Whether you believe the metaverse is the future of how we'll work and play, as its promoters claim, or a collection of niche applications, the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic -- and Facebook's rebranding as Meta -- have thrust the vision of a 3D internet into the spotlight. The upshot? Organizations are no longer dismissing the concept of using a virtual shared space in a business context.
Gartner has predicted that by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for activities. That includes work experiences that build on the platforms adopted during the pandemic to support remote work.
"Enterprises will provide better engagement, collaboration and connection to their employees through immersive workspaces in virtual offices," Gartner said, adding that the heavy lifting will be done by the providers of metaverse platforms. "Businesses will not need to create their own infrastructure to do so because the metaverse will provide the framework."
Metaverse platform attributes
Metaverse platforms have five attributes, according to Marty Resnick, vice president analyst at Gartner: The platform's infrastructure should enable interaction, be interoperable, immersive, able to manage identity and support the creator economy.
Especially important is that metaverses are interoperable and not device dependent, Resnick said. Right now, however, they are very siloed, and that needs to be fixed.
"The challenge of moving from emerging metaverses today to this utopian idea of the metaverse is they're all walled gardens and there's not interoperability between them," Resnick said.
The platforms must also have the "feeling of presence, which is the idea of being there," he noted. Even though users are still in a physical world, they are interacting with digital objects and they should have control over the interaction. Metaverse platforms should also have the ability for users to create environments and items and experiences within them.
In terms of identity, "the easy part is I can be whoever I want in the metaverse; a koala bear or … 20 years younger," Resnick said. "The challenge with identity is, how do I map my real world identity to my virtual one? We haven't solved that yet."
Enterprise use cases
J. P. Gownder, principal analyst at Forrester, said that right now, there are only "metaverse-style" platforms. "We don't think the metaverse exists," he said.
He pointed to platforms offering collaborative workspaces for employees leveraging 3D and spatial computing technologies like digital twins and machine vision that promise to help people collaborate virtually in a more natural fashion.
"They're very nascent and unproven" in a business context right now, Gownder said. Moreover, getting employees to use the metaverse is "going to be a longer road than people think." Unless they are gamers, employees moving into the metaverse will be exposed to a "totally new behavior," that is currently more geared toward an audience of younger workers, he said. "It's a lot harder to master using it" than many expect.
That said, Gownder listed the main employee use cases for metaverse platforms at present as employee onboarding and training, virtual office (collaboration for knowledge workers) and remote assistance (collaboration for frontline workers like field service technicians). "Each of these will take several years to become commonplace," he said.
Jason Warnke, senior managing director and digital experience lead at Accenture, said it's important to understand the potential scope of the metaverse. "It's a continuum of realities, digital worlds and business models being enabled by technologies, such as extended reality, blockchain, digital twins and edge computing, that are converging to reshape human experiences," he said.
Just as the internet evolved beyond simple websites to underpin many of today's businesses, "we see the metaverse as broader than a single technology or digital space," he said.
Warnke has a more bullish view on workplace adoption of metaverse technology. There are metaverse platforms already in use, he noted, including at Accenture, which has created the Nth Floor. Employees access the Nth Floor by laptop or using one of the 60,000 Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets the firm has purchased. Nth Floor is enabling employees to do immersive learning, socialize as teams and do new hire orientation, Warnke said.
12 metaverse platforms to know about in 2023
Here are some of the top metaverse platforms analysts believe you should know in 2023.
Acquired in 2017 by Microsoft, the virtual platform enables the creation of virtual events and is part of the tech giant's Mixed Reality division. Users can host a meetup, a show or a class.
BlueJeans from Verizon is a video platform designed to optimize flexible work in enterprise and midsized businesses. In 2021, the company partnered with MootUp to reimagine "virtual events in the era of the metaverse with 3D, VR and AR immersive environments, avatars and AI chatbots."
Cryptovoxels is a virtual world gaming platform powered by crypto and Ethereum blockchain. It includes real-life infrastructure such as roads and buildings. Like Cryptovoxels, "anything with word 'crypto' won't hit my list," Gownder said.
Gather is focused on video chat that builds a virtual layer over the physical world. It is an enterprise-specific offering that mimics an office construct and deeply integrates with video conferencing, Gownder said.
Metahero from Web3 company Pixel Vault, is a universe where anyone can be a hero. The platform offers six different kits with avatars that can be customized and personalized.
Meta Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms
Meta (formerly Facebook) bills its fledgling metaverse Horizon platform as an "ever-expanding social universe" to hang with friends and create your own worlds. Workrooms is the company's mixed reality app for employee collaboration.
The chipmaker's virtual platform focuses on 3D design work on computer graphics, simulations and the creation of new worlds.
Roblox said its vision is to give people a platform that empowers them to create their own experiences. "Our vision is to reimagine the way people come together to create, play, explore, learn and connect with one another."
Rooom specializes in enterprise virtual showrooms, 3D product presentations and virtual events that can be used by marketing and sales groups in verticals such as education, retail, life sciences and manufacturing.
Sandbox is a community-driven gaming platform built on the Ethereum blockchain. Creators can monetize voxel assets. "It wouldn't hit my consideration set because there is nothing secure or enterprise-focused about a crypto gaming platform," Gownder said.
Second Life's Metaverse City bills itself as "a welcoming role-play community" with immersive experiences that let players come in and out as they like. It's a relatively unsecured space, according to Gownder. "For the most part, some of these more general virtual worlds are like going to work in a bar, which is okay, but they're not dedicated platforms for work." Resnick referred to Linden Labs' Second Life, which launched as an online virtual game in 2003, as "an emerging metaverse."
Open source platform Somnium Space strikes Gownder as more of a consumer gaming platform. Users can purchase digital land parcels and build homes and buildings, as well as start businesses, among other activities. "Stuff built on Web3 is inherently suspicious in that most clients I talk to want to work with tools that are secure and easily auditable," he said. Web3 tools are somewhat vague in his view.
Attributes of the metaverse
The term metaverse, coined by sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash, generally refers to a shared persistent 3D digital world where people work and play.
Matthew Ball, author of what is widely considered one of the best primers on the metaverse, defines this world as having the following features:
- massively scalable, interoperable, real-time 3D;
- synchronous and persistent; and
- continuity of data, identity, history, entitlements, objects and payments across worlds.
What to expect in the future
Other metaverse platforms that often make a top platform list include Decentraland, Altoura, Bramble and MeetinVR.
Meanwhile, Google parent company Alphabet is investing aggressively in Web3.0, the term for next generation IT infrastructure that will enable 3D immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences. As with any emerging technology, Forrester's Gownder said a lot of experimentation will happen before the space is mature. "Some of the metaverse platform startups will fail while others will be bought," he noted.
Indeed, Gownder remains cautious about the promise of metaverse platforms, saying there has been a lot of excessive exuberance in the consumer market, with arcades and movies featuring VR in the early 1990s generating a period of excitement, "Then it faded and flopped for a good 15 to 20 years."
But he believes it will be interesting to watch the enterprise space "because we have new problems we have to solve," especially with a highly distributed workforce and collaborative offerings that today, are not complete. For example, video conferencing is great, but you incur some cognitive costs while you're on a video camera trying to look people in the eye, Gownder said. "It doesn't allow you to do some things as you can in the office."
Avatars can help people interact better and get rid of Zoom fatigue, because they can walk around in a more natural way and break off into groups. "It simulates a sense of physical space in a way you don't have in a video conference," he said.
Gartner's Resnick said that while people should absolutely pay attention to metaverse and immersive tech platforms, "that does not mean you have to invest in them today." He advises people to really understand what these platforms do and think about the outcomes, opportunities and obstacles that emerging metaverses could provide.
"If they match up with your organization's goals, then start exploring them. If they don't match up today keep an eye on it," Resnick said. "I wouldn't ignore it."