Sandeep Bangia: Is the Metaverse living up to the hype around it?

While interest levels are high around the Metaverse, it is still a novelty for brands and consumers, as currently, only a few walk the virtual alleys

Sandeep BangiaUpdated: Monday, May 30, 2022, 09:23 AM IST
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Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash had for the first time referred to the term ‘Metaverse’. In that novel, Stephenson coined the term Metaverse and popularized the term ‘avatar’ in a computing context. It got amplified when a maiden Metaverse Roadmap Summit was held in 2006 and received coverage from leading publications.

The term ‘Metaverse’ then received a boost when Mark Zuckerberg announced his big bet around the Metaverse during his Q2 2021 earnings call, mentioning the word more than 15 times in the course of it. That was when the word entered the popular lexicon.

It became the new buzzword in tech circles, and everyone fell over one another to get associated with the Metaverse. In the meantime, platforms like Decentraland and Sandbox gave some contours to the Metaverse concept - a merging of virtual, augmented and physical reality, blurring the line between online and real-life interactions.

“The defining quality of the Metaverse is presence, which is this feeling that you’re really there with another person or in another place. Creation, avatars and digital objects are going to be central to how we express ourselves, and this is going to lead to entirely new experiences and economic opportunities,” Zuckerberg (who renamed his company Meta) had said then.

He had also committed over $10 billion to developing the ecosystem around the Metaverse. While Zuckerberg talked about Metaverse in the social context, it was just a few weeks back and a few lanes away in the Silicon Valley, that Microsoft boss Satya Nadella, in his keynote address at his company’s annual conference ‘Inspire 2021’, talked about the ‘Enterprise Metaverse Stack’.

“Digital technology will be the key to resilience and transformation through whatever may come our way. There is no going back to digital adoption levels of two years ago, there’s only going forward,” Nadella had said.

Microsoft’s Enterprise Metaverse is a cross-pollination of IoT, hololens technology, augmented reality, digital twins, big data and the works. In some ways, the prevalence of COVID helped the growth of everything that was in the virtual domain, which could also explain the heightened interest around Metaverse.

ENTRY OF BRANDS

Brands are constantly trying to reach their customers who would be inevitably bombarded with an overload of marketing messaging. Embracing new and novel immersive technologies can be a sure-shot way to engage and wow such audiences by ‘cutting through the clutter’.

Globally, brands such as Gucci with its Gucci Garden, Disney with its ‘virtual world simulator’ for its theme parks, Hyundai Motor Company with its ‘Mobility Adventure’, Nike post its acquisition of ‘RTFKT’ (a digital design studio producing virtual sneakers!) and others are preparing for the Metaverse foray.

In India too, we have seen brands flirting with this medium. Tanishq had launched its collection ‘Romance of Polki’ with Rivaah virtually on the Metaverse, and they named it ‘Rivaahverse’. Guests who joined the launch could create their avatars and get a 360-degree view of the jewellery in the display zone. Of course, their avatars could also socialise with each other.

Amazon India launched the One Plus 10 Pro handset on the Metaverse, which allowed users to walk through the unboxing venue and get a good ‘feel’ of the product in the virtual environment before making the buy decision.

Recently, the Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL) released their ‘She Remains the Taj’ campaign on the Metaverse. Just as in a physical venue, the Metaverse enabled avatars of the guests to meet and interact with each other and to explore different spaces.

Some brands and categories can genuinely benefit from a combination of the physical and digital worlds, but there are brands out there who want to register their presence on the Metaverse just to test the waters. They want to get on to the bus even as they figure out the next steps.

While no one is sure about the future of the Metaverse, everyone is almost certain that if Metaverse – “an ultimate expression of social technology” (in the words of Mark Zuckerberg) – has to succeed, a lot of work needs to be done, a lot of investment has to happen in enabling technologies and a lot of folks from different domains have to work in unison. We are quite far from it.

IS IT FOR REAL?

In fact, purists and sceptics say that the hype around the Metaverse is a creation of the pandemic era, where everything virtual was lapped up and labelled as the future or the ‘new normal’.

Maybe it is a big bold bet (using his billions) by Zuckerberg to steer the tech world away from his company’s (now) dwindling fortunes into an uncertain future, or is it just the future of high-quality gaming? No one knows.

No brand can today claim that it has reached me or anyone I know through the Metaverse. It is a novelty for brands and for consumers, as currently, there are only a few who walk the virtual alleys. The interest levels on this topic, however, are sky high and the space is being watched closely. It will continue to be such in the foreseeable future.

As for me, I would currently not expend effort in creating a ‘different reality’ with 3D avatars, but rather focus on making my ‘real life’ better. I am stepping out in the real world to meet real friends in fresh air for a short run along the lake now. Beat that, can you?

(The author is a senior professional in the corporate sector and writes on varied topics that catch his fancy. The views expressed here are his own. He tweets at @sandeepbangia)

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