Besides generating headlines and brand awareness, today’s businesses are actually beginning to work and communicate with their employees and customers daily using the Metaverse.
The Metaverse is on its way to becoming much more than just a buzzword. Companies today are trying to understand how best to adapt to this new framework of reality. David Whelan, founder, director and CEO of ENGAGE Plc., takes a closer look at what this entails for business and how the metaverse can be leveraged to improve operations and user experience.
We heard a lot about the term Metaverse since Facebook/Meta announced their plans, but what does it all really mean? What other players are out there, and should we look at investing time and money into this? Let’s explore a little.
What Is the Metaverse?
Put any five experts into a room, and you will get five different explanations of what the Metaverse is or is going to be. Many people believe that Metaverse NFTs and Cryptocurrency are all interlinked under the general term Metaverse. They are not. They are three separate technology branches with different use cases. The Metaverse is, in essence, an evolution of how we interact and communicate online using spatial locations and avatars, making the internet a more social space instead of the lonely experience it is today where you surf the web alone, looking at web pages posting comments on “social” platforms.
In the Metaverse, you are represented by a digital person, “your personal avatar,” which is visible to other users of the Metaverse. You can walk around and communicate with other visitors’ avatars the same as if you were walking around in an actual city talking to real people. If you are wearing a VR headset, not only can you talk to other users, but you can also interact with them naturally by reaching out and shaking their hands or collaborating with them on different tasks. The end-user gets the sense of being in a real place with real people instead of communicating via video screens where they are focused on looking directly into a webcam. This feeling of being present in this digital world is so real that you have to enforce personal boundaries just like you would in the real world, so nobody is standing right in your face.
This sense of presence is why the world’s biggest “social” media company is pouring billions of dollars into its Metaverse play, as this leap in communication technology is as important as the invention of the telephone, television and even the internet itself. Yes, we are certainly in the very early days of consumer-level VR/AR. However, only three years ago, I was providing demos to people using a $2000 gaming PC and $500 wired headset, whereas today, I can provide the same demo using a wireless headset that fits in my bag and costs less than $300. Technology moves quickly, and the Metaverse is already here and growing rapidly.
Who Are the Players?
Regardless of what many start-ups would like you to believe, not all are Metaverse companies. It’s a term many companies use to strengthen their investment case. Nearly every other video game company today is trying to tag the term Metaverse into their marketing in some way to look cool and sexy. However, some companies are truly leading the way. Facebook/Meta has a platform called Horizons, Microsoft has AltSpace, and other leading platforms currently include VR Chat & RecRoom.
Various Metaverse platforms have generated large valuations based on NTF transactions and implied digital scarcity for digital land, such as Decentraland and Sandbox, where brands and celebrities purchase digital plots for promotional use to build their mini-worlds. The most famous early example of a real metaverse is Second Life which was undoubtedly ahead of its time when released almost 20 years ago. Many of the core principles and core ideas that went into Second Life are being repeated today and copied by some of the platforms I mentioned above.
Many of the ideas and principles from Second Life work wonderfully. However, some concepts, such as digital scarcity, should not have been resurrected. In the physical world, we live on land, and it has value as there is an actual finite amount of it available on the earth, which cannot be changed. Capping digital land in a MetaWorld platform is like saying we will register no more URL domains for the internet as we don’t want any more websites coming online. This will eventually cause the platform’s demise when creatives cannot get a foothold as big corporates and marketing companies will own the domains or all the virtual land. If this were the case for the internet today, the entire world wide web would now be held by a handful of corporations and government agencies.
A common theme among all of the platforms mentioned above is that they are designed to appeal primarily to a younger audience and pride themselves on the social nature of the experience. Revenue is generated via in-app purchases for digital clothing and additional add-on tools such as 3D assets to help build personal locations and mini-games, which they can then sell on to other users if they wish.
How Are Businesses Using the Metaverse Today?
Many big brands are working on various Metaverse platforms for advertising and brand awareness, with clothing brands Nike building a mini world called Nikelandon Roblox and HSBC purchasing a digital plot of land on Sandbox. Besides generating headlines and brand awareness, today’s businesses are actually beginning to work and communicate with their employees and customers daily using the Metaverse framework platform called “ENGAGE.”
Companies such as 3M, HTC, BMW, Abbot and Fidelity have all used the ENGAGE framework for various business needs such as company onboarding, daily stand-ups, customer demonstrations, and large-scale events with educational clients such as Stanford University, Morehouse College, University of Maryland and New Mexico State University all setting up what they term “Metaversites” on the platform to provide remote education, unlike anything that can be produced via simple video-based streaming services.
A core driver for the adoption of ENGAGE as a Metaverse services platform for enterprise clients has been the move to remote/hybrid work practices from major companies due, in part, to the COVID pandemic and also the push to drive down carbon footprint from corporations globally. Many major corporations have real issues with remote work as employee morale can be low due to missing company culture and the feeling of being disconnected from the broader organization. This, in turn, causes low worker output and high employee turnover as they move from company to company, never feeling part of something bigger.
One company that has embraced this new world in 3M who have built a complete MetaWorld inside ENGAGE for employees called 3M Home. They have onboarding programs for new employees, safety training demonstrations, product design meetings and client demos inside their virtual world saving them time and money.
MetaWorlds and Beyond
MetaWorlds are always-on persistent locations where employees can meet and have that watercooler moment with a colleague if they wish or attend a companywide meeting or arrange one-to-one training just as if they were in a real physical office building. Because of the spatial nature of these locations, professional events have also been a real driver for adoption, replacing physical events during the pandemic. People attend actual events not just to watch keynote presentations but also to have those off chance meetings randomly with other attendees, which generates new business ideas, connections, and customers. This is not possible on a video streaming service where the presenter is on screen, and all the attendees are just text messaging each other. Having a spatial event inside your MetaWorld allows users to walk around freely and explore exhibit halls and speak privately to people if needed or walk up to sales stands to gather info on products and services from sales reps.
MetaWorlds can be used to replicate everything we can do in the real world inexpensively and remotely. However, companies are now seeing past this with corporate events such as a recent XPrize event inside a giant arcade cabinet or HTC’s latest hardware launch in a virtual cloud environment. The possibilities are endless, and companies with the best creative minds will flourish in this new digital landscape. Those companies that try to replicate old-world business practices in the MetaVerse will struggle to find an audience, whereas the MetaVerse can usher in a new way of thinking when it comes to employment, customer outreach and social gatherings.