The metaverse is here, right?
Bloomberg predicts the metaverse market size will reach as much as $800 billion by 2024. Meta (formerly Facebook) has already invested $10 billion into it, while Microsoft and other tech players are following suit.
With all the press attention garnered by Meta, The Sandbox and Decentraland, you’d think the metaverse is right around the corner for everyday Americans. After conducting research shared in a related blog post, Marketing the Metaverse, I’m not so sure, and here’s why.
In this article, I outline seven hurdles the metaverse must overcome in order to achieve critical mass.
Technology adoption curve
In 1876, inventor Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent for the modern telephone. It took 30 years for adoption to reach a tipping point. For email, it took approximately 20 years. Facebook hit 1 billion users in just 8 years.
Unfortunately for the metaverse, the concept has a long history and yet adoption is still relatively low. In 1978, NASA developed the viable first virtual reality setup. Sega released the first game system headset in 1991 and Generation X and baby boomers got to see what the metaverse might look like in the 1994 film, Disclosure. Surprisingly, little has changed since then.
The first universally adopted virtual world platform (aka metaverse), Second Life, launched in 2003 and is still around today, although it averages fewer than one million users. When Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Horizon Worlds in late 2021, the legless avatars looked oddly like Nintendo Wii characters, circa 2006. That’s a bit surprising, since Facebook purchased Oculus (now Meta Quest) in 2014, so they had nearly 8 years to evolve the headset and the metaverse. If previous adoption curves are overlayed on metaverse-related technologies, virtual reality is a laggard, and I know why. Below are five hurdles developers, designers and marketers must address.
The first hurdle to mass adoption is the hardware required to join the metaverse.
Prior to Google’s release of Cardboard in 2015, the headset component of virtual reality (the gateway to the true metaverse) was prohibitively expensive ($600 for Oculus). Google’s cardboard viewer was virtually free (starting at $9). Even today, the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset will set you back $300. That is a high barrier to entry for what most consumers would consider a frivolous purchase (vs. an Xbox One S, which costs the same and doesn’t require a VR headset, yet is compatible with Roblox or Epic Games’ Fortnite platforms).
Instead of being accessible and inclusive, headsets are still in the realm of exclusivity which hinders adoption. Until headsets dip below $50, I don’t expect the average consumer will invest, and that may be another 5-to 10 years out.
Another key hurdle to metaverse adoption is the seamlessness of the experience.
We’ve all been trained to work at a desk all day, check our phones every 10 minutes and play immersive games like Fortnite on our desktops or game consoles. These seamless activities are hardly more challenging than watching TV.
The metaverse, however, is currently a different story. Setting up a VR headset can be challenging and cumbersome. Interacting in the metaverse is clumsy and slow compared to phones, computers and TVs (due in part to 360-degree rendering requirements). I’m not confident consumers will ever feel VR headsets are seamless nor will interact using them for any length of time in the virtual world. That is, at least until the hardware and software are improved dramatically in terms of graphics, speed and user experience.
In my previous metaverse article, I mentioned my initial text experience in Second Life was laughable (it was a place to hang out with fellow furries). The clunky, awkward experience is similar to what I’m hearing described by other early metaverse adopters, 14 years later.
There is a serious lack of value and purpose in today’s metaverse, unlike the earlier high-utility applications developed by NASA to train astronauts, for example. If you haven’t tried VR headsets, you can see the approximate experience in this video. Until useful content and applications increase saturation, most metaverse visitors will experience a virtual ghost town.
One of my arguments for the metaverse being viable is the potential to create community. The metaverse lives in the intersection of key technologies including blockchain, NFTs and gaming. Consumers have embraced virtual communities, especially since COVID-19 hit. More people, especially Generation Y and Gen Z, communicate and collaborate on technology platforms like Minecraft or other game platforms instead of hanging out in person, on Slack or other social networks.
The sad reality is that the metaverse can only create community with critical mass, which is only true today for very niche groups of early adopters and gamers. While that will change over time, the value of the metaverse is limited by the user base and UX.
The digital world promises transactional capabilities (i.e., e-commerce) and the metaverse can deliver in spades, as it’s built on blockchain technology. Disappointingly, today’s metaverse implementations lack seamless e-commerce, and force users looking to buy NFTs or other assets via cryptocurrency, to visit websites outside of the metaverse to complete transactions.
This is clearly a short-term issue, but the lack of ability to easily transact with other users or brands severely limits the value and potential of the metaverse.
Given the opportunity to place a bet on the next big technology, I would put my money on augmented reality (AR), as it meets all of the criteria or “hurdles” I’ve outlined above. Via your smartphone, AR is accessible (think Pokemon Go), seamless (think Snapchat lenses), has tremendous utility (think the Google Translate app), creates community (think WhatsApp or TikTok) and provides commerce capabilities at every turn.
Unlike AR, metaverse proponents will tout the platform’s ability to create human connections in a virtual world. That sounds good in theory, but the reality is that consumers crave human interaction. The metaverse may fall short today but will eventually navigate the hurdles outlined above. Don’t hold your breath fellow marketers, but do keep your finger on the pulse and be ready to jump in with both feet in the coming years.
Kent Lewis is president and founder of Anvil Media, a measurable marketing agency based in Portland, Ore. He’s also co-founder of SEMpdx and was named AMA Marketer of the Year. For more information, visit www.anvilmediainc.com.
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