The Metaverse promised so much. It was hyped as the place where we would work and socialise. However, in reality (or virtual reality), it was more of an awkward video game. The only people hanging out there were folk we might not have wanted to meet in the real world. It became the tech world’s obsession, and investors were keen to be part of the promised land. However, there was no coherent vision for the product, and now everyone is talking about AI. It seems as though the Metaverse has been assigned to the tech graveyard.
For a brief period, everyone was talking about the Metaverse. Fashion retailers spoke about people being able to try on clothes in virtual changing rooms before making an online purchase. It was anticipated that people could go on holiday without leaving their apartments. Even online gambling operators toyed with the idea of hosting the most secure and fastest paying casinos in this realm.
Mark Zuckerberg even changed the name of Facebook to Meta; such was the belief that the future was virtual. The media could not get enough of the concept; unfortunately, it did not live up to the promises. It was not an expansive, immersive vision of the internet; after all, the technology failed to deliver. It was more wonky virtual reality with low-quality avatars without legs or feet. The concept of virtual worlds and digital avatars has been around since the launch of the world wide web. While MMORPGs have been successful, the new technology did not build on what was already there. Horizon Worlds required a clunky Oculus headset and delivered nothing original.
At their 2021 Ignite Conference, CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, said that he could not overstate how much of a breakthrough was for his company. Roblox, which had existed since 2004, went public with a valuation of $41 billion by promising the world in the new world. Likewise, the guys behind the cryptocurrency industry hailed the Metaverse as the place where only crypto would matter.
In hindsight, it was all rather like the emperor’s new clothes. Without really understanding it and being terrified of missing out, everyone jumped in feet (or should that be feetless?) first. NFTs were changing hands at vastly inflated values, and the people behind the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT claimed the digital monkey pictures would be the key to mastering the Metaverse. People were even claiming that the Metaverse would be the next booming market for real estate. Then, Walmart and Disney announced they had joined the Metaverse.
Maybe lockdowns and the pandemic had affected business leaders’ judgement. We had spent so much time having to socialise from behind our screens that companies might have thought that was how our future would be. Perhaps they underestimated the human condition and our desire to be genuinely sociable in real-life situations. Once people were free to mix and mingle again, they chose to do so in real-life situations wherever possible. Most people rejected Zoom quizzes and virtual parties and opted to meet up in a bar or club and attend a festival or gig rather than a virtual concert.
While remote working has remained popular, this functions perfectly well using non-metaverse environments. Whatever the reason, we do not hear much talk of the Metaverse these days. All interest is now in generative AI. Microsoft’s AltSpace VR (its virtual workspace) was closed in January 2023, and it laid off the staff of its industrial metaverse team. Disney and Walmart followed suit. In addition, Walmart pulled the plug on its Roblox-based projects. With a hole blown in the hype, thousands of people lost their jobs.
The sucker punch was when Zuckerberg told the world’s press it was now investing in advancing AI and building it into every one of the company’s products. The company stopped pitching the Metaverse to advertisers, and there seems to be little interest in developing games for Quest headsets.
However, it might not be all over. Games companies are still interested in the opportunities, and Hadean has recently raised £4m for metaverse infrastructure tech. Hadean works with video game companies and believes 5G will help the Metaverse unlock its potential.