The metaverse has quickly become a hot topic. As Facebook Inc. changed its name to Meta Platforms Inc., discussion increased in the tech field and awareness of the metaverse concept spread across society at a rapid pace.
The metaverse refers to a digital environment that uses virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools, such as headsets, to immerse users inside a three-dimensional world. That idea can seem attractive to businesses, especially as they seek out effective solutions that address an increased demand for remote working options and a more geographically dispersed workforce. General consumer interest in the metaverse should also be acknowledged, as it serves to amplify conversations about business applications.
Considering emerging trends and potential pathways for improving operations should always be a top priority for businesses. Let’s take a closer look at some of the positive and negative factors related to the metaverse and key considerations that influence this virtual world’s usefulness in business settings.
There are a variety of advantages and disadvantages that the metaverse could bring to companies that choose to utilize it. Consider the following benefits:
Current tools for interacting with coworkers and other stakeholders, such as phone calls and videoconferencing, do not effectively replicate a shared environment. These options mitigate the distance between employees but do not totally eliminate it. Collaborative efforts that extend beyond conversations — such as ideating on a whiteboard or reviewing a document — can feel disjointed or awkward.
The metaverse promises a more immersive and broadly functional environment. In theory, although not in practice currently, a group of coworkers could gather in a virtual space to interact through their avatars in an environment designed to support collaboration. Tools, like digital representations of whiteboards and workstations, would extend the functionality of the metaverse well beyond that of a video conference or phone call.
While the metaverse is a relatively new concept for the general public, some businesses may begin to develop valuable tools and functionalities for this digital environment on a relatively short timetable.
While few developers currently work on such projects, the necessary tools and licenses are inexpensive. A compatible VR headset and premium developer license for Meta’s metaverse project carry a combined cost of only about $600. Existing platforms such as Unity and Unreal Engine mean a strong basis exists already in terms of 3D development and similar concepts central to developing effective metaverse programs.
Tools that leverage similar principles as the metaverse, such as virtual representations of test environments and digital twins that carefully replicate real-life processes and facilities, already offer real value to companies. Businesses may even choose to build their own metaverses with currently available tools, including Unreal Engine and Unity, instead of relying on options offered by other organizations. Virtual training options are yet another example.
With some key advantages reviewed, let’s take a closer look at potential business drawbacks of the metaverse.
There are certain inescapable drawbacks of metaverse technology (as it currently exists and barring any revolutionary developments in the near future). Top issues include:
Meta does not have a particularly positive track record when it comes to privacy, but this issue is important for users in general and businesses in particular. One major data breach or hack of user privacy and information security could substantially reduce interest in business use of the metaverse.
Similarly, the question remains whether users will feel in control of their information, especially on any platform developed by Meta. Only about 20% of Americans trust that Facebook responsibly handles their personal data, according to a Washington Post and George Mason University poll.
The current metaverse ecosystem for developers includes only a relatively small number of drawbacks, but they could still lead to issues that impede widespread development work. The lack of financial incentives — a crucial factor in the explosion of the Apple App Store — may delay market entry by smaller businesses and individuals.
Unique issues like 3D space and camera concepts, as well as the physics of 3D models and interactions between various entities, involve skills that do not have a high degree of crossover with business software development.
It’s entirely possible that the metaverse concept will not play a major role for businesses in terms of connecting staff or enabling business productivity, or will at least fail to do so in the near-term future. The metaverse, and the companies behind it, must address the issues outlined previously to build a stronger and more viable business case.
However, the concept behind the metaverse and its proposed use case for the business world — an immersive and innovative environment for collaboration — will likely lead to more lasting and influential benefits for companies. There are a few vital points to consider in this regard:
The basic tools that form the basis of most business users’ interactions with computers, namely mice and keyboards, are well worn and due for innovation. And there are only so many paths forward to consider.
Speech-based interactions, for example, lack informational density and speed when compared to existing tools. The only available option to create content is dictation.
This relative paucity of effective alternatives may position AR and extended reality (ER) as more useful tools in business contexts. Instead of a fully immersive and wholly virtual environment, these technologies offer enhancements for the real world. Informational overlays, guidance for specific tasks, key metrics related to a topic of discussion and many other concepts are possible through AR and ER. More work must be completed before a widespread, easily accessible tool emerges, but AR and ER already offer some advantages in terms of fine motor control — a clear advantage over the fully VR nature of the metaverse.
These emerging tools still don’t have a particularly clear business case in terms of collaboration, at least in a broad, cross-industry sense. Some barriers to entry still exist for companies eager to use such technology and for developers who would extend the usefulness of these technologies. However, the need for better user interfaces and the more practical nature of these tools may spur development and eventual adoption.
The metaverse concept is not exclusive to Meta Platforms Inc. A variety of metaverses could and likely will emerge in the future, with many large technology companies and other major players in the U.S. and world economies offering their own versions that specialize in certain processes and activities. Amazon (or any other large retailer, for that matter) could establish a metaverse exclusively focused on retail with immersive options to test, try on and otherwise experiment with digital representations of their products.
Crucially, the technology already exists to seamlessly connect these distinct multiverses, allowing users to easily jump between them in a larger digital multiverse. It’s likely that businesses will take an open approach to building these networks to better drive engagement and sales. A democratized multiverse can benefit all stakeholders, similar to the broad level of accessibility and ease of movement provided by the World Wide Web.
Business benefits may be more likely to come from this type of development and implementation, where the focus sits firmly on consumers. Tools to support digital collaboration may instead appear in the form of AR and ER, as well as in a variety of other novel formats.
The metaverse can offer significant overall value to businesses when all of its potential use cases and applications are considered. However, digital collaboration may not be one of the early key features of these virtual environments.
A lack of controls to replicate the type of fine motor movements common in business environments, as well as other issues, may position AR, ER and a variety of emerging and as-yet-unknown technologies as better options instead.
Transcenda can support your company’s efforts to develop effective virtual collaboration tools and build apps that engage and attract your customers across a wide variety of platforms. Learn more about how we can support positive outcomes through our design and engineering services: Get in touch with us today.