Unlocking Opportunity in The Metaverse

The Metaverse is being touted as the next iteration of the internet, supporting ongoing online 3D virtual environments where virtual experiences, real-time 3D content and other related media are connected and accessible through VR/AR, as well as through classic devices such as PC or mobile.

It’s essentially an immersive Web3 internet – Web3 being the idea of a new kind of internet services that is built using decentralised blockchain. With this new technology, users can meet in virtual spaces, represent themselves as avatars and share virtual objects..

Gartner predicts that by 2026 a quarter of people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social or entertainment. And 30% of organisations will have products and services delivered via the metaverse. However, despite the predictions, a recent YouGov survey revealed that just 37% of UK adults claim to be confident about describing the metaverse to others. Therefore, organisations who want to dip their toes in the turbulent waters of the metaverse need to understand the opportunities to help chart their way.

At Reply, we see the emergence of the metaverse taking place within three distinct types of experiences which have evolved in the digital space: Social, Commercial and Industrial. We’ve put our focus here to better understand current and developing practices in each sector and the business value they create.

Social metaverse:

Metahumans – Virtual assets – Digital venues & third spaces – New social experiences

Social media allows people to interact, transact, and share interests with others virtually, eliminating location barriers. This has allowed popular platforms to attract billions of users and blur the boundaries between video-sharing, gaming, blogging, messaging, and online forums. We see the metaverse as an extension of video gaming and social media, adding immersion into the equation, which will bring new experiences to consumers.

It will be a new digital world that revolves around decentralised identity and ownership, including interoperable and immersive 3D environments, “phygital” spaces, digital marketplaces and investments, virtual goods, and photorealistic avatars, all of which will be in the hands of creators to control. If gaming experiences in the metaverse can genuinely revolutionise the industry, there will be huge growth and opportunities in the way that people interact, socialise and purchase assets within this network.

The ability for users to portray themselves in whatever way this wish will drive investment into virtual assets and a decentralised ownership of NFTs, virtual goods and real estate, creating a new ‘tokeconmics’ economy. We are already seeing this trend develop – as of 2022, 65% of Gen Z consumers have spent money on a virtual item that exists only within the confines of a video game. In particular, Gen Z are trailblazing social interaction in the age of the metaverse. According to one study by Nokia, they are drawn to it for various reasons – virtual experiences, social connection, status and glory, or the chance to invest in future technologies, but are ultimately united by a desire for stability and escape.

Commercial metaverse:

Meta-commerce – Metaspace marketing – Analytics in 3D Environments

Consumers in the metaverse will expect an immersive experience with their avatar to walk into a virtual store that will list real inventory that can be touched and picked in a virtual world. This means that brands operating in the metaverse will need to reframe human-centred customer experiences and rethink how they design future offerings and customer journeys across various industries. The future virtual economy will come to rival the importance of the physical one. Business leaders need to start thinking strategically about how to head into this new commercial metaverse, creating metaverse-only businesses, including virtual worlds and spaces as part of the marketing mix, retrieving real-time data, and expanding 3D analytics capacity via AI to include spatial data, biometric data, and sensor-based behavioural data. As consumers spend time and money in the metaverse, brands are increasingly positioning themselves in these spaces with 30% of businesses expected to have products and services in the metaverse by 2026.

A key consideration for organisations operating in the metaverse will be around the role of data. User data will almost certainly remain a sought-after item in the metaverse. Customer data is used to create personalised experiences today, and this is only likely to increase. As Mastercard’s chief privacy officer Catherine Louveaux recently put it in a blog post: “The metaverse will be data collection on steroids.” But we’re not just talking about contact information here. The metaverse opens the door for the collection of sensitive biometric data too. Therefore, organisations should not shy away from addressing safety issues and adhering to the ethical standards of these new digital spaces.

Industrial metaverse: Virtual collaboration – Next level engineering – Augmented learning

While the consumer-orientated metaverse digitalises people and effectively transports them to the virtual world, the industrial metaverse digitalises information to transfer them to the worker. The Industrial Metaverse is where real machines and factories, buildings and cities, grids and transportation systems are mirrored in the virtual world.

Why is this so important? In a digital environment, problems can be found, analysed, and fixed quickly by collaborating with people across countries and continents as if they were together in the very same room, in front of the very same machines or objects. The Industrial Metaverse is where virtual reality supports people who are working hands on, on site. A virtual realm where we can travel into the past and even into the future to understand problems and processes better and find optimal solutions.

Therefore, as organisations get acquainted with the metaverse, they will be able to use new technologies to offer immersive business meetings that include expressive avatars and realistic spatial environments, virtual products as blueprints for production, virtual market testing, and immersive, memorable, and continuously-improving training experiences.

The product development process of ideation, prototyping and testing for market can be significantly improved in the metaverse, moving to 4D collaborations and simulations. Workplace training can enter virtual settings, offering hands-on experience in a secure test environment and allowing organisations to easily onboard new employees and upskill existing ones.

By the end of this decade the metaverse is expected to be a multitrillion-dollar market and is predicted to be one of the greatest forces to drive both sustainability and the digital transformation of businesses and entire industries. It will make innovation easier, progress faster, time to market shorter, reduce waste and help us to use fewer natural resources. It will help to develop better products by empowering people to explore more alternative designs in shorter time and at considerably lower costs.

For companies, this next stage of digitalisation will, of course, be challenging. Simply embracing a technology because it’s the next big thing is a bad idea. Like anything new, adoption has to be aligned with business outcomes. For those that are ready to take this step, it’s imperative they build a metaverse foundation that is agile and adaptable for whatever tomorrow brings. Business leaders need to make sure their organisations are developing the necessary skills and business processes, properly assessing the risks, and aligning metaverse strategies to company objectives. By getting this right, the metaverse may open a whole new world of opportunities.

About the Author

Paolo Capitelli is Partner at Forge Reply. Reply specialises in the design and implementation of solutions based on new communication channels and digital media. As a network of highly specialised companies, Reply defines and develops business models enabled by the new models of big data, cloud computing, digital media and the internet of things. Reply delivers consulting, system integration and digital services to organisations across the telecom and media; industry and services; banking and insurance; and public sectors.

Featured image: ©Yaran