My critical view about “the Metaverse”

Recently the term “Metaverse” is across like in every IT related news. Noone really knows what it is but it seems to be the hot shit you have to be into! And it seems to be THE ultimate solution for so many odd problems AND a totally new business market!

The “metaverse” topic has followed me now a couple of months and I had a couple of discussions already about my critical view about the topic. And if it was worth discussing so often – it might be worth writing it down as well. 😀

What is “the Metaverse”?

To make it simple: It’s a marketing term. An extremely fuzzy marketing term. I won’t do an intense review or aggregation about all the articles. Just do a search about “What is the metaverse“. A lot of explanations are horrifically vague.

Gartner writes it a bit incomprehensibly: “The Metaverse is a collective virtual open space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It is physically persistent and provides enhanced immersive experiences.” (Eh – WHAT?)

Wikipedia is very focused on AR and VR: “A metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. In futurism and science fiction, it is often described as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets.

Wired.com states it pretty nicely: “Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change. That’s because the term doesn’t really refer to any one specific type of technology, but rather a broad (and often speculative) shift in how we interact with technology.

Meanwhile I hear talks and presentations about Metaverse that simply span over all kinds of “new business models”, including VR, AR, digital assets (NFTs), and blockchain technology in general.

And sometimes “the Metaverse” is also used for a community of people with an interest in new technology / business / …

So … it’s about all and nothing.

My Problem with “the Metaverse”

In my opinion there are a couple of problems which I’ll outline a bit. The following listing doesn’t claim to be complete. It’s just a couple of problems that I came across recently:

It’s so Vague

As written above: The term is simply too vague! It describes all and nothing at the same time. For me it has evolved to a synonym for “modern computer stuff”.

It’s not New

Regarding all that I’ve seen so far – it’s just not new. The term itself isn’t new. AR and VR aren’t new. Niantic published the AR games Ingress in 2013 and Pok√©mon Go back in 2016.

Microsoft published the AR Headset Hololens in 2016 and found a niche in the business sector.

If you define “a metaverse” as a place where people come together in a virtual space in order to interact – congratulations, it’s there already as well: In fact, since the first Multiplayer Mode in any Game was introduced. In nowadays MMORPGs thousands of gamers come together in virtual worlds to interact, buy & sell virtual assets, chat, hangout, have fun together. World of Warcraft might be one of the best examples: Launched in 2004 it is still an active cash cow in 2022. And – according to GameRevolution.com – it has an impressive revenue: “At its best, it held North of 12 million paying customers, equating to roughly $180 million per month in subscription revenue, or $2.15 billion per year.”

Even Blockchain technology is not new. Bitcoin was first published in 2008 and had its breakthrough more or less already. The hype around NFTs has really taken off in 2021. It’s not yet clear if the NFT hype peak is already been passed or is yet soon to come.

No Killer Application in VR

The problem with AR and VR is that the devices are still ways too expensive and / or too inconvenient for long time usage. But the real issue in the consumer market is that there is still no the real killer application. True: there are VR games that seem to have an immense immersion effect (have just played a single one myself).

But still, it’s by for not the case that a game is per se a VR game. And this in a market with solvent customers (Gaming PCs, graphics cards, …) and a business case (the VR game). Of course, this may change when the hardware is getting cheaper and more convenient. – At some time in the future.

Illusion of Interoperability

I’ve heard so often said that in “the metaverse” all kinds of digital assets can be imported from one world into another etc. Yet it’s never explained which worlds we are speaking about and where this would be applicable. – Except in Video Games – where it doesn’t make any sense if you invest just a minute to think about it. Game Two published an excellent ~1h discussion about this topic. That’s why I won’t go any deeper into it.

TL;DR: just no.

Technology vs. Solving a Problem

Most of the use cases that are presented have the simple problem that they do not solve a consumer or business problem. Instead, they highlight the use of fancy technology (usually blockchain / NFT). Hardly any consumer ever wanted to use a blockchain. People want problems solved or needs fulfilled not technology applied. Technology is just a tool to solve a problem. And in 99% of the cases you would not choose a blockchain due to its obvious disadvantages (which are also advantages at the same time).

Also, the example of a virtual world where people can buy houses and hang out. Sorry – we had this in Second Life. And it failed. Because there was no need fulfilled for any person (except journalists who didn’t realize World of Warcraft did a better job already).

Too much Simplification / Abstraction

As written above: the term “Metaverse” is extremely vague, it covers Software / Hardware / Technology / Cyberspace in general. – And with the naming “The Metaverse”, like there is just one, it creates the subtle illusion of an abstraction layer over all these technology and business cases. As if suddenly all those cases could play magically together, are interoperable, play fine into one big thing – the metaverse.

Doesn’t sound too bad, he? But by such a definition the whole internet as we know it through the browser would be the one of Googleverse (or Bingverse). Maybe more precise: all online shops would have to be the one of Amazonverse, Aliverse, Ottoverse. And all the Onlineshops would interact magically (payment, user accounts, returns, shipping) – which – they just don’t.

It’s just the same concept. It simply simplifies too much.

The Disruptive UseCases

I’ve seen / heard SO many disruptive Metaverse use cases. Almost all cases so far were simply naive or the people presenting their idea had absolutely no idea of the business area that they want to disrupt. If you want to disrupt a business area it’s not enough to throw in new technology. You need to know all the players (stakeholders) in the field and identify whom you want to disrupt and why one or some other players have an advantage of it. If no one profits from the disruption, there is no business case.

Also, for every business case: always ask yourself: this sounds so obvious – there was really never ever someone before having this idea? And surprise: It’s not uncommon that companies tried this “disruption” before and failed. And in such cases: look carefully WHY they failed. Was it too early? Was it just bad luck?
Or: Did customers simply not want the product? (In that case: get your hands off!!)

The Name

Okay, this might be a personal thing. But Facebook rebranded itself to Meta and fired the Metaverse hype. Assuming the new business cases really do work etc. Do I want to have it brand-wise all connected to Facebook?

In parallel to the above: I don’t want to call every online shop “another Amazon”. It’s a drama already that “googling” became a synonym for “searching”. But I personally do not like to have Facebook standing as a brand over everything that relates to VR, AR, Blockchain, Virtual Worlds, …

Is Metaverse all Crap?

Let’s make it short: No!
There are applications for AR.
There are applications vor VR.
Blockchain does have use cases.
NFTs do have use cases.

But I also do not see a Metaverse-Layer connecting all kinds of technology and businesses.

So – Who is the Target Audience?

Well, I’m not particularly sure. But playing the sarcastic guy I would say:

Investors: Maybe you find a stupid investor that are totally blinded by the hype train. Maybe you have to have “Metaverse” somewhere in your pitch to be hot.

CEO / Management: If you want to sell a shitty product. Place Metaverse somewhere in your product presentation! It sounds awesomely modern! It makes the impression that you are totally interoperable (so cheap to integrate) and open a totally new business with lots of revenue. (Funnily the same story as “Data is the new Oil”)

Shareholders: If you have a big company, claim to do some Metaverse projects! You show that you are on the bleeding edge of technology! You are ahead of competitors.

Journalists: Ah well – Journalists should have learned from Second Life.