Facebook recently changed its name to Meta, a reference to the sci-fi term metaverse, to describe their vision of working in the virtual world. Since this announcement, searches on Google for “metaverse” have soared.

But everyone seems to have their unique interpretation of what this word means. 

What is the Metaverse? This article tackles this very question and the companies involved, and what it could mean for the future of small businesses and our society as we know it. 

Defining the Metaverse

Neal Stephenson first coined the term Metaverse in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash. The book centers around life-like avatars who meet up in a 3D, holographic, virtual-reality world. 

But we don’t have to visit a dystopian world to experience this virtual reality world. 

If we think of the internet as something we look at, the Metaverse is what happens inside. We will explore this new realm with an avatar, a virtual representation of ourselves that we control and interact with others. 

Available in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), or your standard screen, this virtual universe promises to combine our digital and physical experiences to enhance our lives. This new spatial construct has one ultimate goal, to be immersive. 

The Players

Since the Metaverse term originated, online community platforms have grown immensely within the last 30 years. Currently, several businesses are first movers, who realize the potential to create the most return. Here are a few:

Meta

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, acquired the VR headset company Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion. Meta envisions digital avatars connected through work, travel, or entertainment using VR headsets. 

The CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has confidently stated that Meta will transform the internet as we know it. They are constructing a haptic glove that allows the user’s hand to feel the objects touched within the virtual world. 

Epic Games

Video games probably have the lowest barrier to entry for a virtual experience as users are already accustomed to avatars and interacting in a digital environment. Epic Games is developing photorealistic digital humans so that one day you can customize your digital clone in games like Fortnite. 

Additionally, Epic has already held VR concerts, movie trailers, and a re-imagining of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech. 

Microsoft

The software company is developing virtual meeting rooms where businesses can train new employees or have virtual meetings on Mesh, part of Microsoft Teams. 

Since the pandemic, we learned two things about working from home: remote workers are far more efficient than most business leaders imagined, and they miss the spontaneous opportunities to build relationships with colleagues. 

In 2022, Mesh will enable users to send chats, collaborate, and share documents with an avatar. Many believe this will be the gateway to this virtual world.

Nvidia

Unlike the three companies listed above, Nvidia isn’t designing their piece of the Metaverse. Since all versions will be more graphically intense than your typical 2D interactive platforms, we need a killer GPU or graphics processing unit to render simulated users, plants, buildings, and other responsive objects. 

Nvidia has already heeded the call. It currently occupies around 83% market share for GPUs and is the largest maker of graphics and artificial intelligence chips globally. 

In addition, Nvidia has focused on what it calls the omniverse, a technology based on its computer chips. This tech brings engineers and designers together virtually to make mechanical products.

The Metaverse is shaping up to be a modern age space race. Instead of rocket science, companies battle with VR headsets, ultra-fast graphics cards, cryptocurrencies, and a copious amount of computing power.

Business Implications

Many are not even questioning the massive popularity this new augmented reality world will attract. Millions of people are already spending hours per day in virtual worlds such as Roblox and Minecraft. 

Imagine combining this technology with E-commerce. 

The ability to shop for shoes using an avatar that tries them on and walks around in them might make you more likely to throw down the cash for those Nike Air Zoom GTs.

We can only assume that this emerging technology will affect nearly all digital industries. Especially the marketing world. Looking at the data, we can verify that the current trends in marketing initiatives that elicit a consumer’s emotional connection to a product are working spectacularly. This virtual world will allow companies to target audiences in an entirely new way.

For example, Gucci developed a virtual luxury shoe called Gucci Virtual 25. These sneakers sell for $12.99; however, they are used only within partnered apps like Roblox and VR Chat. In May 2021 Gucci and Roblox partnered to create the Gucci Garden, a virtual reality experience that allows users to purchase digital products. 

The Future

Imagine walking into a restaurant and putting on slim AR glasses, which allow you to view the menu and reviews from your friends and family—or having coffee with a friend and noticing the woman’s shoes at a nearby table. Envision yourself identifying the shoes by looking at them (with AR glasses) and then placing an order before your cappuccino arrives at your table. While great-looking glasses are not available yet, you can get a feel for this technology with Google’s Lens app.

Of course, these future predictions are only an artistic impression, not necessarily accounting for every technological advancement. In truth, it could be 5-10 years before the technology can make these types of scenarios real. 

More realistically, 2022 will most likely introduce us to the VR world bit by bit by providing us with a richer, more immersive version of what already exists today. Soon interacting within the Metaverse will be considered normal as life in the everyday world carries on.

Is there an opportunity for your business in the Metaverse? It might be worth exploring.

 

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