The metaverse of fantasy worlds is itself still a fantasy
If your boss is bugging you about this tech, here's how to respond
The state of the metaverse, says Forrester, is that there isn't one. Yet.
In a report out now, the analyst house concluded hype, and corporate fears over being left out, are the only elements of the metaverse that have actually emerged. At the same time, Forrester also warned businesses to be ready just in case this thing takes off: "Technology vendors are racing to build the metaverse, and brands are looking to exploit it."
The metaverse is a fairly nebulous concept. It's supposed to be a galaxy of connected 3D virtual-reality worlds in which people can communicate, work, and play: it's not just about escaping to fantasy realm in which you interact with others through avatars, it's also supposed to be a space in which business can be done, and stuff can be designed and simulated collaboratively. The way the worlds are structured and defined can be as realistic or as fantastical as you like. Offices or star ships.
It's not an impossibility, though Forrester reckons anything like an actual metaverse as pitched by Facebook et al is still years, if not decades, away. The building blocks are present: virtual worlds, augmented-reality tools, graphics hardware and software, and other AR and VR technology act as many of the precursors for what will come after.
What has yet to emerge is the most essential part, from Forrester's perspective: the interoperability needed to turn siloed metaverse spaces – spaces provided by individual tech giants – into a seamless experience for users. "The fully federated metaverse will contain standard protocols for the presence, persistence, and transfer of identity and assets," Forrester said.
What a real metaverse would look like
As we move through the next decade, Forrester believes there will be several stages of new technology that will precede a fully connected metaverse. Currently we're in the precursor stage, where "virtual 3D spaces and objects exist, but in proprietary, siloed worlds," the report stated.
What follows precursors is a "primordial metaverse" where links allow users to travel easily between virtual spaces, like navigating from one website to another. Once we've stabilized a primordial metaverse, it's on to a federated one that has adopted "common systems for enabling and enforcing portable and persistent identity and property."
Forrester predicts a fully realized metaverse to be one that takes multiple forms (VR and AR, all the way to smartphone apps that mimic 3D space), but is nonetheless a single network, like the modern web.
Forrester sees an actualized metaverse as one that isn't dependent on Web3 technologies, and isn't owned by a single company, but is still far from decentralized. As it evolves, Forrester predicts the tech will have uses we have yet to think of, in part because a real metaverse would look nothing like the headset-mandatory virtual worlds of science-fiction and early investor hype.
How businesses can avoid a metaverse mishap
"Consider the perfect customer experience without the unfriendly limitations of the physical environment. The metaverse could offer this," Forrester said. That's an appealing concept for businesses looking to reach into an emerging market and stake a claim early, but don't move that fast, Forrester warned.
A good portion of the report focuses on models Forrester built to identify early metaverse adopters and how those adoptions will happen. Early use cases, as we're seeing now, will focus on entertainment and gaming. After that will come social media because "adoption of communication features typically follows media consumption with new digital interfaces," Forrester said.
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As for who is likely to use the metaverse, Forrester said it'll be less than half of today's consumers, and will largely consist of two cohorts, digital immersives and digital socialites. The former is interested in adopting new tech fast, and the latter will likely see it as a branding and content opportunity.
Forrester predicts that enterprise adoption will lead to home use, which is an inverse of how tech adoption usually works, it said. "High barriers to consumer adoption of the metaverse will herald something different: reverse-consumerization, where technologies learned at work will gradually spark interest at home."
Metaverse investment done right
Regardless of who does the adopting and when, Forrester said solid foundations are necessary for a real metaverse to emerge. In particular, Forrester said that businesses need to think about interoperability standards now, implement legal frameworks and governance, and create a good experience for non-technical users.
Along with the lack of technology and regulatory framework, there's another big problem: consumers aren't sold on the metaverse. In a survey run late last year by Forrester, only 34 percent of US respondents and 28 percent from the UK said they were excited about the metaverse, and only 29 and 25 percent (US/UK) think the metaverse will be good for society.
That skepticism crosses over to brand perception, too: 14 percent of US adults and 12 percent from the UK said brands should do more in the metaverse, which brings us to Forrester's first tip for businesses: research potential use cases, stay abreast of trends, and keep investments to a minimum.
Additionally, Forrester recommends performing metaverse experiments using existing products to gauge interest and response, use digital twins to modernize operations, keep metaverse development grounded in how humans will use it, and avoid early hype-driven spending with an eye on future profits.
"Precursors (the only metaverse tech we have now) won't create substantial value for B2C companies any time soon," Forrester said. ®