Imagine a virtual world where billions of people live, piece of work, store, learn and interact with each other — all from the comfort of their couches in the physical earth.
In this world, the computer screens we use today to connect to a worldwide web of data have go portals to a 3D virtual realm that’s palpable — like real life, only bigger and meliorate. Digital facsimiles of ourselves, or avatars, move freely from one experience to some other, taking our identities and our money with us.
This is known as the metaverse and, hype nonetheless, it does non exist today.
What are enterprise leaders to make of a fast-evolving, hyped-up concept that could fundamentally change how humans alive? TechTarget’due south in-depth guide to the metaverse breaks downwardly where this nascent technology revolution stands today and where it is headed. Topics include the technologies and platforms that back up the metaverse, its benefits and challenges, how to invest in it, its history, why the metaverse is important and its impact on the future of work.
Throughout the guide, there are hyperlinks to in-depth explorations of these and other relevant topics, as well as to definitions of important concepts in the metaverse such as interoperability, digital twins, spatial computing and Web 3.0.
What is the metaverse? A short history
The metaverse is a vision of what many in the reckoner industry believe is the next iteration of the internet: a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual infinite where humans experience life in means they could not in the concrete earth.
Some of the technologies that provide access to this virtual world, such every bit virtual reality (VR) headsets and augmented reality (AR) glasses, are evolving quickly; other critical components of the metaverse, such as adequate bandwidth or interoperability standards, are probably years off or might never materialize.
The concept is not new: The term
was coined in 1992 by author Neal Stephenson in his sci-fi novel
Snow Crash, and work on the technologies that underpin a virtual reality-based internet date back decades (run into metaverse history timeline below).
Why is the metaverse important?
“Metaverse” became a household discussion when Facebook rebranded its corporate identity to Meta in October 2021 and announced plans to invest at least $10 billion in the concept that year. In addition to Meta, tech giants including Google, Microsoft, Nvidia and Qualcomm are besides investing billions of dollars in the concept. Management consultancy McKinsey & Company has bullishly predicted that the metaverse economic system could reach $v trillion by 2030. E-commerce is expected to be the dominant engine, with gaming, entertainment, teaching and marketing in the metaverse also condign important sectors.
Today, companies employ the term to refer to many different types of enhanced online environments. These range from online video games like Fortnite to fledgling virtual workplaces like Microsoft’southward Mesh or Meta’s Horizon Workrooms to virtual dressing rooms and virtual operating rooms. Rather than a single shared virtual space, the current version of the metaverse is shaping up as a multiverse: a multitude of metaverses with limited interoperability as companies jockey for position.
The combination of uncritical enthusiasm for the metaverse and deep dubiety well-nigh how information technology volition pan out has sparked some backlash. Industry watchers have questioned if the metaverse will ultimately be much different from the digital experiences we have today — or, if information technology is, whether the masses will exist willing to spend hours a day in a headset navigating digital space.
Other futurists, however, argue that while it is early days for the metaverse and central technical barriers still be, the metaverse will happen. And, it will go far with a big bang.
“It is clear that information technology is 1 of the most highly anticipated engineering science evolutions of the coming decade,” Dave Wright, main innovation officer at IT provider ServiceNow, told TechTarget writer George Lawton in “History of the metaverse explained.”
How does the metaverse work?
Because the metaverse is largely unbuilt, there is piddling understanding on how it will work.
Broadly speaking, however, the metaverse is a digital ecosystem built on various kinds of 3D technology, real-fourth dimension collaboration software and blockchain-based decentralized finance tools.
Factors such equally the degree of interoperability among virtual worlds, data portability, governance and user interfaces will depend on how the metaverse pans out.
Lauren Lubetsky, senior manager at Bain & Visitor, speaking in a session on the metaverse at the 2022 MIT Platform Strategy Elevation, outlined three possible scenarios:
- The metaverse remains a domain of niche applications, used by consumers for entertainment and gaming but stopping well short of an all-encompassing virtual reality.
- The metaverse is controlled by big competing ecosystems — for example, Apple and Android meta worlds — with limited interoperability.
- The metaverse is a dynamic, open and interoperable space, much similar the internet only in 3D.
How is the metaverse accessed?
Two technologies considered important to the development and growth of the metaverse are virtual reality and augmented reality:
- Virtual reality is a simulated 3D environs that enables users to interact with a virtual surrounding in a way that approximates reality as perceived through our senses. This approximation of reality is now typically accessed through a VR headset that takes over a user’southward field of vision. Haptics, including gloves, vests and fifty-fifty total-body tracking suits, enable more lifelike interaction with the virtual environs.
- Augmented reality is less immersive than VR. It adds digital overlays on top of the real earth via a lens of some blazon. Users can still collaborate with their real-world environment. The game Pokémon Become is an early instance of AR. Google Glass and heads-up displays in car windshields are well-known consumer AR products.
Whether VR and AR experiences turn out to be the principal interfaces of the metaverse remains to be seen, Gartner senior primary analyst Tuong H. Nguyen told Lawton, adding that what we have now are precursors or pre-metaverse solutions.
Now, many of the metaverse-similar experiences offered by gaming platforms such as Roblox, Decentraland and Minecraft tin can be accessed through browsers or mobile devices and a fast net connection.
In her article “7 peak technologies for metaverse development,” technology author Esther Shein explained that industry watchers shy away from codifying the technologies that volition ability the metaverse. This is in part because the metaverse is evolving and partly because many of the tools driving the metaverse are themselves made upward of multiple technologies.
Gartner, for example, prefers to describe metaverse technologies in terms of “tech themes.” The themes include spatial computing, digital humans, shared experiences, gaming and tokenized avails. Forrester Inquiry characterizes metaverse tools as “enablers of 3D development environments.” Professionals skilled in 3D modeling and IoT for developing digital twins are amid the talent companies volition need to recruit for.
The consensus amidst Shein’s expert sources was that these seven technologies will accept the biggest impact on metaverse development over the side by side decade:
- bogus intelligence
- cyberspace of things
- extended reality
- brain-computer interfaces
- 3D modeling and reconstruction
- spatial and edge computing
What is the metaverse used for today?
The online gaming industry has decades-long experience in creating immersive virtual worlds. And to the extent a proto-metaverse has a mainstream use, the massive audiences that flock — albeit not synchronously — to the likes of Roblox, Epic Games and Decentraland suggest that playing games, building virtual worlds and investing in real estate might be it.
Enterprises are experimenting with metaverse applications in the workplace that build on the virtual applications companies deployed during the pandemic to support remote piece of work. An early on awarding of metaverse technologies involves workplace training. Some hospitals are already using VR and AR to train for common medical procedures, reported TechTarget news writer Esther Ajao. One technology recently approved by the FDA is Medivis, an AR surgical arrangement that lets surgeons quickly sync with a hospital’south digital imaging organisation. Other metaverse-type applications she wrote virtually in her article, “Enterprise applications of the metaverse slow merely coming,” include the post-obit:
Digital twin avatars
These twins will non but exist on computer screens only volition be rendered as AI-powered holograms or holographic images that are assigned tasks, Ajao reported. A CEO, for example, could actuate an AI-powered hologram of himself to engage with multiple stakeholder groups at once.
Metaverse for work collaboration.
Enterprises are starting to utilize the metaverse to add “an element of realism” to remote piece of work experiences, said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder. This includes setting up 3D rooms where employees can collaborate.
How practice NFTs fit into the metaverse?
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) figure to play a big role in the usefulness and popularity of the metaverse. NFTs are a secure blazon of digital asset based on the same blockchain technology used by cryptocurrency. Instead of currency, an NFT can represent a slice of art, a song or digital real manor. An NFT gives the owner a kind of digital deed or proof of ownership that can be bought or sold in the metaverse.
Metaverse Group bills itself every bit the world’s first virtual real estate company. It acts as an agent to facilitate the purchase or rental of property or land in several metaverse virtual worlds, including Decentraland, Sandbox, Somnium and Upland. Offerings include briefing and commercial spaces, art galleries, family homes and “hangout spots.”
While the metaverse has created opportunities for new companies such every bit Metaverse Group to offer digital goods, established brick-and-mortar companies are likewise jumping in. For example, Nike acquired RTFKT, a startup that makes one-of-a-kind virtual sneakers and digital artifacts using NFTs, blockchain authentication and augmented reality. On its website, RTFKT said it was “born on the metaverse, and this has defined its feel to this twenty-four hours.”
Prior to the conquering, Nike filed seven trademark applications to help create and sell virtual sneakers and apparel. Nike and Roblox also partnered on “Nikeland,” a digital world where Nike fans can play games, connect and dress their avatars in virtual clothes.
“NFTs and blockchain lay the background for digital ownership,” said Nick Donarski, co-founder of Ore System, an online community of gamers, content creators and game developers. “Ownership of one’due south real-globe identity will deport over to the metaverse, and NFTs will exist this vehicle.”
Read more than most how to start investing in the metaverse hither.
These iii well-known software vendors have their ain metaverse visions.
“From now on, we will exist metaverse-first, non Facebook-outset,” wrote CEO Marker Zuckerberg in his Oct 2021 annunciation of the branding change. That’s an of import change because information technology means users eventually won’t need a Facebook business relationship to use other services in the metaverse. Amongst other non-Facebook products, Meta has already sold millions of its Meta Quest — formerly Oculus — VR headset units for navigating the metaverse.
In the Meta annunciation, Zuckerberg said the company aims to accelerate the development of the fundamental technologies, including social platforms and creative tools, required to “bring the metaverse to life.” Afterwards the rebrand news dropped in late 2021, Meta launched Horizon Worlds, a VR space that users can navigate as an avatar, along with tools for developers to create additional virtual worlds. Meta’due south massive investment in the metaverse is considered a gamble by investors as the company experiences revenue declines and layoffs in an uncertain economic system.
Ballsy Games, makers of the pop online shooter game Fortnite — with some 350 million users — and the Unreal Engine software for game developers, planned to stake a claim in the metaverse following a $1 billion round of funding in 2021. This included $200 million from Sony Group Corp.
Epic Games’ vision of the metaverse differs from Meta’s in that information technology wants to provide a communal space for users to interact with each other and brands — without a news feed riddled with ads.
The metaverse is coming to Microsoft Teams, the software giant’s online meetings competitor to Zoom. The new service lets Teams users in different physical locations join collaborative and shared holographic experiences during virtual meetings. The platform includes a suite of AI-powered tools for avatars, session management, spatial rendering, synchronization across multiple users and “holoportation” — a 3D capture engineering that lets users reconstruct and transmit high-quality 3D models of people in real time. At its October 2022 Ignite conference, the software giant launched in private preview a feature that lets people create and use avatars in place of live video during Teams meetings.
Microsoft is working with professional services firm Accenture to create Mesh-enabled immersive spaces. Accenture hires more than 100,000 people every year and uses Microsoft Mesh to assist onboard new employees. New hires meet on Teams to receive instructions on how to create a digital avatar and access One Accenture Park, a shared virtual space that’s part of the onboarding process. The futuristic amusement park-like infinite includes a central briefing room, a virtual boardroom and digital monorails that new hires use to travel to different exhibits.
When is a full-fledged metaverse coming?
While the bones idea of being able to engage in a virtual online earth has been effectually for many years, a true metaverse where lifelike interactions are possible seems years away. In his 2021 yr in review blog mail, for example, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates noted that most people don’t accept the VR goggles and movement capture gloves to accurately represent their expression, body language and quality of their vocalization.
For business concern, however, Gates predicted that in the next two to three years near virtual meetings will move from two-dimensional square boxes to the metaverse — a 3D space with participants appearing as digital avatars (see section below, “How should businesses fix for the metaverse?”).
How will the metaverse affect the time to come?
It must be underscored that the metaverse is even so a prepare of possibilities, not a reality. In that location are many unknowns. How exactly the metaverse will become manifest — who will control it, what it will encompass and how much of an impact information technology will have on our lives — is still up for debate. At one end of the spectrum are those who believe the metaverse volition heighten our lives, enabling experiences we could non accept in the physical globe. Metaverse skeptics view it equally merely an extension of the digital experiences we have today but non transformative — and potentially something worse: a magnifier of the current social media ills, including disinformation campaigns, addictive behavior and tendencies toward violence.
In a 2022 survey performed in conjunction with Elon University’south Imagining the Internet Centre, Pew Research Center asked 624 technology innovators, business organization leaders and activists about the impact of the metaverse by 2040. The response was split. According to the report, 54% of these experts said they expect the metaverse will be a fully immersive, well-functioning aspect of daily life for at least a half-billion people globally, and 46% said information technology volition not be.
Similarly, a contempo survey of 4,600 business concern and technology leaders conducted by Accenture found that 71% of executives believe the metaverse volition have a positive impact on their organization, but only 42% believe it volition be a breakthrough or transformational development.
How should businesses prepare for the metaverse?
Creating successful metaverse work environments volition crave far more than than grafting existing office spaces and protocols onto virtual spaces, co-ordinate to employment experts interviewed by engineering writer Lawton. Indeed, early on research suggests that simply translating existing offices into a 3D virtual equivalent tin can reduce productivity and even cause nausea and motion sickness.
Still, like the net in the 1990s, the metaverse represents an opportunity to “shrink the globe,” said Andrew Hawken, co-founder and CEO of Mesmerise, a VR technology vendor. Done correct, the experts Lawton interviewed said, metaverse technologies could increase teleworker camaraderie, improve collaboration, speed up training, reduce the need for part infinite and make piece of work a happier identify in full general. The metaverse will also eliminate jobs, requiring companies to reskill workers, said Frank Diana, managing partner and futurist at Tata Consultancy Services.
Lawton described eight height use cases in detail in “How will the metaverse affect the future of work?” Here are three:
Enhancing teamwork and collaboration.
Instead of the whiteboards, pasty notes and large screen monitors that are the staples of in-person ideation, teams could, for example, “transport themselves to the Louvre Museum for inspiration,” Diana said. A digital twin replication of a edifice could theoretically enable architects to collaborate with clients in real fourth dimension on layouts and pinpoint problems and opportunities in advance of building out the space.
Enabling faster learning.
Interactive gameplay and simulations could speed upwards learning and improve outcomes by, for instance, enabling employees to learn how to operate equipment as if in “real life” or to practice a sales pitch for a big-coin client.
The metaverse could brand it easier for executives and managers to visit a mill, distribution center or construction site on the other side of the world, shaking hands with employees and doing inspections every bit if on site.
Metaverse pros and cons, challenges
No matter what grade the metaverse takes, cybersecurity and privacy standards loom as major challenges.
As security expert Ashwin Krishnan explained in his companion manufactures on metaverse cybersecurity challenges and privacy concerns, the current lack of privacy regulations for the metaverse presents many risks for businesses and users, including the following:
- misapplication and applicability of current privacy regulations, such equally GDPR;
- intrusive and extensive information collection;
- problems apropos data rights and ownership;
- exploitation of minors; and
- user-to-user privacy.
What will the coming engineering revolution mean for boilerplate user? For her article on metaverse pros and cons, technology announcer Mary K. Pratt interviewed analysts, consultants, business organisation executives and researchers on the metaverse’s potential benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side, an immersive metaverse enables humans to go where they were never able to go before, including outer space. Online social connections become much richer. Of class, the bad behavior witnessed on social platforms has the potential to be magnified in a virtual world. Findings are summed up in the chart below.