckerberg announced the loss of 11,000 jobs triggering the first wave of layoffs and acknowledging the toughest changes in the company’s history.

However, a recent McKinsey report assesses $5 trillion the metaverse market by 2030, the equivalent of the world’s third largest economy behind the United States and China. Investments are valued at more than $120 billion. The metaverse project exceeds the ambitions of a single company, no matter how large.

Renowned retailers and brands such as Nike, Balenciaga or Louis Vuitton have positioned themselves in these virtual spaces. Companies such as Microsoft, Amazon or Google have confirmed their investments. The situation being ambivalent, let’s decipher the differences in perception of the metaverse and investigate the ingredients that can contribute to its success.

Why is the metaverse not meeting the expected success?

The first source of ambiguity is linked to the simple fact that we do not all agree on the definition of the metaverse(s). The metaverse is a concept under construction and no one really knows what it will look like, or even what should be included behind this term. the web 3, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and blockchain are all modern creations that revolve around the metaverse. The lack of knowledge of these technologies and the blurred boundaries between these concepts and that of metaverse do not facilitate understanding by the general public.

In May 2022, Ipsos published the results of a investigation indicating that only 28% of French people were familiar with the concept of metaverses. While large groups, states and the EU are investing, 62% of French still do not see the point of virtual worlds. It is therefore essential to inform citizens in order to better understand the metaverse and associated technologies.

the interministerial report of the mission on development metaverse published in October 2022 defines the latter as “an online service providing access to real-time, shared and persistent 3D space simulations, in which we can live immersive experiences together”.

This definition places the virtual experience at the heart of the matter. However, virtual reality headsets are still little adopted and have obvious limitations (cost, autonomy, weight). In a desire for inclusion, the major players present a metaverse accessible via a virtual reality headset, but also from a browser or a mobile application. While immersion is, according to some actors, necessary, according to others it would be a brake on the democratization of the metaverse.

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An example of a metaverse: Roblox.
An example of a metaverse: Roblox

To date, several hundred metaverses can be identified and the largest (Roblox, Second Life, Zepeto, Minecraft, Fortnite) include million users. The colossal figures that we see circulating are inflated by the success of massively multiplayer online games. However, one can wonder if the latter can be considered as metaverses. This question needs to be debated, especially since some articles have highlighted the very low attendance platforms regularly cited as metaverse (Decentraland, The Sandbox). Although these figures were contradictedwe are not reaching the expected level of commitment.

What is needed for the success of the metaverse?

Metaverse adoption is too slow for observers. The expectation is high, as major players showed up early and made a long-term bet. Despite the record level of 400 million users monthly active in 2022 (the equivalent of the number of Internet users at the transition to the year 2000), mass adoption is a long way off. Just recently, during the DealBook Summit, Mark Zuckerberg hinted that the metaverse would not be profitable before 2030 at the earliest.

A Gartner study indicates that 25% of people will spend an hour a day in the metaverse in 2026. Its methodology cycle hype (curve describing the evolution of a new technology) placed the metaverse as an emerging technology. It estimates that its productivity plateau will be reached in more than ten years.

Businesses looking for better productivity could be a major driver of adoption. A large number of players believe that the metaverse is about to revolutionize remote work. The health crisis has largely contributed to the acceleration of the adoption of this type of format. According to a forrester report, at least three of the following four flagship solutions, Zoom, Slack, Webex and Google Apps, will add metaverse-like functionality in 2023. A recent survey of PwC revealed that 51% of companies are in the process of integrating virtual reality into their strategy or have already integrated virtual reality in at least one sector of activity. The establishments ofHigher Education also identified beneficial effects of metaverse.

Technology adoption patterns remind us of the importance of usability criteria as well as usefulness. To date, these are not really fulfilled. The effort to enter the metaverse will no longer be a brake when our motivations are sufficient. For those who have taken the plunge, Capgemini indicates that three-quarters still use it and will continue to do so.

Among the many conditions allowing the large-scale deployment of the Metavers, the following criteria are regularly put forward.

The metaverse must be interoperable. This means that designers and platforms enabling the creation of virtual universes should rely on common protocols in order to make it easy to change virtual space. Eventually, navigating from one space to another should be as simple as navigating from one web page to another. This work is ongoing with the efforts of theOpen Metaverse Alliance (association based in Switzerland) or Metaverse Standards Forum (industrial consortium).

To obtain a satisfactory experience, it is essential to be able to benefit from an interaction in (near) real time. The number of operations per second is a fundamental limit. Rendering and timing of scenes are subject to technical performance. The metaverse, to reach a large audience, will therefore have to rely on ever more efficient technologies. This also raises the question of the energy consumption virtual universes. The latter must fit as well as possible into the framework of the digital sobriety.

Technological developments will also have to find solutions to reduce cybernetosis (a term adapted from motion sickness – a discrepancy between visual perception and the vestibular system that generates motion sickness) from which nearly 40% of users suffer, as well as visual fatigue, muscle and mental load. Likewise, data theft,digital assets or failure to comply with private life due to security or ethical issues could generate a loss of confidence among users and investors.

The tools should be more easily accessible without presenting unnecessary complexity. Creating a cryptocurrency wallet, buying NFTs and creating virtual experiences will need to be more intuitive.

An expected advance is that of the finer capture of our senses, including the to touchthem smells and the spatialized sound. Haptic jackets are beginning to emerge and help to feel virtual interactions in the physical world. They allow, for example, to feel the sensation of the wind or even that of the rain. Of the omnidirectional mats allow you to run, swim and move in virtual universes with real gestures.

Today, video games are a gateway to the metaverse which has already won over the youngest, but struggles to convince other audiences. The metaverse is in the hands of young people, since, in certain virtual universes, nearly 51% of users would have under 13 years old. If the metaverse is regularly confronted with waves of skepticism, the new generation seems already immersed in the virtual universe and participates actively in its construction.

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Metavers: time for the first assessment

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