Facebook’s recent decision to rebrand itself as Meta is intended to put the social media company at the center of an emerging digital universe which could soon become the default environment for online shopping – the Metaverse.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that wholesale adoption of virtual spaces and avatars will combine to help people select, try out, and buy many products. Everything from virtual clothes, furniture, and decorations to skills or attributes, hosting hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce in the process.[i] The social media giant has committed US$10bn to that end and hopes to transition itself into a metaverse platform within the next five years.
More than just the Metaverse
The Metaverse won’t be limited to Meta, though, and the company will be a component within a massive, all-encompassing digital ecosystem. Other early contributors to its formation include Epic Games (Fortnite) and Roblox, whose virtual 3D, avatar-filled interactive spaces are already considered by many to be prime examples of how the Metaverse will play out.
Microsoft is set to roll out Mesh for Microsoft Teams in 2022, a feature that allows users of the collaboration platform to join virtual meetings in the guise of their digital twin using a smartphone, laptop, or AR/VR headset. Accenture, which hires more than 100,000 people each year, has piloted the platform to onboard new hires by creating a digital avatar and sharing a virtual space that includes a central conference room, virtual boardroom, and monorails leading to different environments on its digital campus.[ii]
Unity Software, which has developed a platform for creating and operating interactive, real-time 2D/3D content, is another early Metaverse proponent. Its technology is widely used in mobile gaming, film production, and AR/VR applications, and the company sees additional potential in construction, automotive, and architecture.[iii]
And elsewhere, Nvidia has built Omniverse, billed as an end-to-end 3D design collaboration and digital twin simulation platform intended to allow artists, designers, and team members to collaborate within a virtual space. Carmaker BMW is using the platform to create digital twins of its production line robots, armed with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities to optimize the performance and maintenance of its factory operations.
3D version of the Internet
The combination of virtual social spaces, online collaboration, hybrid offices, video-based education, and eCommerce will further expand to provide a digital space for humans, or virtual versions of humans, to work, play, learn, socialize and shop. So rather than just give people access to the Internet through their PC, tablet, or smartphone, the Metaverse will continually place everybody inside an embodied, virtual or 3D version of the Internet as billions of always-on connected devices and users communicate with each other in real-time.
In other words, the Metaverse will grow to become a mass scale, interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced simultaneously by an unlimited number of users, each with a unique sense of presence and continuity of data like identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments. That goes way beyond just VR, which is just a means of giving people access to experiencing it.
Industry author and commentator Matthew Ball – author of the book The Metaverse: And How it Will Revolutionise Everything – defines multiple components of the Metaverse needed to bring out its full potential. These include the hardware that enables people to interact with it; the fixed and mobile networks that interconnect it; the compute resources that process its data; the virtual platforms which create its immersive, 3D digital worlds; and a set of tools, protocols, formats, services, and engines that ensure interoperability.
Digital payment integration key to Metaverse commerce
Another of those components is support for digital payment processes, platforms, and operations which enable inhabitants of the Metaverse to send money to each other and pay for digital goods and services during their online shopping sprees. Commercial activities will go a long way to funding the Metaverse’s creation, as will advertising.
For example, meta is already developing Horizon Marketplace, intended as a space for creators – both individuals and businesses – to sell and share their 3D digital products, a crucial accelerator for the Metaverse economy. Facebook’s previous business model has relied on digital advertising for large portions of its revenue. Horizon Worlds – part of a new suite of virtual reality tools linked closely to the Facebook social media platform – is likely to be no different.
And wherever consumers meet to buy digital products and services, they will also need a way to fund them, with electronic wallets (eWallets) and social payments identified as leading candidates alongside the cryptocurrencies that already bankroll avatars in popular video games. Those payment methods are likely to align closely with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that assign unique identities to avatars and digital items which contain a history of previous digital interactions, experiences, purchases, and possessions to emulate a “personality.”
Of course, there is a lot still to be done concerning the interoperability of so many hardware components, software applications, networks, and cloud services needed to ensure avatars and digital spaces can co-exist in the same ecosystem. Ensuring that digital twins retain access to the same data they pass from one platform to another will be critical. As will be the establishing robust identity and security defenses and setting up uniform payment mechanisms which allow consumers to seamlessly purchase goods and services in the different Metaverse spaces they travel across.
[i] The Facebook Rebrand and What it Means for “Metaverse Commerce”, Retail TouchPoints, 29th October 2021
[ii] Mesh for Microsoft Teams aims to make collaboration in the ‘metaverse’ personal and fun, Microsoft, 2nd November 2021
[iii] Unity Software: The Metaverse Can Be A Game Changer, Seeking Alpha, 8th October 2021