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The Fog Encompassed Vision of the Metaverse

When technology megastar Mark Zuckerburg announced that the iconic social media channel Facebook was transitioning to become Meta, very few people other than a relative few, obsessed technology nerds had a clue of what the Metaverse was or what it might become to the average citizen. Months later, little has changed. Even the most dedicated techie continues to struggle with defining what it is, how it is going to alter those of us living in the real world, and why anyone should don a clunky headset and escape reality and journey off into a yet undefined virtual space. The ambiguity of the definition of the Metaverse hasn’t stopped a slew of investors from shelling out billions of dollars to be the first to gamble on Mr. Zuckerberg’s newest vision. After all, many cautious investors are still reeling from previous decisions to pass on what they determined at the time was a financial folly called Facebook.

Internet searches for the meaning of Metaverse increased by 7,200 percent in 2021 and apparently even the most avid pundits of the virtual world are still attempting to unlock a meaning that the average internet surfer can grasp. At the end of 2021, private capital had attracted as much as $10 billion to invest in advancing metaverse-related companies. In just 12 months, gaming giant Epic Games raised $3 billion to fund its long-term vision of the Metaverse. Still, all the proponents of the newest virtual offering cannot agree on a common definition of Metaverse.

McKinsey Quarterly recently discovered venture capitalist Matthew Ball’s vision of the coming Metaverse. “We believe that the Metaverse is best characterized as an evolution of today’s internet—it is something we are immersed in instead of something we look at. It may realize the promise of vast digital worlds to parallel our physical one. For marketers, the metaverse represents an opportunity to engage consumers in entirely new ways while pushing internal capabilities and brand innovation in new directions.” Is it clear now? Well, even Matthew admits that “We do continue to see a healthy amount of skepticism about the metaverse, and companies may wish to exercise caution, since the promise may take some time catching up to the hype.”

Today, the nearest physical representation of a Metaverse can be found in the gaming community where users strap on a clunky headset and escape physical reality to enjoin competitors in virtual games of contest. But the envisioned Metaverse is a virtual space that is always “on” in real-time, spans both the virtual world and physical reality through multiple platforms, and has a fully functional virtual economy. Many see a wider application beyond just gaming where musicians, entertainers, and sporting events can be experienced in real-time just as if the user was attending in person. Do you detect an undertone of skepticism here?

Promoters of the Metaverse admit to the many challenges that lie ahead of widespread public adoption. Now, only 28 percent of owners of virtual devices use them daily and virtual supporters who have promised for nearly a decade that the VR mainstream revolution was just around the corner have failed to produce even the dimmest light at the end of a technological dark tunnel. Another limiting factor to universal adoption is the possibility that VR is inherently unappealing to a vast majority of people. Developers of the technology continue to work out things like “cyber sickness”, a symptom mimicking motion sickness and vertigo. Studies are revealing many users complaining of neck stiffness and shoulder discomfort being experienced after long-term use. But perhaps the most formidable obstacle to widespread acceptance is put forth by Ramona Pringle, a digital technology professor and researcher. “Once you put on the headset, you’re separated from the world around you.”

Still, the prognostications for the coming Metaverse are mostly optimistic for a new medium that would be a game changer for marketers. We, the practitioners of modern marketing, are being warned to not miss out on what could be a fundamental revolution in how sellers connect with consumers. We shouldn’t embark on a campaign to steal the Metaverse dream. With so much of the vision still clearly undefined and the reality of a virtual reality immersed in a fog of fantasy, marketers should remain open minded but cautious and vigilant as to its future promise.