Welcome to the era of the next big thing — the metaverse.
At least, welcome to the age of metaverse hype.
Although that hype is currently outstripping reality, IT and business leaders should understand the ways in which the metaverse concept may affect how organizations and people engage, interact and transact.
Key concepts in this metaverse introduction for the CIO include the following:
- What is the metaverse — and are we there yet?
- What technologies are powering the metaverse?
- Why CIOs might consider putting the metaverse on their tech roadmap
- Why companies need CIOs to lead metaverse development
- 7 essential steps CIOs can take to prepare for the metaverse
- Overview of use cases
What is a metaverse?
Technology and gaming companies — including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Meta Platforms, formerly known as Facebook, Roblox, Nvidia and Unity — are all already duking it out to grab their share of the metaverse and figure out which aspects they can realistically conquer. But they’re not the only ones. Retailers such as Nike and Walmart are pioneering into new frontiers as well.
That activity has powered a full-throttle hype as if the world is on the verge of Matrix-like capabilities. For now, The Metaverse — as in one giant, unified metaverse — isn’t a reality. Current definitions of metaverse vary wildly and so do assessments of how fully developed the concept is today.
That said, Gartner’s definition encapsulates some major characteristics of the virtual space under discussion:
- collective and shared;
- created through enhanced digital and physical reality;
- persistent and immersive;
- accessible through any device, from VR headsets to tablets; and
- powered by blockchain currency.
The metaverse can be a fully digital realm in which people interact as avatars, said Marty Resnick, vice president and analyst on Gartner’s technology innovation team.
It can also be a mix of real-world and virtual experiences, such as individuals in their home attending a real-world rock concert where they’re able to see, hear and interact with those attending in person. In either case, the metaverse includes the ability to transact so that participants can use nonfungible tokens (NFTs), cryptocurrency or some other blockchain-enabled digital currency to buy and sell products and services and offer customer experience (CX) through 3D reconstructions.
Right now, a number of companies are piloting initial versions of what the metaverse will be, Resnick said. But the fully realized metaverse will rest on major advances to three areas: ability to easily transport and conduct life in another realm, a realized 3D representation of the physical world and a Web3 economy.
“We’re already seeing these three pieces come up today, and when they all come together, that’s where we’ll see the true metaverse,” Resnick said.
Although something resembling a unified metaverse is a decade or more into the future, a number of companies are starting to work on what will be precursors to that future vision, Resnick said.
Whether a fully connected metaverse becomes a reality remains to be seen.
Understand that any current example of “the” metaverse is neither a single destination nor a fully realized space, said Jeff Wong, global chief innovation officer at professional services firm EY. Rather, it’s a collection of different emerging digital worlds, some of which are public and others that are not — each built for its own purposes.
In other words, rather than one metaverse, a number of metaverse-like projects are under development.
Resnick likens it to the early days of the internet.
These early days of the metaverse are akin to the advent of the commercial internet, when providers each had their own services, companies created their own World Wide Web islands and the many parts weren’t interoperable, Resnick said.
The technology is simply not ready to support a fully immersive and shared metaverse. Interoperability, computing power, software protocols, networking capacity and the degree of sophistication don’t exist to create a true metaverse today — and it may never get there. Still, many industry watchers believe that enough of the components exist that CIOs and business leaders may want to explore the business opportunities the metaverse presents. Moreover, metaverse-related concepts present a host of risks, so CIOs will partner with their security and legal colleagues and proactively communicate those risks with other areas of the business.