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The metaverse: A virtual reality check

The so-called metaverse is years away, but many businesses are keen to ride the industry hype in a bid to benefit from first-mover advantage

Analyst Forrester recently defined the metaverse as an immersive experience of interoperable and interlinked environments that will be delivered via a variety of devices. According to the Forrester report The state of the metaverse, it will be delivered in stages, building out to a decentralised platform that puts a 3D experience on top of the World Wide Web.

“Early metaverse use cases will focus on gaming and entertainment,” say the report’s authors. “Today’s multiplayer, immersive gaming platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox and The Sandbox are obvious on-ramps to the imagined metaverse because users can customise their avatars, attend virtual concerts, explore with virtual friends, and team up with other players.”

One example of this is Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite and Unreal Engine, for building 3D experiences in games. Its vision to build a child-safe metaverse has now been boosted by a $2bn investment from Sony and Kirkbi, the family-owned holding and investment company behind the Lego Group.

The investment builds on a recent collaboration with Lego to bridge the physical and digital worlds. Niels Christiansen, CEO of the Lego Group, said: “Kids enjoy playing in digital and physical worlds and move seamlessly between the two. We believe there is huge potential for them to develop life-long skills such as creativity, collaboration and communication through digital experiences.

“But we have a responsibility to make them safe, inspiring and beneficial for all. Just as we’ve protected children’s rights to safe physical play for generations, we are committed to doing the same for digital play. We look forward to working with Epic Games to shape this exciting and playful future.”

There are opportunities across all industry sectors to build out metaverse capabilities, but adoption among consumers is likely to come from gamers and those who are active on social media platforms, according to Forrester. Initial analysis from Forrester has found that 22% of online adults in the US and the UK demonstrate the kind of intense gaming and social media activities conducive to metaverse early adoption.

Not only do they love to live online, but Forrester’s research found that these people actively invest in creating personalised social media presences. It found that half (49%) of this cohort, or 11% overall, use a virtual reality (VR) headset often, and 15% have bought haptic rigs to enhance their experience.

Business case for a metaverse stake

On the business side, leading PC manufacturer Lenovo recently unveiled grand plans to build out its metaverse capabilities. Over the next three years, the company plans to hire 12,000 R&D professionals around the world to focus around new and emerging IT architecture. Among the key areas of R&D that Lenovo plans to develop is  technology to help businesses capitalise on the metaverse.

In a podcast uploaded at the end of March, Richard Ward, a senior manager in the enterprise virtual reality practice at McKinsey, discussed the opportunities to use the metaverse as a training environment. He said: “If you run a service organisation – for example, a fast-food chain – the ability to teach people all of the processes and mechanisms of the line before they even get close to dangerous equipment has very broad uses across the board that you can literally do now.”

Like many industry observers, McKinsey’s Ward points out that the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns radically changed the way people think about office work. “I am truly excited about the ability for how we build on Zoom for a remote work and play environment,” he said in the podcast. “One of the great lessons we’ve had from the pandemic, as horrible as it’s been, is that things that people had said were impossible for decades are now possible. Like the idea that you can’t possibly have everybody not be in the office – it’s been proven wrong.”

Read more about the metaverse for business

  • The metaverse is the wild west of the internet, but pioneering businesses are laying the foundations for a new era of virtual reality.
  • Few topics have attracted more headlines over the past year than hybrid work and the metaverse. How can these realities fit together and become productive in the new normal of work?

Taking this a stage further, the tech sector sees an opportunity to develop the metaverse to support hybrid work patterns. A study from CCS Insight, based on a survey of 611 respondents across France, Germany, Spain and the UK, reported that enterprise use of extended reality spiked in the pandemic, providing new ways to enable a distributed workforce.

The data from CCS shows there is growing interest in the metaverse, whetting appetites for virtual collaboration. Its research found that a quarter of employees have already experimented with extended reality, and a further 44% are keen to try it.

IT services firm DXC Technology is one of the businesses trying to deliver the VR experience of the metaverse to its own staff and clients, through its virtual world platform. DXC believes that immersive collaboration offers higher levels of engagement than traditional online collaboration tools.

It found that the Generation Z demographic is the most likely generation to integrate advanced technologies such as VR and augmented reality (AR) seamlessly into their daily lives. In fact, 57% of DXC employees have attended an event in the metaverse.

Prepare infrastructure and build skills

As Forrester notes, it is very early days for the metaverse. But CIOs and CTOs will still need to develop a strategy to ensure they have the right mix of skills and technical infrastructure to provide the business with a metaverse experience, when it is needed. Forrester recommends that IT leaders develop a strategy to assess, manage and prioritise key technologies that are enabling the metaverse.

“Track and understand tools like Unreal Engine, Unity and other metaverse building blocks,” say the authors of the State of the metaverse report. They recommend that CIOs plan to bolster the foundation underpinning metaverse initiatives, which means building up skills and talent in key metaverse building-block technologies and 3D modelling.

Forrester also urges IT leaders to assess the hardware, software, cloud, 5G and other technologies necessary to support metaverse experiences.

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