When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in October 2021 that the brand would be changing its name to Meta, most people didn’t know what to think of it. After all, it took years to build Facebook into a brand name known in just about every corner of the planet, so people were left asking a few questions, most importantly, what does Meta mean or stand for? In the subsequent months, more information has been revealed about this name and how it relates to what many experts believe is the next big step in the tech revolution – the metaverse. Many companies are beginning to jump on board with the metaverse, hoping to catch this latest tech wave to reap what they believe are untapped profit potential. An examination of the metaverse does reveal that there is in fact plenty of potential, but brands that decide to take the journey into the metaverse and hope to be successful will have to understand how they can develop this new technology to give consumers a better experience.
There’s no doubt that the metaverse will involve plenty of money, as it does already. For example, the virtual reality (VR) market, which is part of metaverse technology, is expected to exceed $180 billion in 2026 and will likely far exceed that once the technology is more widely accepted. But before examining the potential benefits of the metaverse for consumers and companies, it’s important to define exactly what it is.
The metaverse refers to things, such as work and play, that can be done completely in an online “world.” The metaverse is a fully immersive internet where participants use VR headsets and avatars of themselves to interact with other people in a variety of different environments.
While the metaverse is primarily known for gaming, companies are developing ways for people to work and conduct day-to-day business in the metaverse, while other companies are eyeing the metaverse as a way to expand their branding. And as the metaverse expands and more developed infrastructure is needed, more business opportunities will open. So, let’s take a look at the background of the metaverse, how companies are currently utilizing it, and what the metaverse has in store for businesses and consumers.
How the Idea was Born
As futuristic as the idea of the metaverse may seem, the idea was born more than 100 years ago. The first step into metaverse technology took place in the mid-1800s when stereoscope goggles were the rage in North America and Europe. These goggles essentially let people see photographed images in 3-D, which was quite advanced for the time when one considers that photography itself was quite new. For decades, though, stereoscope goggles were the closest anyone got to the metaverse until Morton Heilig made a major breakthrough.
In 1956, Heilig invented the “Sensorama Machine,” which was a device that put a person in a truly interactive environment. Heilig’s machine simulated the experience of riding a motorcycle through the streets of Brooklyn by combining 3-D video through goggles with sounds, scents, and a vibrating chair. The Sensorama Machine was primitive by today’s standards, but it got quite a few people thinking about the possibilities, including sci-fi writer Neil Stephenson.
Stephenson first coined the term “metaverse” in his 1982 dystopian sci-fi novel, Snow Crash. In the novel, people of the future connect to the metaverse via terminals and VR goggles, often spending most of their waking hours immersed in the virtual. In fact, an entire class of people was created called “gargoyles,” whose physical features became distorted due to their excessive time in the metaverse and a lack of sleep, exercise, or proper diet. Some viewed Snow Crash as a warning, while others saw it as a call to move in that direction. Those who saw the benefits of the fictional metaverse won the debate and now the metaverse is no longer science fiction.
The Metaverse Becomes Reality
The first steps to make the metaverse a reality came in the late 1990s with the release of VR headsets, but they were technologically crude and not truly immersive. The breakthrough came when an 18-year-old entrepreneur and inventor named Palmer Luckey created the prototype for the Oculus Rift VR headset in 2010. The Oculus Rift gave the user a 90-degree field of vision and a much more immersive experience, kicking off the current interest in VR and metaverse technology. This was technology that was bound to make an impact.
Seeing the possibilities, Zuckerberg and Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2 billion in 2014, publicly stating that they would develop the Oculus platform with different partners. Facebook then officially changed its name to Metaverse Platforms (Meta) in 2021, further signaling that the metaverse would be an integral part of its company’s future. Sony, Samsung, and Microsoft then followed with plans to develop their own metaverse platforms. The initial thrust into the metaverse has been spurred by the gaming industry, but other companies and tech leaders are beginning to see other uses.
Even before Facebook became Meta, tech leaders around the world were laying out the roadmap for the current metaverse. The first Metaverse Roadmap Summit was held in May 2007, which predicted that by 2016 the internet would become a world where people could immerse themselves in a virtual world to more easily access digital information. Although the summit may have had an ambitious timeline, the idea that the metaverse can be utilized for more than just games is becoming a reality.
The Future of the Metaverse
There are a number of potential uses and benefits that businesses, brands, and consumers can expect to gain from the metaverse, not the least of which is how work is done. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people began working from home via the internet, which some experts believe will transition into the metaverse. Employees will be able to access virtual office suites and interact with their colleagues in a way that is more personal than phone, email, or text. Businesses will also have the ability to conduct virtual training of new and existing employees in virtual classrooms, which will be more efficient for businesses and more convenient for workers.
The metaverse will also likely affect specialized industries and help brands that are willing to be forward-thinking and utilize its potential. Because consumers view brands that use the metaverse as innovative and positive, companies that use the metaverse can expect a boon to their profits in the coming years. As interest and use in the metaverse grows, new opportunities will open as metaverse infrastructure is built.
Because the metaverse requires a strong digital infrastructure, more workers and resources will be needed to make it happen. Each node in the metaverse requires infrastructure support, which will include new data centers and hardware such as chips. The metaverse’s connection to blockchains will also have an impact on investors. Since many of the platforms that host the metaverse use blockchain technology – such as The Sandbox, which is on the Ethereum blockchain – there could be major investment opportunities for investors in the metaverse-blockchain and metaverse-crypto currency spaces. Eventually, as the metaverse becomes a standard part of the internet infrastructure, consumers can also expect several benefits.
As brands expand into the metaverse, it will be important for them to adjust to growing consumer needs and tastes. An important thing that brands need to keep in mind is how consumers currently view the metaverse and how those attitudes can be utilized or changed. For example, a poll of 10,500 people showed that 61% of respondents plan to use the metaverse for shopping, 49% for gaming, 49% for concerts, and 44% for sports, demonstrating that most people still view the metaverse as a pastime. The same poll shows that although all respondents had heard of the metaverse, 49% admitted they don’t quite understand it. These numbers show that there’s still plenty of room in the space for growth in sectors other than retail and gaming and that it’s just a matter of brands taking the initiative.
Another poll showed that 39% of the respondents cited an ability to overcome real-world disabilities as a reason to use the metaverse, while 37% said it could help enhance their creativity and imagination. And as brands take these consumer attitudes into consideration, or at least they should, social media is already making the transition into the metaverse to give its users a more interactive and fulfilling experience. Consumers will no doubt take advantage of the expanding metaverse in the years to come, but so too will investors.
As mentioned previously, tech and gaming companies have jumped on board the metaverse trend and in the coming years, advertising and non-tech companies will also look for opportunities in the metaverse, which will open up new opportunities for investors. In 2021, metaverse-related companies raised $10 billion for their projects, which was more than double the previous year. This trend will surely continue, although it remains to be seen how much those numbers will increase and at what rate.
The metaverse has arrived and although many people still don’t know what it is, or its possibilities, it will definitely grow in size and influence in the coming years. As more companies invest in the metaverse, it will move from gaming into other sectors that will benefit workers, consumers, and investors. Brands that understand the potential of the metaverse and how it can relate to their customers are poised to benefit from this new technology that may change all of our lives.