The metaverse is like the Loch Ness monster: everyone is talking about it even though nobody has seen it. Is it merely a passing trend, or the future of the internet?
Two diametrically opposed visions of the metaverse emerge, depending on who you speak to. For some, it represents infinite innovation and unique experiences; for others, it is the harbinger of a dystopian future, like that of the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, who also first coined the term ‘metaverse’.
The metaverse that everyone is talking about does not exist yet.
Somewhere in between these two visions, businesses are trying to position themselves: should they invest in the virtual world to continue to exist in the real world, or is it a fad that will follow in the disappearing footsteps of Second Life?
ESCP Business School Executive Education sat down with Andreas Kaplan, professor of marketing and academic director of the Metaverse for Business certificate in partnership with Netexplo, to explore the fears and hopes inspired by this new space for both business and society.
professor at ESCP Business School
You can read the complete interview in the latest Executive Education white paper, “Virtual worlds and the metaverse: disruption for the managers of tomorrow?”. What follows is a summary of this conversation.
Defining the metaverse for the business world
The simplest definition of the metaverse is a virtual world generated by a computer programme where one can interact via an avatar. Over the years, various iterations have existed in the form of video games or Second Life in the early 2000s.
However, as Prof. Kaplan explains, “the metaverse that everyone is talking about does not exist yet.” This “new internet” is often theorised as a collection of immersive and spatially-realistic virtual worlds between which a single avatar could seamlessly navigate.
Multiple factors, such as timing in a post-pandemic world and advances in technology, have contributed to the growing excitement around the metaverse and its pertinence to the business world.
Meetings in the virtual world could remove these obstacles: instead of staring at a screen, participants can interact in a more authentic way via their avatars.
In this context, applications can range from the everyday logistics of managing a company to customer-facing uses that contribute to a company’s revenue. For example, remote work has become more commonplace following the pandemic, and yet, the friction created by the tools necessary for hybrid or remote work environments persists. ‘Zoom fatigue’ from extended periods of time spent in online meetings has been well-documented and studied.
According to Prof. Kaplan, “meetings in the virtual world could remove these obstacles: instead of staring at a screen, participants can interact in a more authentic way via their avatars.”
He reminds us that while global companies such as Microsoft are working towards virtual work solutions, technical challenges remain.
To read more about commercial applications, download the white paper.
Real strategies for intangible realities
Seeing the potential for new and unexpected opportunities, brands and companies are developing strategies to integrate the metaverse into their businesses.
Certain sectors, such as fashion, education and the automotive industry, have already started investing money and resources into exploring this space with exciting results. NVIDIA’s Omniverse platform, for example, has allowed BMW to lower production planning times by 30% thanks to running virtual tests on their factory lines before implementing changes in the real world.
One of the first questions Prof. Kaplan asks managers considering this technology is whether they have spent any time in a virtual world. “Most of the time, the answer is no!”
He encourages leaders and managers to spend time in a virtual world to understand how it functions, and draw inspiration from it. And also to involve employees who are familiar with gaming or are fans of virtual reality early on in the process.
Once they have acquired a feel for these environments, “managers should set clear objectives with expected results: which team will work on the metaverse? How can the company’s products and services be transposed virtually? What are the customer profiles and expectations? What are the potential benefits?”
Simply a fad or here to stay?
Twenty years ago, social media didn’t exist, and now it plays a significant role for users and businesses. On the other hand, Second Life was not very conclusive for companies, an outcome that Kaplan attributes to a lack of objective, meaning or strategy on the part of these earlier players.
While the context and technology have evolved since Second Life, questions and obstacles remain that range from government regulation of sensitive data ownership to the potentially negative effects for climate change or even simply VR sickness from headsets.
Despite these concerns, Kaplan encourages us to keep an open mind, stating that, “even if we can’t predict the future, the metaverse may represent the next form of the internet that will significantly change how people communicate and interact”.