Remember the metaverse? The it technology of 2022 was unceremoniously pushed out of the limelight in 2023 by new entrant ChatGPT, the leading generative AI technology that has been making a huge splash in both the business and consumer realms.
"2023 felt like all generative AI, all the time," observed Mike Bechtel, chief futurist at Deloitte Consulting. "2024 will be a more balanced conversation involving a greater range of technologies, and a meaningful part of that will be about metaverse, or as some are increasingly calling it, spatial computing."
Blame the post-COVID world for the lack of enthusiasm about the metaverse in 2023. "Compelling use cases failed to emerge while consumers returned to in-person work and events as the pandemic waned," according to Forrester's "Ten More Top Emerging Technologies for 2023" report.
The metaverse is one of two that "will not deliver expected benefits for five or more years," the report said, noting that "investing in these technologies should be labeled 'caveat emptor.'"
But don't rule out the metaverse altogether, observers said, as it made some strides in 2023, notably, in the industrial sector, and it will gain traction in other industries in 2024. Virtual worlds will continue to flourish in industrial use cases "where modeling and digital twins deliver clear business benefits, but the integration of these worlds into a metaverse will be years more in the making," the Forrester report said.
There are three areas where metaverse technology offers potential business value, the report asserted:
- Consumer branding in digital worlds.
- Employee collaboration in work-from-anywhere scenarios.
- Meshing of physical and digital more closely in asset-intensive industries.
Noting that the metaverse "has struggled to live up to the excessive hype that built up in 2021 and early 2022," the metaverse economy is nonetheless projected to be worth $400 billion by 2030, up from $48 billion in 2022, according to a December 2023 report from ResearchAndMarkets.
Progress has stalled due to contributing factors such as limited knowledge of what the metaverse is, unimpressed consumers, big tech postponing projects, and the limitations of underlying technologies such as blockchain, AR, VR, and digital twins, ResearchAndMarkets said. "Without improvements in these technologies, the metaverse will continue to disappoint."
Metaverse platform attributes
While platform attributes haven't significantly changed during 2023, friction will decrease, thanks to new and improved headset entrants in 2024, said Tibor Mérey, managing director and partner at BCG X, a division of Boston Consulting Group, who specializes in metaverse and Web3.
For example, the Apple Vision Pro, expected in the first half of 2024, is targeted at professional users at a high price point, Mérey said. Meta is pursuing a different strategy and targeting the mass market. "They're trying to cram good enough technology into as cheap as possible technology, like the Quest 3," he said. At $500, the Meta Quest 3 headset is 1/7th the cost of the Vision Pro, according to Mérey.
The Quest 3 was one of the top products sold on Amazon during Black Friday, he noted, "so we see that starting to make a dent and expect a strong finish with Christmas sales. That will also bring down friction for users because headsets will become better and cheaper across the board."
This will also make it more attractive for developers "to keep churning out games and apps, and also more economical for corporations to start equipping their workforces," Mérey said.
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.
In his 2022 primer on the metaverse, technology writer Matthew Ball defined the metaverse as having the following features:
- Massively scalable, interoperable, real-time 3D.
- Synchronous and persistent.
- Continuity of data, identity, history, entitlements, objects and payments across worlds.
Whether the metaverse becomes integrated into how we live and work remains open to question in 2024.
Enterprise use cases
Spatial computing experiences are becoming more predominant because of Vision Pro and Quest 3, said Marty Resnick, a vice president analyst at Gartner. "Virtual reality is interesting, but I think the real value [in the metaverse] comes from spatial computing … the holy grail … is to create glasses similar in form factor, weight, and size to what I wear."
This will allow users to have immersive virtual experiences while simultaneously interacting with the real world, which will enhance and change shopping, entertainment, and sporting events, Resnick said. "They will be deeply enhanced with more hyper experiences in spatial computing. That's why ChatGPT is so popular -- because everyone has access to it."
Interface technologies typically graduate from experimental tech to consumer toy to business tool, Bechtel noted. "Our Tech Trends 2024 research found that these techs will be rolling up their sleeves first in high-touch jobs," that is, industrial contexts where employees don't have free hands for phones and tablets. "They'll also be taken up by designers and engineers who want to be able to interact with their work in more concrete ways," he said.
Bechtel is also bullish on spatial computing, adding, "We've reached the peak screen. We've only room for so many 16x9 pixel beds in our built environment -- and simplicity always trumps tech. Spatial computing will allow our natural gestures and ways of interacting with the world to control digital realms, eliminating the need for screens as intermediaries."
The industrial metaverse will continue to be a big business use case. This year, in what was billed as the world's first virtual factory, BMW used digital twins of a factory to run simulations before opening a physical factory with NVIDIA's Omniverse platform. NVIDIA has announced plans to expand Omniverse for customers to deploy and manage industrial metaverse applications.
Other metaverse business use cases in 2024 will be for marketing and custom engagement, said Mérey.
12 metaverse platforms to know about in 2024
Here is a mix of the top consumer and enterprise-oriented metaverse platforms, listed alphabetically, to track in 2024.
As its name suggests, Decentraland bills itself as a "full decentralized metaverse … owned and governed by its users."
The popular Battle Royale game was developed by Epic Games in 2017. Fortnite continues to build new virtual spaces, experiences, events and even live concerts.
Metahero is a blockchain-based platform from Pixel Vault that aims to bring advanced 3D scanning and modeling technology to the forefront, enabling users to create digital avatars in a wide range of applications that include gaming, e-commerce, and healthcare.
Meta Horizon Workrooms
A virtual immersive office, Meta Horizon Workrooms is designed to let people work collaboratively, share presentations and brainstorm ideas either using a Meta Quest headset or online.
Microsoft Mesh is the successor to last year's Altspace platform, which Microsoft shut down and refocused on enterprise use cases and leveraging Teams to let users make online meetings and events more immersive.
Users can meet, share and work together in private 3D virtual spaces on Mozilla Hubs, powered by Mozilla. They can select avatars to represent them and share content with others in their room.
Built on Pixar's Universal Scene Description (OpenUSD), and Nvidia technologies, Omniverse lets users create generative AI-enabled 3D tools, applications and services.
A 3D gaming environment dating back to 2006, Roblox also has social media features, and lets users create avatars. Developers can use Roblox's 3D tools to create their own games and worlds.
The Rooom platform is designed to let users create and share immersive digital experiences in 3D, augmented reality and digital reality. It can be used for marketing, sales, education, events, and entertainment.
The Sandbox world is built on the Ethereum blockchain and represented by NFTs. It lets players buy, sell, and create digital assets. Anyone can create their own 3D games for free.
Second Life's virtual world was created by Linden Lab to let users have a virtual life -- avatars interact with other avatars, places, or objects, as well as play games and create and sell products.
The open source virtual reality Somnium Space world is built on Ethereum blockchain and lets users build virtual homes and buildings, play games, purchase virtual properties, and trade in digital assets.
What to expect in the future
More and more, organizations are using traditional gaming platforms to launch branded metaverse experiences to engage with younger audiences. Mérey, for one, believes this will only continue to grow as younger generations -- who spend hours in virtual worlds -- enter the workforce.
"Teens are truly connected with friends through games and they're staying connected typically for voice chat when they stop playing while doing homework," he explained.
"So they're already living in a form of the metaverse," he noted, "and they will speak to that behavior when they grow older … and start working. And that's what corporations are understanding today -- we need to be where our audiences are."
Esther Shein is a veteran freelance writer specializing in technology and business. A former senior writer at eWeek, she writes news, features, case studies and custom content.