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Will the metaverse ever pan out as Meta hopes?

That’s become a key question in recent times, with the company investing billions into a long-term project that, thus far, still looks largely experimental, and seems unlikely to become a replacement for online interactions as we know them.

Mark Zuckerberg in the metaverse

This image, shared by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, quickly came to represent the company’s failure, or at least, challenge in the space. Because while Meta’s VR development has actually been amazing – affordable, standalone VR headsets are a revolution that many seem to overlook – the practical value of the space just isn’t there. And as time goes on, it seems like maybe Zuck could have got it wrong in this instance, or at the least, that he could have gone too early with his metaverse push.

But then again, when you’re investing $10 billion in a year into a project, investors are going to want to see results.

Which leaves Meta in a tough spot – going too early leads to disappointment and criticism, while creating in private could limit future business opportunities.

Which leads to the question – how far off are we from an actual, viable, realistic metaverse shift?

According to Meta, we’re definitely still years away.

At the company’s Connect conference this week, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that:

It’s not like this stuff is going to be fully mature in a year or even two or three years. It’s going to take a long time to build out the next computing platform.”

Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth echoed the same:

“It’s still far away, but it’s continuing to appear every year that we are one year closer.”

Last October, as part of the announcement of Facebook’s re-brand to the Meta name, Zuckerberg also explained that his metaverse vision will take five to ten years to become a mainstream consideration. That would theoretically mean that we’re not likely to be interacting in a fully-functional, fully-integrated metaverse space till 2031 – and on that timeline, it really doesn’t matter what Zuckerberg’s avatar looks like right now, because so much will happen as technological advancements continue to accelerate in the space.

TikTok, for example, had just 55 million users in 2018, and has now become a dominant player in the space, with well over a billion actives. A lot can change, very quickly, in the space, and with that in mind, it’s not unfeasible to imagine that the metaverse could still become the thing.

It’s just not there as yet.

In some ways, many had hoped that Meta would unveil a clearer vision for how this might come about as part of its Connect conference this week, but the announcements and updates, largely focused on VR for professional use, didn’t really blow anyone away.

That will no doubt lead to more skepticism about Zuckerberg’s vision – but again, perspective is important, particularly in regards to the acceleration of VR development, which has already seen Meta’s Quest app store bring in over $1.5 billion in revenue.

As reported by TechCrunch:

The company notes that more than one-third of the company’s 400 Quest titles have grossed more than $1 million in sales, with 33 titles having surpassed $10 million in gross revenue. A couple bright spots that Meta noted among individual titles include The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners surpassing $50 million in revenue on Quest, and Resident Evil making $2 million in its first 24 hours in the store.”

Again, this is an amazing achievement, and the experiences facilitated by Meta’s Quest headsets are indeed mind-blowing at times. Align that with the next-level vision of a more integrated metaverse experience, and there are clearly strong signals there – especially when you also consider how younger audiences are essentially already engaging in metaverse experiences within game worlds like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox.

This is already an established, habitual process for these audiences, and as such, it stands to reason that they’ll be increasingly open to the same in a broader range of settings as they get older.

AR and VR advances, aligned with these trends, do indeed point to a metaverse future – though the actual process of facilitating such will still require many steps.

Which Meta is also working on. Another important announcement at Connect this week was Meta’s new agreement with Microsoft, which will see the two tech giants working together on a range of VR integrations for Microsoft apps and tools.

That, in itself, serves immediate, practical purpose for professional VR use. But it also opens up negotiations between the two companies on other elements, like facilitating cross-platform integration between Microsoft’s various platforms – including Windows, Xbox, LinkedIn – within Meta’s metaverse experience.

The true fulfillment of Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision will require agreement on universal schemas to build within the metaverse space, enabling all kinds of partner developers to plug their tools into the space, enabling users to, say, take their character avatar from Fortnite to Horizon Worlds to a Microsoft Teams meeting, etc.

That’s a complex proposal. It’s taken years of negotiation and back-end work for video game platforms to facilitate cross-app play, and that, in some ways, is a precursor to what we’ll have to see in the lead-up to the next phase of metaverse development.

With this in mind, the fact that Meta’s already working with Microsoft, and other big-name players in the space, is a positive sign for future potential, which could see more partnerships established to make such a reality.

But again, it’ll all take time. In Zuckerberg’s own words:

It’s not going to be until later this decade that this stuff really starts to get fully mature.

There are steps required, and patience, but eventually, there are clear signs that it is all going to take shape, just as Zuck envisions.

So long as Meta doesn’t keep losing money, so long as its past reputation doesn’t impede it, so long as the perception of the metaverse doesn’t get so damaged by early screenshots and examples that it becomes a joke, which then sees people avoid it as a result.

That could still happen. Google Glass bombed on the back of public criticism (though there were functional problems as well), and that early sentiment can play a part in impeding take-up.

Facebook may have changed its name to avoid association with its past missteps, but skepticism is already fairly strong around its metaverse development, and if Zuck and Co. keep posting images that look like screenshots from The Sims, that won’t do much to ingratiate people to this new experience.

Add to this reports of internal doubt over the project, that Meta developers won’t even use Horizon Worlds because it’s too buggy, that VR headsets hurt after a couple of hours of use. There’s no shortage of reasons to doubt the broader vision, but on balance, when you take into account Meta’s statements on such, and look at how far things have evolved, in line with broader trends, it still does seem like this could become a real thing.

But it’ll take time – which is why you probably don’t need to be investing in a metaverse strategy right now, and why being an early mover may actually cost you a lot more than it’s worth in this instance.

There are elements worth considering, like 3D modeling and the integration of your products into AR experiences. There are ways that you can prepare for the next stage, but until those schemas and processes are agreed to, nobody knows what’s going to work in the metaverse and what isn’t.

Because the metaverse, as of right now, does not exist. We’re years away from this being an actual thing, as per Meta’s own statements. So before you take that pitch from that consulting firm on how to kick off your metaverse approach, or you consider appointing a chief metaverse officer, consider first where things are actually placed right now, and what that actually means for your business process.

There may well be advantages to being prepared, and considering where things are heading. But the metaverse hype has gotten ahead of development, and there are still key building blocks that need to fall into place before the next steps can realistically be taken.