“Is the metaverse dead?” Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asked that question dozens of times by industry insiders. The surge of pessimism is not surprising considering that stock for Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) has lost over half its value since it pivoted into the metaverse. On top of that, Meta recently announced major layoffs throughout the company, sending a wave of fear across the industry.
The way I see it, the current struggles at Meta reflect problems in its legacy business and do not serve as an indicator that its metaverse strategy is failing. I believe it will take another year or two before we can accurately predict if Meta will be successful in this space or if other large players will emerge as the true leaders of the metaverse.
My bigger concern is that the general public is still confused about what “the metaverse” is and how it will benefit society. Simple definitions of the metaverse are hard to come by. (Personally, I blame influencers from the Web3 space for creating the confusion, who describe the metaverse in terms of blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs, which are profoundly useful technologies but are no more relevant to the metaverse than 5G, GPS, or GPUs. ) But the metaverse is not about any specific pieces of infrastructure.
I point this out because of an experience I had at the Metaverse Summit in San Jose two weeks ago. During the event, I sat in on a roundtable on the topic of “Metaverse Marketing.” It was attended by executives from many big brands. To my surprise, nobody talked about the issues that I would consider relevant to marketing in the metaverse. Instead they talked mostly about NFTs and strategies for appealing to “Web3 natives” and “Degens.” That’s not the metaverse. If the industry doesn’t push back on this persistent confusion, it will continue to struggle.
Instead, the metaverse is about transforming how we humans experience the digital world. Since the dawn of computing, digital content has been accessed primarily through flat media viewed in the third-person. In the metaverse, our digital lives will increasingly involve immersive media that appears all around us and is experienced in the first-person. It will impact everything from how we work, shop, and learn online to how we socialize and organize. It’s really that simple — the metaverse is the transition of the digital world from flat content to immersive experiences — and trust me, it’s not dead. If anything, the metaverse is inevitable.
The metaverse is inevitable
Why? It’s in our DNA. The human organism evolved to understand our world through first-person experiences in spatial environments. It’s how we interact and explore. It’s how we store memories and build mental models. It’s how we generate wisdom and develop intuition. In other words, the metaverse is about leveraging our natural human abilities for perception, interaction, and exploration when we engage the creative power and flexibility of digital content. It will happen. The only question is: Will it happen soon, or will the industry fall back into another long dark winter?
Personally, I don’t believe winter is coming. I say that as someone who lived through the longest winter of them all.
After doing early VR and AR research in government labs, I founded Immersion Corporation in 1993 to bring the natural power of immersive experiences to major markets. By 1995, the industry was on fire, with a level of media hype that felt similar to early 2022. But then came the Dot-com boom. It sucked all the virtual air out of all the virtual rooms. That’s because the VC industry abruptly narrowed its focus, dumping every last penny into ecommerce startups. You couldn’t utter the phrase “virtual reality” with most investors for over a decade. This submerged the metaverse into a frigid winter that lasted from about 1997 to 2012.
But that’s not going to happen this time. The industry is too far along. The metaverse is no longer driven by startups and fueled by venture funding. Many of the largest companies in the world are now competing to bring VR and AR products to mainstream markets.
Daily life in the metaverse
Some say this will evolve into a narrow industry aimed at gaming, entertainment, and a handful of other targeted verticals, but I believe it will be far broader than that. In fact, I predict by the early 2030s, the metaverse will become a central part of daily life.
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No, I’m not suggesting that we will spend our lives in cartoonish virtual worlds using creepy avatars to chat with friends and coworkers. Virtual spaces will get far more natural and realistic. Still, I believe that purely virtual worlds will be aimed mostly at short-duration activities similar to how we lose ourselves in movies today.
The true metaverse — the one that will transform our lives — will be rooted in augmented reality, enabling us to experience the real world embellished with immersive virtual content that appears seamlessly all around us. That is by far the most natural way for us humans to bring the digital world into our lives. For that simple reason, the metaverse is coming — regardless of what happens to Meta.