Like any nascent technology, the metaverse is shrouded in enigma and misunderstanding. The hoopla surrounding the metaverse soared to new heights in 2022. For adherents, the metaverse represents a groundbreaking immersive internet that opens up fresh prospects for commerce, remote work, and socializing. Conversely, detractors dismiss the metaverse as yet another transient technological craze. Although numerous misconceptions about the metaverse dominate headlines, it cannot be easily brushed off as a mere fad. The metaverse holds the promise of being a disruptive technology, but one with countless advantages when it comes to cutting business costs, promoting accessibility, and creating sustainable sales channels. However, the misapprehensions encircling the metaverse are so prevalent that they are being taken for granted as facts. When it comes to metaverse fallacies, can you distinguish truth from fiction?
Metaverse Misconception #1 – The Metaverse is Novel
Although the metaverse may appear to have materialized out of thin air, the idea has been around for quite some time. If you’ve ever read anything about the metaverse online, you’re already aware that the concept was first introduced by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, “Snow Crash.” However, the concept of the metaverse precedes “Snow Crash” by 57 years. In 1935, a science fiction writer named Stanley G. Weinbaum authored a short story entitled “Pygmalion’s Spectacles.” The story narrates the account of a professor who invents a pair of gas-like goggles that transports the wearer into “a movie that gives one sight and sound […] taste, smell, and touch. […] You are in the story, you speak to the shadows (characters), and they reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it.” It has been described as “a comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality,” but it also encapsulates the metaverse. As Charlie Fink stated in an episode of the .metaverse podcast, “There have been dark rides for hundreds of years, and dark rides also seek to replace the input of the real world with a virtual world. So the idea of creating virtual worlds has been with us for a long time.” In 2003, Lindon Labs released a proto-metaverse called “Second Life,” a massive, persistent 3D world where you could buy, sell, build, attend events, and socialize. Since then, new platforms such as Roblox, Fortnite, Decentraland, and Sandbox have all presented metaverse-like virtual worlds for users to visit and transact in. Although the metaverse is not new, it was mainly populated by gamers before the pandemic. With millions of people transitioning to the online world, the interest in the metaverse skyrocketed. Major companies started investing heavily in the technology and applications that could create new types of digital experiences. The metaverse is neither novel nor futuristic. It has been around for a long time and will continue to grow and prosper.
Metaverse Misconception #2 – The Metaverse is a Video Game
Gaming has accelerated the development of the metaverse, and many of the technologies (such as the Unreal Engine) that power video games will also build the metaverse. This has led some to believe that the metaverse is merely another video game, and the metaverses currently available online, such as Roblox and Fortnite, have a firm footing in the gaming industry. However, the metaverse has a potential that goes far beyond online gaming. For example, in the future, you may visit your doctor in the metaverse and see a digital twin of your next X-Ray to get a comprehensive picture of your health. Buying a car at an auto dealership could be substituted with an immersive virtual experience that merges the ease of e-commerce with the experience of a branded showroom. While it may be tempting to think of the metaverse in terms of gaming, a more appropriate comparison would be the internet or mobile phone. These technologies have been truly transformative for nearly every industry, and the metaverse is poised to be the next significant shift in how we conduct our digital lives.
Metaverse Misconception #3 – The Metaverse Only Exists in VR
Fictional accounts of the metaverse, from Ready, Player, One to Snowcrash, all require the use of a specialized device to enter the metaverse. Although the concepts are often used interchangeably, virtual reality and the metaverse are not synonymous. Virtual reality refers to the hardware and software required to access a virtual environment, whereas the metaverse is the virtual environment itself. The metaverse can be accessed without virtual reality, as demonstrated by platforms such as Touchcast, Roblox, and Decentraland. The metaverse allows us to create and interact with 3D virtual spaces. Whether shopping for a new car, training people to use new machinery, or collaborating on developing a new drug, the metaverse enables people to come together in an immersive experience, even when they are apart. Virtual reality, on the other hand, focuses more on what a 3D experience looks like when you are entirely surrounded by it, which is often achieved by wearing a headset. Headsets are becoming popular with consumers who use them to play games or visit virtual worlds. However, for other industries, such as the enterprise metaverse or remote work, they remain an obstacle to accessibility. Some are uncomfortable to wear, and others cannot afford to invest hundreds of dollars in new equipment. But the metaverse can already be accessed without any headsets, special hardware, or expensive software – you can simply use your web browser.
Metaverse Misconception #4 – You Need an Avatar to Enter the Metaverse
Like VR headsets, another common theme surrounding the concept of the metaverse involves the use of 3D avatars. In environments such as socializing or gaming, avatars can add another fun layer to the experience. However, for business or commerce, avatars can be distracting or unprofessional. The metaverse presents a huge opportunity for businesses that sell complex goods, such as cars or expensive machinery. When a salesperson is essentially wearing a mask, it can be challenging to build authentic relationships and trust, especially when dealing with payment information. E-commerce has always lacked human connection, and this is one of the gaps that the metaverse aims to bridge. But conversing with an avatar can feel just as impersonal as clicking “add to cart.” While most metaverse providers require you to take the form of an avatar to enter their virtual world, some companies are exploring alternative solutions. Touchcast, one of the first metaverse platforms to render a live video feed into a virtual environment, offers avatar-free metaverse experiences, making it ideal for enterprise use.
Metaverse Misconception #5 – There’s Only One Metaverse
After Meta, formerly known as Facebook, staked its claim in the virtual world, the term “metaverse” spread like wildfire. For many, it was their first introduction to the concept, and as a result, they believe that Meta and the metaverse are one and the same. Just as the internet is not limited to Amazon or Google, the metaverse will not be tied to a single product or platform. The metaverse will require a vast array of services, experiences, and products built by many different companies. In reality, there are already multiple metaverses, each designed for specific purposes. From gaming to the enterprise metaverse and everything in between, there are many platforms to choose from. In the future, we may even see the emergence of an interoperable metaverse, where we can travel from one platform to another with the same assets linked together on the blockchain. An interoperable metaverse would allow for data sharing between different platforms and ensure that no single platform owns our personal information. Regardless of what the future holds for the metaverse, no single product or platform will hold the keys to it – it will be a matrix of different experiences built by different innovators.
Metaverse Misconception #6 – The Metaverse is the Matrix
According to a recent study, 32% of participants felt scared by the idea of the metaverse, compared to only 7% who felt excited. The concept of the metaverse can be frightening, particularly if the dominant idea is that we collectively plug into a photorealistic simulation from which there is no escape, as in The Matrix. A photorealistic metaverse is still years away from becoming a reality, and the metaverse is not intended to replace real life, but rather to augment our digital experiences in a more meaningful way.
The metaverse can also help us address important issues such as sustainability and accessibility more effectively than our current technology allows. The metaverse is not alarming or intimidating; it is merely the next step in creating a future where we work, live, and play.