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It's 2023, let's check in with the metaverse... Nope, still doesn't exist
You might catch a whiff of it in Slack or Teams next year, but otherwise normal human life goes on
Mark Zuckerberg's metaverse push is getting a bit sad. One only has to look at the ads pumped into Facebook by parent company Meta, forcing the concept down people's throats. The comments left on each strongly imply next to no appetite for the hypothetical tech in neither business nor leisure.
Of course, you'd need a presence on Facebook in the first place, but fortunately the analysts at Forrester have captured the zeitgeist with a brief paper titled "Predictions 2023: The Metaverse And NFTs," which will not make happy reading for Meta's already exasperated investors.
Forrester suggests that the metaverse is a "good times" concept. In case you haven't noticed, these are not "good times".
"The as-yet-nonexistent metaverse became the 'next big thing' in 2021 and 2022," the analysts write. "But the end of lockdowns outside of China has reduced consumers' appetite for spending time in online spaces, and economic headwinds have already exposed the vulnerabilities of a supposed experience revolution that has yet to garner mass consumer interest.
"For example, between April and June 2022, the number of job postings with 'metaverse' in the description dropped by 81 percent. As economies slow further in 2023, irrational metaverse exuberance will give way to a focus on core infrastructure, overdue product features, and improving immersive experiences on existing platforms – which will lay the groundwork for the future metaverse."
'Pokémon Go' moment
From this viewpoint, Forrester makes five predictions for the metaverse and the tangentially related NFT in 2023, the first of which is that the metaverse has not yet had its "Pokémon Go" moment.
By this it means that absolutely nothing metaverse-related has been released that makes even the most credulous consumer think, "Wow, I need to get in on that." It points to the fact that although the idea of augmented reality was first floated in 1968, it wasn't until nearly five decades later that it hit the mainstream with Niantic's successful mobile game. You might be glad to hear that anything usefully "metaverse" could still be decades away.
"According to Forrester's Media And Marketing Benchmark Recontact Survey, 2022, the majority of online adults in the US (65 percent), UK (73 percent), France (67 percent), and Germany (65 percent) prefer to have social experiences in person," it says, though adds: "Smart brands should bypass simple repackaging of old immersive media experiences and innovate. This involves reimagining hybrid experiences to seek new sources of revenue, insights, and customer engagement."
Forrester also believes that, as companies pull their visions of the metaverse in different directions, no one will be able to settle on standards, thus inhibiting growth. The analysts point to a survey by The Metaverse Standards Forum, which asked its members what they should prioritize. The answers were, in order of votes, 3D assets; privacy, safety, security, and inclusion; avatars and apparel; user identity; and real and virtual-world integration.
Funnily enough, Forrester predicts that "none of these will see a viable standard emerge in 2023 due to a 'splinternet' of competing metaverse standards." Brands insistent on mucking about in the metaverse will simply "lean into" big platforms like Meta's Horizon Worlds or Roblox in the never-ending chase for eyeballs.
It's a feature, not a product
Forrester sees the metaverse of 2023 as something experienced as part of an established communications platform but not a product in itself, suggesting that Zoom, Slack, Webex or Google Apps could add "3D metaverse-style features." It also notes that "Microsoft is adding 3D mesh components directly into Teams, which will allow users to navigate 3D virtual spaces with avatars and engage in collaborative whiteboarding."
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That's potentially tens of millions of users – but "just 5 percent" of those will turn into active ones, the report guesses. There may be a couple of consumer-facing brands in the Fortune 500 that follow, but "most consumers still won't have a path to discover them in 2023 due to the current lack of scale and accessibility of pure-play metaverse precursor platforms."
The NFT stunt is dead
In a prediction that may be music to your ears, Forrester says: "The days of launching a consumer-facing NFT to earn a press headline that touts the brand as 'innovative' are over. Most consumers aren't interested in NFT stunts." According to a survey by the analyst, the vast majority of adults in the US, UK, and France have – quelle surprise – never owned an NFT and don't plan on it. Therefore, brands will start to use NFTs as a way to build "sustained customer engagement" through "loyalty, brand experience, and deepening customer relationships." It cites how Louis Vuitton and Starbucks "are using NFTs to enable access to exclusive customer experiences and perks."
China is the outlier
As China is set to groan under COVID-19 restrictions into 2023, Forrester sees an opportunity for the metaverse to flourish. It indicates that "63 percent in China are eager to explore the metaverse, and 47 percent indicate that they like to interact/transact with brands in 'the metaverse,'" while the rest of the online world looks at the concept with skepticism. "The economic downturn will compel B2C companies to use affordable solutions like digital idols (human-like virtual entertainers). The advance of 5G, VR/AR, and 3D engine technologies will make digital idol experiences more engaging for digital-savvy and novelty-seeking Gen Z consumers," the report says.
This new research chimes with earlier work from the analyst this year that basically said the metaverse doesn't exist yet, held up only by hype and corporate fears of being left out. And guess what, it still won't really exist in 2023, at least not the grand vision of connected 3D virtual-reality worlds in which people can communicate, work, and play.
The fact isn't lost on Meta investors who have urged the megacorp to "get fit and focused" by cutting 20 percent of staff and shaving $5 billion off annual capital expenses and metaverse investments.
So far the best thing to come from the metaverse craze is watching Zuck perform mental gymnastics on screen while trying to convince the world it will be an indispensable facet of humanity any minute now. Facebook even has an emoji for this sort of thing. ®