Beware expensive consultants wielding flashy new slideware touting “cutting-edge knowledge” on something called “metaverse,” a catch-all term covering many sins, including virtual reality, geospacing technology, blockchain, and Web3. Some even describe linking automation and RPA to the big new metaverse.
Before you sign a metaverse deal, ensure you know what you are buying and how well it meets your needs and expectations. Make sure you are not simply funding Mark Zuckerberg’s multi-billion-dollar rebrand of his organization, formerly Facebook.
What the metaverse is—and what it isn’t
In our A-Z of Web3, HFS defines the metaverse as “shorthand for a virtual space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users via digital versions of themselves.” The metaverse cannot be owned; it can only be contributed to and participated in, much like the internet. It is the experience interface for Web3. Read our primer on Web3.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: The metaverse does not exist beyond some early experimentation. There are no real-world examples of true business-aligned metaverse situations outside of a few retail concepts and videogames played with VR headsets, which technically are not metaverse as these are environments controlled or owned by corporates. To date, every manifestation of “it” has been a representation of what a tiny part of it could be like. Why? Because the true metaverse is as open and traversable as the world wide web. It can be game-changing—but it is not yet more than an ambitious idea (Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1: The true metaverse remains in the realm of interesting thought experiments
Source: HFS Research, 2022
Any instance of the experience interface should be interoperable with all other instances, just as a website must be an interoperable part of the internet. Replicating that interoperability will make the metaverse. That will take standards, and while work is beginning, it is far from complete. Some observers think it may be a decade away. HFS thinks it will arrive with Web3, where standards are maturing, beyond the ownership of corporates or other centralized entities.
“Metaverse” is being used as a marketing umbrella for a menu of capabilities
Metaverse has become a marketing label summing up a group of capabilities. Many service providers are relabeling capabilities you were already at least partially familiar with. These include a selection from those listed in Exhibit 2. The combination sold under the metaverse banner depends as much on who you speak to as it does on the use case.
Exhibit 2. The “metaverse” menu—any of these are likely to be packaged up under the metaverse banner
1. Definitions in our A-Z of Web3
Source: HFS Research, 2022
We’ve spoken with service providers who say they have 1,000-plus people working on metaverse projects. They mean that they have 1,000-plus people doing the same job they did last year (in VR, online events, blockchain, etc.) who are now under a metaverse organizational umbrella.
Metaverse could follow “digital” into obscurity, but today’s industry is less tolerant of ill-defined fluff
You only need to look back 10 years to how Accenture packaged capabilities in analytics, social, mobile, and cloud to launch its Accenture Digital practice, creating a moniker for a whole industry to follow. But Accenture never defined it well, and it has become a catch-all phrase for whatever people want it to be.
Simply put, if you can take some archaic set of processes, automate them, and get them into the cloud, you can achieve “digital transformation,” when really all you did was take something dysfunctional and make it ready for a modern organization.
The way digital was dumbed down is a distinct possibility for the metaverse if marketeers are allowed free rein to hype it. We cling to the hope that today’s world is less accepting of ill-defined, fashion-led buzzwords.
Make sure you are working to the same definition
When suppliers pitch you “metaverse,” ask for their precise definition. If what they are pitching aligns with your need, all is good. It’s all about your intent. If you just want to experiment in digital 3D worlds, all parties need to be honest about the limits of what you will be able to learn.
In most cases, what is being sold is some form of 3D experience virtualization, accessed through the kind of internet browser found on everyone’s laptops and phones. Experiments here can enhance customer experience. If you’ve played digital games, you’ll feel right at home in the experience.
Specialized cases will require more immersive technologies, such as additional hardware like a VR headset and, on rare occasions, haptic (replicating physical sensation) wearables. These are more likely to be proffered to support training needs for everyone from aircrew to healthcare professionals.
All these technologies can create business value. But engaging with them alone won’t reveal the business impact and opportunities of the “real” metaverse in its role as the experience interface for Web3.
Add a dash of “secret sauce” to get a real taste of metaverse
To learn about Web3 and accelerate your journey to the true metaverse, select your combination of dishes in Exhibit 2 from the metaverse menu’s “something new” and “old favorites” columns, and add a dash of secret sauce
For example, in Web3, you don’t get to own customer data. Look for offers that involve blockchain to get a taste of that future and help you formulate a future-facing data strategy. Blockchain powers NFTs—the darling of the marketing department—and is front-and-center in all crypto-to-DeFi conversations. Blockchain’s smart contracts also enable supply chain and provenance validation opportunities.
For the reasons outlined in AI holds the cards when everyone has the same access to data in Web3, you will need to consider the role of AI in responding to customer need in the HFS One Ecosystem future that Web3 enables.
Get your grounding in Web3 with the try-it-yourself tips we share in Web3 will go mainstream—when to expect it and how to prepare.
The Bottom Line: Select wisely from the metaverse menu to meet the scope of your ambitions.
What they call what they sell you doesn’t matter if it meets your business need. You can find value in 3D virtualizations in use cases like training, testing store layouts, try-before-you-fly vacation lets, and beyond, all of which can be achieved with current technologies and the current version of the web.
To test and learn your way toward meeting the business challenges of the new paradigm of Web3 and the true metaverse, demand clear definitions from your supplier, question proposals where blockchain plays no role, and look for what you can learn from applying AI.