Into the Metaverse: Digital media’s next massive theme
Big cities may rely on historical sights and antique treasures to draw in the tourists, but they can still benefit from infrastructure upgrades. Driving this evolution in the near-future will be tourism, one of the industries most rocked by Covid-19 that is steadily preparing for a post-pandemic world in which people are free to travel again.
With a nasty pandemic keeping many a venue shut around the world, there were few live musical highlights in 2020. But for music fans there were standouts of a virtual sort. For example a full-blown music festival headlined by Massive Attack and held by the beloved video game Minecraft.
It’s the games and game platforms that rely on user-generated content and online communities which are focusing on something called the metaverse, a virtual world where users share experiences and interact in real-time within simulated scenarios.
Although the metaverse is in the early stages of development, it’s becoming a critical theme in digital media (DM) as more and more tech companies invest in metaverses. The end result could revolutionise the entire DM industry.
The rise of Epic
A long-time endorser of the metaverse is Epic Games. It organised virtual concerts during the pandemic in Fortnite, its flagship game boasting over 350 million users worldwide. Epic demonstrated that such events could attract huge audiences seeking entertainment in new formats and also serve as a channel for brands, advertisers and celebrities to engage with their customers and fans in real-time. Prior to the pandemic it had already launched a crossover with Disney’s Star Wars franchise to create an event that was both promotion and plot point for 2019 blockbuster The Rise of Skywalker.
Having demonstrated its ability to operate in the metaverse, Epic raised $1bn funding in April 2021, led by a $200m investment from Sony. Meanwhile, social media-blended gaming platforms, such as Roblox and Facebook, and game makers like Niantic, are joining the Fortnite developer in developing metaverses.
Game developers with similarly active metaverse offerings could quickly become acquisition targets of the aforementioned big firms, depending on the success of their products and underlying technologies.
The metaverse is all about communities, and gaming is an ideal starting point. Beyond that there is a role to play by enterprise tech.
The biggest metaverse events so far have relied on fairly traditional tech. But companies investing in the metaverse will increasingly focus on next-gen themes such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and cloud computing, ones which the success of the metaverse will rely upon.
Enterprises will also be a key frontier. Businesses are critical markets for platforms such as AR and VR and will influence metaverse development.
BMW is already building a digital twin – a digital representation of a physical asset, system, or process – for its factory using Nvidia’s metaverse platform Omniverse. Microsoft meanwhile has Mesh, a mixed-reality, cloud-based meeting app that can teleport a person digitally to a remote location for shared experiences. This enterprise-grade metaverse is ideal for work revolving around 3D physical models.
While the metaverse is currently at a nascent stage, market competition will intensify as the tech titans battle for market dominance and non-tech brands track their progress for potential revenue and operational improvements.
Ultimately, consumer platforms will transform how people play, shop, access media, and interact. This means cybersecurity and data privacy will become paramount for metaverse developers.
When switching users between worlds, platforms rely on partner sites for authentication. This gets murkier if users are, say, playing Stormtrooper-dress up under an alias.
Meanwhile, those wanting to buy a virtual lighter to hold aloft at a Minecraft gig will make use of integrated contactless payments. But this increases this risk for online fraud.
The metaverse will offer us brave new worlds as it grows, but they’ll be ones accompanied by the same old risks.
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Main image credit: The Washington Post / Getty Images
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