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Only time will tell whether the competing extended reality experiences shape up to become a single connected metaverse.
Here's what's clear now: Organizations across industries have already been looking to metaverse components -- for example, extended reality headsets, blockchain and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), IoT and cloud technologies -- as a means of connection and new source of revenue.
That exploration is continuing in new ways as these developing technologies increasingly interconnect and mature. So, IT leaders may want to understand metaverse examples and use cases, both in the near term and in the future.
Grabbing a metaverse share
"The notion of a world where hybrid and digital coexist with a full-fledged economy has yet to be realized," said Gopal Srinivasan, a partner with consulting firm Monitor Deloitte. "[But] we're already seeing pieces of those being implemented."
Deloitte is among the major consultancies that have launched an initiative to help companies navigate emerging metaverse opportunities. Smaller firms are offering such services as well.
Research firm Gartner predicted that 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026. And with metaverse technology platforms predicted to become a lucrative market -- to the tune of $800 billion by 2024, according to a December 2021 Bloomberg report -- fear of missing out on those potential dollars is a powerful motivator.
Early adopters want to figure out how to operate in the emerging digital world, some for fear of falling behind or missing out altogether, said Nicolas Avila, the CTO for North America at professional services firm Globant.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse seems to have emerged into the lexicon overnight, but it has a history. Sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson created the term to describe the dystopian world depicted in his 1992 novel Snow Crash.
Today, when people say "the metaverse," that generally refers to a 3D digital world where people work and play experiencing the blend of the physical and virtual world in a way that feels real and permanent.
As of yet, it would be more accurate to say that there are many metaverse efforts. Few would mistake them as "real," in part because current metaverses lack true interoperability. But as the metaverse concept evolves and matures, people will be able to more easily and seamlessly engage with objects and each other in ways that blur the digital and real worlds. Individuals will be able to use avatars to try on digital versions of actual clothes; train for and practice complex work tasks such as high-risk surgeries; and engage in simulated experiences like sky diving while feeling the actual physical sensations.
Some metaverse-type worlds now exist, especially in the virtual environment of game worlds, and the technologies creating the metaverse -- such as virtual reality, blockchain and artificial intelligence -- are already in enterprise use and enabling elements of this future digital space.
At this time no extended reality platform enables users' avatars to live, work and shop in what many are calling the next version of the internet. And it's unclear how, when and whether extended reality projects will converge and integrate to become that vision.
Benefits of the metaverse
The developing metaverse is fraught with potential problems, from its associated greenhouse gas emissions to legal challenges. At the same time, however, it also has the potential to deliver many benefits, including the following:
- a more engaging experience, as the metaverse delivers not only an immersive three-dimensional visual and audio realm but can also allow users to feel physical sensations through haptic technology;
- a smoother interaction between the digital world and the real world, which allows users to easily and instantaneously access online data and analysis to inform their real-world actions;
- a more democratized architecture, which combined with a predominance of open source software could lower or even eliminate ownership of operations;
- a more equitable space, as the metaverse's multisensory experiences and use of avatars could reduce barriers to use for those with disabilities and limit the impact of biases; and
- expanded opportunities for individuals and organizations of all kinds, as the metaverse promises to deliver new and transformative ways to interact, engage and transact unimpeded by travel and other logistics.
At 39%, the most-listed benefit of the metaverse was how it enabled users to overcome obstacles, such as a disability, that prevented them from doing something in real life, according to a 2021 global survey by Statista, a German market and consumer data company. That equalizing benefit was followed by creativity and imagination enhancement, cited by 37% of surveyed users, and the ability to travel the world without moving, also cited by 37% of respondents.
Best examples of the metaverse
As the number of metaverse platforms grow, examples of the metaverse and what it may potentially become are abundant. Here are a few of those examples.
Ready Player One. Technologists, futurists and researchers working on metaverse capabilities point to the 2011 novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and the 2018 movie of the same name as illustrative of the coming metaverse.
Set in a dystopian world in 2040s, Ready Player One centers on a teenager's quest in a popular virtual reality environment known as OASIS. Metaverse experts say the story's depiction of OASIS as a fully immersive and interactive digital space mirrors their vision of the metaverse.
Axie Infinity. Metaverse games are especially evident when it comes to examples of the metaverse. This online video game is NFT-based and features digital pets, known as Axies, that battle, build and hunt for treasure in an expanding metaverse-type universe.
Voxels. Formerly called Cryptovoxels, Voxels, describes itself as a "user-owned virtual world" where "players can buy land, build on it [and] customize their avatar."
Decentraland. This is a 3-D virtual world where users can buy, create and explore NFT-based plots of land using the MANA cryptocurrency, which is Ethereum-based.
Fortnite. The popular online video game from Epic Games offers an immersive digital gaming and social space that is an example of a real-life metaverse-like environment.
Horizon Worlds. Formerly Facebook Horizon and published by Meta Platforms, the free VR-based game enables users to socialize with one another in various ways such as hosting events and games.
Illuvium. Out in beta in 2022, Illuvium is another fantasy role-playing game with a graphic and rich immersive experience built on the Ethereum Blockchain.
IMVU. This game bills itself as "an online metaverse and social network where users can create 3D avatars, connect and chat in 3D."
Nvidia Omniverse. The company offers a development platform for creating and operating metaverse applications.
Otherside. Similar to Sandbox and Decentraland, Otherside is a virtual world and multiplayer game where players can design and develop NFT-based land and interact in a number of ways.
Roblox. An online game and game-creation platform, Roblox offers users immersive spaces and a virtual world in which to engage. As with Fortnite, the game is most popular with younger users.
Pokemon Go. The VR and AR game blends real settings with virtual characters and images, and has players act out the game in real life.
Sandbox. The Ethereum-based virtual world allows users to build, share and monetize their creations.
10 real-world metaverse use cases
Here are some use cases help to illustrate the potential of this new digital sphere.
1. Immersive entertainment
Entertainment in the metaverse is garnering a lot of interest, particularly from younger consumers who are likely to drive metaverse growth.
Pop superstar Ariana Grande's 2021 concert series within the Fortnite gaming universe and similar events hint at how a metaverse will provide new immersive entertainment experiences.
Big names Justin Bieber, Marshmello and Travis Scott have also explored metaverse entertainment.
"It's clearly the largest use case that is seeing the most activity so far," Srinivasan said, pointing to the advances made in metaverse-type technologies by gaming platforms.
2. Business operations
Organizations across industries already use augmented reality to improve operations.
A fully realized metaverse will support a more collaborative environment where data will be ubiquitous and always present, Srinivasan said. For example, the envisioned metaverse should deliver a much more immersive experience to operations workers who should be able to use the technology to guide even the most complex field and service work, as well as being able to coordinate more fully with others.
3. Improved education and training
The pandemic and the resulting restrictions on in-person gatherings forced educational institutions to adopt e-learning platforms and other digital means of communication.
Now, some could consider how the future metaverse, with its expected ability to stream data in real time and support real-time interactions in the virtual space, could change and improve how educators deliver their lessons, Srinivasan said.
Enterprises can also make use of virtual training opportunities.
Organizations across various industries could harness the metaverse to provide enhanced training to their workers, said Tuong H. Nguyen, a senior principal analyst at Gartner. Instructors and students around the globe can meet in the metaverse and work through real-life scenarios together while using a steady stream of constantly updated data to guide the learning experience.
4. Enhanced customer experiences
Metaverse platforms have the potential to transform how, when and where companies interact with their customers, as extended reality platforms enable businesses to deliver new experiences and provide information in new ways.
A ski resort, for example, could create a virtual guide for skiers as they move down the mountain, delivering personalized information in real time to enhance the skiers' experience, Nguyen said. Or, a tour company could provide a persistent immersive experience in the virtual realm overlaid onto the physical world to inform tourists as they move through new destinations -- perhaps, for instance, bringing historical events to life in old cities.
Companies could also offer potential customers alternative shopping experiences. For example, automakers could offer test drives in an extended reality setting, Srinivasan said.
5. Work meetings
Many workers traded in-person meetings for remote working and Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tech companies that are focused on metaverse development, such as Meta) and Microsoft, are using that comfort as a stepping stone to the next version of "virtual meetings."
Gopal SrinivasanPartner, Monitor Deloitte
"Within the next two or three years, I predict most virtual meetings will move from 2D camera image grids … to the metaverse, a 3D space with digital avatars," wrote Bill Gates in his blog. "The idea is that you will eventually use your avatar to meet with people in a virtual space that replicates the feeling of being in an actual room with them."
This will require virtual reality (VR) goggles and motion capture gloves to render expressions, body language and the quality of others' voices, Gates continued.
Such tools may extend the reach of workers, enabling them to execute tasks virtually.
The technology will be able transport them to other work locations while also letting them interact with others in both virtual and physical worlds, Srinivasan said.
"[For example,] through a remote immersive digital twin, one worker might be able to manage multiple [retail] stores and orchestrate any situation," Srinivasan said.
6. Advertising, branding and marketing opportunities
A number of brands are creating a presence in established VR settings. For example, Hyundai Motor Company debuted Hyundai Mobility Adventure, a metaverse experience on gaming platform Roblox. Gamers' avatars can experience Hyundai future mobility projects and current products. And last year, Warner Bros. Pictures hosted a virtual party on Roblox to market its movie In the Heights.
Still others are branding their own metaverse projects. The Walt Disney Co., a longtime leader of imaginary worlds, is one such company.
In a November 2020 LinkedIn post, Tilak Mandadi, the head of digital and technology for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Inc., announced Disney's "theme park metaverse" initiative where "physical and digital worlds [will] converge, with wearables, smartphones and digital access points immersing the guests in the metaverse experiences."
Mandadi listed computer vision, natural language understanding, AR, AI, and IoT as underpinning technologies.
7. New revenue streams
A number of companies are selling goods and services that only exist in the digital world.
Gucci has teamed up with product and entertainment company Superplastic to create a limited series of collectible NFTs. Ralph Lauren is selling clothing for avatars, and Nike is creating an NFT that links to its real-world counterpart.
That big-name fashion brands are selling digital-only clothing and accessories, following in the footsteps of gaming platforms that have sold similar items for many years, may point the way to opportunities for the broader business landscape.
The sale of digital assets could be one of the big opportunities for many companies, Avila said.
8. A more connected virtual work experience
One promising business-focused metaverse use case centers on extended reality's promise of helping workers do their job better, particularly through the use of augmented reality.
The fully realized metaverse should be able to stream information in ways that make workers more efficient and productive, Nguyen said.
An example of this metaverse use case might look like this: City workers who need to check properties across the community could use a metaverse's overlay of the digital onto the real world to see a stream of required information about the properties as they look at them, Nguyen said. A worker could look at a traffic light that was reported broken, get details on that complaint and update its repaired status immediately. In addition, that metaverse platform could provide a means of informing other workers and community members of that repaired status, all within that platform.
9. Industrial uses
Digital twins will play a major role in metaverse development, particularly when it comes to industrial uses.
For example, German engineering firm Siemens intends to claim its share of the metaverse. The company is focused on transport, infrastructure and energy verticals, where it already has a strong presence. Siemens is combining its Xcelerator open digital business platform and partner ecosystem with Nvidia's Omniverse, with the goal of driving the use of digital twins to deliver process improvements.
10. Still-unknown uses
Business and IT leaders will need to work out a number of metaverse risks and security challenges. They'll also need to work out technology issues. For these reasons and others, most metaverse use cases fall into the still-unknown category.
"There's a lot of value that we don't know yet," Nguyen said.
The maturation of metaverse platforms will incrementally change the way the world interacts, but the accumulating change will be dramatic, he said.
"[Metaverse maturation] will transform the way people interact with other people, the way people interact with digital and the way digital interacts with other digital," Nguyen said. "And because of this, the 'I-don't-know' bucket is by far the biggest bucket of use cases."
Still, CIOs and other IT leaders will want to monitor metaverse examples and use cases closely and understand the standards that are developing.
Early adopters are also exploring digital representations of real estate.
"Investors … are snapping up concert venues, shopping malls and other properties in the metaverse," according to an article in The New York Times.
This virtual real estate is highly speculative but drawing interest from certain groups.
"Roblox, Minecraft, the metaverse -- they're creating an environment, they're creating locations," Avila said. "And they're connecting with consumers in that space."
A restaurant, for example, could create a presence in a metaverse so customers who are working, playing or exploring in that digital space can easily and quickly order real-world pickup or delivery, Avila said. A restaurant could create a seamless experience on Web3, where the user can virtually enter the restaurant and place an order using or earning loyalty points that the company digitally tracks. A future metaverse, in theory, would allow the user to do all this without moving from one webpage and then logging into the restaurant's website -- as is the case today.
One company is even moving the farmers market concept into the metaverse.
Internet publishing company Parade lists its headquarters as "metaverse" on its LinkedIn page. It describes its MetaMarket offering as "the first ever farmers market in the metaverse." The virtual market accommodates 500 customers as digital avatars, who can talk with each other, visit vendors and buy products.
One vendor to try out MetaMarket is Chicago-based Field + Farmer. In March 2022 the company, with roots in the local food movement and a focus on clean-label plant-based food, moved into a virtual marketplace, becoming one of 20-plus vendors selling within MetaMarket.
Isabella Chia, Field + Farmer's senior vice president of marketing, said company leaders saw the digital sphere as a way to boost accessibility.
"You can dial in from the comfort of your couch," Chia said.