Why 2022 Is Likely Not the Year of the Metaverse
Despite the wishes of many marketers and tech evangelists
You have to love hype, right? Hype takes many forms (positive and negative), setting the expectations and letting the audience know what to expect. This is why every horror movie trailer is for “the scariest film of all time” and not “yet another scary movie.” And that’s with technology and culture we’re familiar with. Add futuristic elements and suddenly hype has a runway a mile long to build up steam, take off, and leave reality far behind.
This is what happened to extended reality (XR) technologies in 2016, and it is happening again with the metaverse in 2022. The expectation was set that this new thing would change the world overnight and cause a fundamental shift in everyone’s behavior. And then…nothing happened. As a result, many dismissed augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as gimmicks that are not, and will never be, worthy of investment.
Hype can hurt because the reality is that XR technologies—while not able to change the world, even today—are useful and are improving. They are still young technologies with high ceilings, but the metaverse hype might set them back in public perception even further. To paraphrase a recent interview with Campfire CEO Jay Wright, it doesn’t matter how good the car is if it can’t fly to the moon like marketing said it would.
|Are we there yet? (Source: VentureBeat).|
What Is and Is Not the Metaverse
For starters, when we talk about hype and technology, we’re inevitably discussing buzzwords. Buzzwords are great for SEO and attracting attention, but good for little else—especially the more misused they become. It seems like any form of sophisticated coding is now “AI” or “machine learning.” The same thing is happening with metaverse. Earlier this week, technology giant Microsoft announced it was buying video game developer and publisher Activision Blizzard, and already I’ve seen multiple headlines claiming this purchase to be directly part of Microsoft’s metaverse strategy.
To clarify, another name for metaverse is Internet 3.0 or a digital space (right now most of the talk is around VR) where users can interact in numerous ways with other users—whether it’s gaming, social, or e-commerce. Primitive metaverses already exist and have existed for many years, with the groundwork largely being laid in the gaming space.
Here’s more background: Microsoft is already a major player in the gaming space, owning the Xbox brand and making numerous other developer purchases within the past few years. While the purchase of Activision Blizzard will definitely help Microsoft’s long-term metaverse plans, the acquisition can also be read as “video game company buys other video game company to better compete in current video game space.” Even with the Activision Blizzard deal, Microsoft still trails competitor Sony in the gaming space.
All of this to illustrate a point. Just because certain tech-enthusiasts and over-zealous marketers report a story as important or relevant to the metaverse doesn’t actually make it so. But it does help fuel a narrative: That 2022 is the year of the metaverse—this new digital ecosystem is basically good to go! While I am a believer in Internet 3.0 and in XR technology, I do not think this enthusiasm is warranted and will likely only further damage public perception around these new technologies as viable tools.
|World of Warcraft is a primitive metaverse, so yes—Microsoft now
has more metaverse clout. (Source: Wired UK).
What the Metaverse Needs to Be Successful
For starters, if the metaverse is going to be VR-based in its inception, that would require at least one very strong consumer VR headset. While the Oculus Quest 2 has been the most successful VR headset so far, it’s only sold around 10 million units—impressive, but far below smartphone or traditional PC sales. There is (at the time of this blog) only one confirmed new release in the consumer VR hardware space this year, and it is a $900 tethered unit that requires a PC. While it may be a success, it is unlikely to move the needle on its own. Meta has been quiet on plans for a Quest 3 and, given that 2 is still selling well, it is unlikely that an improvement will be unveiled and released in 2022. Apple also recently (indirectly) threw water on the fire as reports indicate its consumer AR/VR device will not be released (or maybe even revealed) until 2023.
So, the XR-fueled metaverse is without its needed hardware. There is also a question as to the killer app. While some have speculated advancing social features will be enough to sell units, I’m unconvinced people will spend hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars just to enter a more immersive chatroom (even if they can buy NFTs).
Let’s not forget the supply chain issues, as well. Practically every XR headset—consumer or business level—is being impacted (i.e., delayed) by ongoing supply chain struggles. That, coupled with vital chip shortages, means that even if there was a hardware seller, there simply wouldn’t be the units available to create the necessary install base.
Factor in the lack of a uniform 5G rollout, cybersecurity issues, privacy concerns, health worries concerning 5G use (however far-fetched), and you have a whole host of issues still standing between the fully realized metaverse and reality.
So, When Is the Year of the Metaverse?
I want to stress again that I am a believer in XR and that some form of metaverse will eventually come. The screen interface has taken us about as far as it can, whereas the potential of XR technology is almost completely untapped. But when you say “year of”, I picture 2007 when the first iPhone was released and people quickly realized that, not only was the smartphone here to stay, but that most everyone would have one within a few years. That’s primetime and XR isn’t there yet.
So, when is the year of the metaverse? Are we close? Yes, I believe we are. I think a more realistic expectation is 2024 or 2025. With Apple, likely Sony, and at least Meta or Microsoft unveiling/releasing a new device in 2023, you’re going to finally see that significant ramp up that the enthusiasts have been talking about since 2016.
With luck, all of the issues surrounding the pandemic will have been completely resolved by then, too (the pandemic itself hopefully well into endemic phase). Investments in online infrastructure will also be implemented, making 5G or 5G-like speeds more available to more people. Stricter digital security and privacy regulations may also be in place by then, giving people more ease of mind when using XR hardware and software.
All of this will create a setting ripe for a fully realized metaverse. But we’re still laying the groundwork. Something is crystalizing right now—between XR technology, social apps, NFTs, blockchain, crypto, gaming, and e-commerce—but “year of the metaverse”? The picture needs to be clearer before anyone can claim that.
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