Described by IDC earlier this year, as “a networked world that integrates off and online experiences,” the metaverse has had its fair share of attention, not least because one of its foremost supporters is Meta CEO and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Ever since Facebook bought VR firm Oculus for $2bn in 2014 (the Oculus name has now been phased out with various headsets discontinued) Zuckerberg has been on a virtual world supporting trajectory of hype. The metaverse has been the recent beneficiary of Zuckerberg’s PR push but as Gartner suggests in its recent hype-cycle for emerging technologies, the metaverse is more than 10 years away from being really useful.
Maybe that’s a little harsh. So many aspects of what will make the metaverse a usable entity already exist. Digital twins and blockchain, for example, but it does beg the question, why would these technologies need the metaverse at all? At a time when budgets are being squeezed amid economic uncertainty, is now the right time for investing in the metaverse?
It’s easy to scoff. VR and AR have been around for a long time and although they are fascinating technologies, they have always lacked killer applications outside of the games industry. The metaverse feels as though, for the moment at least, it falls into the same category. Zuckerberg hasn’t really helped. His bizarre Horizon Worlds avatar unveiling triggered derision. Virtual worlds it seems, can polarize opinion.
This is especially true within enterprise boardrooms, where it perhaps matters most. As CB Insights recently found, mentions of the metaverse on public company earnings calls have cooled from a high of over 400 mentions this time last year. It’s a crude measurement but an indication of changing priorities. Boardrooms are too busy trying to work out the size and shape of the impending economic storm to worry about how they are going to operate in and exploit a virtual platform.
Steve Ingram, technology specialist and partner at Deloitte is not surprised. “It still feels like a solution looking for a problem,” he says. “There’s still a lack of digital awareness on boards so they tend to latch onto things, like the metaverse but then you have to start asking questions. What are we going to do and what are we going to get from it? How much is it going to cost and is there any revenue?”