The other day I got my boarding pass for the next NASA mission to Mars. It is going to happen in July 2026. Actually the boarding pass entitles me only to put my name on board of the mission (with a couple of million other people who are likely signing up to this campaign). But, hell, the mission to Mars is real nevertheless and less than four years away. It is different with the Metaverse though: neither it is real yet, nor will it be in four years – or even ever.
Admittingly, some form of the Metaverse does exist already: in lofty PR stunts by interested Big Tech companies, with the namesake Meta and snake-oil salesman Zuckerberg taking the lead. You will also read a lot from the Big Four and other ‘trendsetting’ consulting companies about how important the Metaverse is going to be and how you now need to prepare for it. Consulting companies like them strive on uncertainty and future disruption scenarios – that is the fundamental driver of their business. I know, I am a consultant, too, and pretend to know all about the future and how you can navigate it. Yet, I am also a hands-on guy who looks behind the smokes and mirrors; and the Metaverse is full of them.
For one, the Metaverse is essentially going to be a universe of interconnected virtual worlds. Besides the consulting companies, who want to help you master the future (including my own company), it is mainly Big Tech and other related business, that want to create these virtual worlds. A few of these worlds are ‘real’; in that they are already being populated by many users. Names like Roblox and Minecraft come to mind. It is particularly the gaming industry that is probably most advanced in creating the Metaverse. Now you also understand, why more traditional media and tech companies rush to buy themselves into the gaming industry: because you will find the best expertise, the most experience and unique developments there in regard to Metaverse technologies and adaptions.
These virtual worlds are all little Metaverses in their own right. They are not THE Metaverse though.
What is the Metaverse?
Maybe lets explain what is a common definition of the Metaverse (as outlined by Matthew Ball in “The Metaverse”, 2022): The Metaverse is going to be more than the Internet today and will extremely rely on virtual worlds, that are all interconnected and interoperable. The experience will be a live, simultaneous with real-time rendered images; all massively scaled and synchronized, so that everyone in this Metaverse has exactly the same experience than everyone else at the exact moment. It is persistent and via 3D interface almost real; and accessible by everyone and everywhere.
If someone had written such a description a couple of decades ago, you would think they want to chase the mysterious “White Elephant”: everyone thinks he exists, but no one ever has seen him. Likewise, the Metaverse is more of a concept at this stage or a theory. Still, companies are betting billions of dollars on it to become reality. Which it likely will in some form. But only in a decade or even later, if ever. Because of some major obstacles and predicaments, that need to be overcome before: Firstly, interoperability between the various ‘virtual worlds’ is not here yet and will not come in the foreseeable future. Secondly, transferability between these worlds is essential the basis of a Metaverse rather than a selection of various virtual worlds, that are not interconnected or not able to allow one experience / user identity with all its assets into the other. Standardization for this will not happen either, as Big Tech likes Meta will try everything possible to push their own standard as the only one. Furthermore, the computer resources that are needed to make Metaverse happen are so massive that it is unlikely that we all will have access to such big computing capabilities. And also: there is no true, immediate live experience via internet or any net at all possible yet. We know, all we consider live streaming etc is not truly live: there is always a delay, even miniscule. Just think of the last video conference you had: was everything smooth and brilliant? Probably not.
Whats the trouble with the Metaverse?
The trouble with the Metaverse is that it is currently pushed by Big Tech and other interested parties. For sure, the Metaverse will be a big business and will impact most of our lives…. eventually. Naturally, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. I am just afraid, there are too many different bandwagons and they all pull in different directions. All of them trying to pull the Metaverse into their camp and creating their own version of it. My concern and my likely scenario is that we end up initially with a multitude of different Metaverses. All basically a virtual world of its own, yet with different technologies, services, experiences and interfaces. You will need to decide which ‘world’ you are going to be a part of. As a company that might mean you invest in various different scenarios or you risk to settle only for one of them, hoping it is the one that succeeds.
While the Metaverse Gurus predict a shiny, free and equal new world order, it will be the contrary: a lot of different worlds, divided by pure commercial interest and ready to exploit your data. Given the growing political divide across the world, within nations and even families and friends, my concern is that the creation of various different virtual worlds will bring us even more apart. For one, I cannot imagine that the Chinese or Russian regimes allow their citizens to wander freely through the Metaverse; for other I do not see the major Big Tech companies making it easy for you to leave their realm and join another competitor’s world.
The trouble does not stop here: I just don’t see the majority of the people being willing and interested to wear headsets most of the day in order to enjoy and experience the VR and AR aspects of the Metaverse, which are an essential part of it. This will not only be uncomfortable but also ends up to be a ‘lean-in’ experience rather than a ‘lean-back’ experience. One of the reasons why traditional TV has never become out of fashion is the fact that you can enjoy the entertainment without doing anything yourself. You lean back, relax and let the show begin. Metaverse will ask you to be much more engaged, interactive and present – and you have to wear that thing.
Metaverse is looking at the wrong target group
This brings me to another limiting factor: demographics and in particular age. I doubt that the generation 50+ is ever becoming involved in the Metaverse as that it creates a critical mass. In my opinion, the Metaverse concept is addressing the future generation of users that are now maybe in their 20s or younger. But my guess is that these generations will actually be more interested in real-life experiences rather than spending hours on end in front of a screen. Plus, these generations will struggle to make a living: fighting the collapse of mother Earth, dealing with economic downturns and the decoupling of the world into ideological blocks, and so on. The 50+ generation will have reservations about wearing headsets and they have not had the nonchalant exposure to gaming like other generations. Gaming is the casual drug use that leads to heavier experiences (aka Metaverse). However, it is the 50+ demographic that has the money, the time and the clout to make a technology and user development stick and successful. This is in particular true for all Western/ northern Hemisphere markets -and that are those that will excel Metaverse or spell doom.
If you are an Audiovisual, Broadcasting or TV Company: Go all in!
Now, after all my skepticism about the Metaverse, I need to stress that I think it will be coming in some of its manifestations. Most likely, as said above, in a variety of formats and ‘galaxies’ – instead of one unified Metaverse. You will see more Metaverse type experiences from now and as a media company – especially if you are in the broadcasting or audiovisual business – want to get slowly involved. Actually, make it moderately faster than slowly only. Because, video experience and live events is going to lead the way for more mass appeal for the Metaverse. I see quite some potential for live broadcasting of events (sports, concerts, rallies, performances, conferences, etc) in the Metaverse and that is probably one of the areas where it becomes real rather sooner than later. One of the great benefits of the Metaverse in such forms of experiences is that it can be a more inclusive one: it should be easier for everyone to access it (e.g. everyone with or without a disability can access it from the comfort of his or her home). It can also be a more equal and open experience and breaking up ghettos and bubbles. Albeit I am very concerned that it can also achieve the sheer opposite of this inclusive, equal and open society. That is where we all need to be alert and get involve in how standards are defined for the Metaverse, by the way!
Because video is such an instrumental element of the Metaverse, you want to look at Video Games as a learning experience. More than that: if you have the pocket money (probably you need slightly more than that, though) and the aspiration, I suggest you buy yourself into a video gaming business. The combination of gaming and video – and then top it off with gaming for 50+ – is becoming a central path to more Metaverse types of worlds. Gamification is a trend in itself, that you should not miss (again also in light of changing demographics and aging societies). Video gaming companies have experimented with the virtual world and how to use video technology in an effective and efficient way since their very beginning. This is something you can piggyback on when it comes to creating first concepts for your own Metaverse service as a broadcaster or audiovisual service. Did I mention that sports basically renders itself by its very definition for such ventures? Ah, you probably guessed it yourself.
Looking at Benefit and Impact in the Metaverse: Education
One other area where I see potential and benefit from Metaverse worlds is in education: we need to invest massively in education of all forms. Again, the aging societies require us to find ways of providing life-long learning methods and experiences. The pandemic also showed how old-fashioned our education systems are and that we can achieve much more if we move some of the education into the internet and, soon, into the Metaverse. It takes only a little imagination on how you can use virtual worlds to inform, educate and teach people. It can indeed be a wonderful way of learning for everyone and that is hopefully an impact of the Metaverse that we will witness soon.
If you look at the history, you will see that media formats like Television have encompassed new technologies with major delay. Heck, we still have analogue TV in some parts of the world. Streaming has only hit it in the last couple of years, yet the technology has existed for more than twenty years. The digitalization of broadcasting was and still is a long process that lasts decades already. Likewise, TV, Broadcasting and audiovisual industries will slowly come to terms with Metaverse and its offsprings. However, I would caution to take a backseat: Metaverse will come ( I just can’t tell you when) and some of its versions do already exist. Other than digital technology per se or the internet at large, will the Metaverse heavily rely on video experiences. That is basically your hometurf, if you are in the audiovisual business somehow. You better want to get acquainted with the Metaverse concept and see what you can contribute to it and what your little or big world is going to look like in the near Meta-Future. Luckily, there are consultants like me who can help you with that (I needed to get a sales pitch in here, to warrant the time spent on writing such a long article…)
Finally, may I say it with the words of J.R.R Tolkien in ‘Lord of the Rings’: “Sometimes there are ventures that you need to begin, without knowing their outcome. Even if the end is somewhere in the shadows”. Let us all work on a Metaverse that is not becoming a version of Mordor; let us make it a Rivendell instead.
PS: In case you were wondering about my boarding pass for the NASA Mars Mission. Here it is.