When Mark Zuckerberg renamed his business Meta, the world’s media woke up to the metaverse.
Now, whether it’s tales of boundless opportunity, lurid reports of online abuse and avatar molesting, or the latest global brand staking its claim there, you can’t escape the metaverse.
Many big brands are there, from Disney to Duracell, from Nike to Ralph Lauren, and they are already benefiting from the PR coverage. WPP’s Hogarth agency has just launched The Metaverse Foundry, a 700-strong team of creative talent dedicated to marketing in the metaverse.
But what is it? And are the gold-paved streets of the virtual world real?
In aspiration, the metaverse is a limitless virtual world, a digital twin of the real world but better, where our physical (real-life) and digital (virtual) lives converge and interact.
In reality, it’s currently a collection of separate, unconnected, and mostly commercial platforms. Virtual world commentator Ryan Schultz lists over 160 different social VR platforms and virtual worlds.
They broadly divide into two types.
The first set are largely commercial enterprises that grew out of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). They’ve been around since 1986 (Habitat) and include some of today’s best known and most popular virtual worlds: Second Life, Minecraft, Fortnite, World of Warcraft and Roblox. These worlds have been ebbing and flowing but steadily growing. Today, 55 million daily active users hang out on Roblox.
The second group of Web 3.0 metaverse worlds is attracting the hype. Built on blockchain technology, these worlds provide for greater individual sovereignty and ownership of assets. User-player-residents pay using crypto wallets. They have individual ownership of assets and the worlds are largely community governed. It’s a bit like the emergence of democracy from the age of kings. The best-known examples are Decentraland, The Sandbox, Somnium Space and Cryptovoxels. While this group is attracting attention, it’s worth remembering that there, currently, are only 275,000 monthly active wallets in the entire web 3.0 metaverse.
While the average cost of a plot of land across the four main Web 3.0 metaverses doubled to $12,000 over a six-month period in 2021, only 25,000 people actually own real (?) estate in the metaverse.
That depends on where you care to look.
There are some big numbers that get widely repeated.
Every year $54 billion is spent on virtual goods (across both Web 3.0 and original, Web 2.0 worlds) and the “market opportunity for bringing the metaverse to life may be worth over $1 trillion in annual revenue.”
When asked, on average, consumers “would be willing to pay” $2,900 for a digital designer handbag, $9,000 for original digital art and more than $76,000 for a digital house.
On the other hand, how many real people know or care about the metaverse?
Gartner has found that a third (35%) of “everyday Americans” have never heard of the metaverse and only 6% feel sufficiently comfortable with the concept to describe it to others. Of those who know, only 18% are excited by it.
Forrester found similar. Most respondents to their survey either said they “still don’t understand what the metaverse is” (33% UK, 29% US) or have no need of it in their lives (36% UK, 27% US). Less than a quarter (17% UK, 23% US) said they would “like to spend some time exploring the metaverse.”
The Harris Poll, again surveying a US audience, found that more than half of 18-54-year-olds who knew about the metaverse feared that “the space and its technologies will lead to the neglect of their physical surroundings.”
The reality is that, currently, the Web 3.0 metaverse is a small, though fast-growing pool of early adopters. Typically, metaverse residents skew younger and more male than typical online gamers.
According to Newzoo, those “probably or definitely interested in socialising in game worlds ”are 53% male / 42% female. 62% are under 35.
Non-metaverse players are typically 47% male / 53% female, with 47% under 35.
And, do the user-players of Fortnite, Roblox and the other Web 2.0 virtual worlds really consider themselves “in the metaverse” at all?
Don’t forget, online gamers have been racing Fords and Ferraris past Rolex and DHL billboards for years.