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Is the metaverse destined to fail?

From Microsoft to Meta, companies are quick to onboard the metaverse train. But are they investing billions of dollars in the concept that could ultimately be a flop?

The metaverse is projected to be a $760 billion business by 2026, with Mark Zuckerberg set to invest about half of NASA’s annual budget-worth of money into it over the next decade. But what is it in the first place?

The grand idea of the metaverse goes far beyond simply inserting yourself in your favorite game. At least in theory, you’ll be able to rent property, work, attend events, build communities, own pets, and even have your personal digital worlds.

“We believe the Digital Village multiverse can evolve into authentic digital worlds – built and governed the way the community wishes and limited only by the creativity of those who inhabit them,” Shaun Ogilvy told Cybernews.

However, this, in turn, poses a variety of questions. On the one hand, the metaverse can erase geographical barriers that might stand between you and your perfect job, favorite artist’s concert, and destination. On the other hand, if the metaverse simply replicates your life in a video game format, then what’s the appeal of it?

Let’s imagine that the metaverse bridges the gap between people who’d like to socialize and experience things outside of their location. Live streaming, Skype, and video calls did it long ago, and further virtualization is unlikely to solve the need for live interactions. This leads us to think whether the metaverse is trying to address problems that are simply not there or is offering solutions that already exist.

A lawless space?

Concept questions aside, the logistics of the metaverse remain a serious concern. Who is going to regulate this space where exciting opportunities co-exist with virtual rape and abuse?

Nina Jane Patel shared her traumatizing experience in Meta’s Horizon Venues, recalling that it felt as real as reality itself.

“Within 60 seconds of joining, I was verbally and sexually harassed. 3–4 male avatars with male voices virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos. As I tried to get away, they yelled: ‘don’t pretend you didn’t love it,’” she said.

With the metaverse, we are facing a new world that is more engaging, personal, and interactive than the internet could ever imagine being. Who will govern it, who will police it, and who will ensure all regulations are complied with? As we still live in the era of piracy, spam, the dark web, and hacks, it’s only worrying to think about all this being moved to virtual reality. Perhaps, it’s best to solve those issues on mainly text-based platforms before seriously considering expanding the attack surface to VR.

“There's going to be a global public world, and it raises a bunch of issues around jurisdiction and regulation,” Daniel Cohen, cybersecurity company Radware’s vice president, told Cybernews. “Are the metaverse companies thinking about how they will protect their users, regulate actions that occur in the metaverse, who's going to regulate that, who's going to govern, police it? I don't know who's going to do it.”

A questionable niche

The main revenue stream of the metaverse will likely come from video game makers. Yet, Bloomberg’s survey of 17,650 people revealed that almost 70% are not keen to spend their time playing games in virtual reality on a regular basis. This only seems to make sense: to most, gaming is a hobby, not a lifestyle – and even more so with VR.

From this perspective, the metaverse will not be a sustainable idea. Unless people are lured into the metaverse with something other than initial curiosity and occasional gaming experiences, it’ll be hard to convince someone that buying a virtual apartment (even if it’s twice cheaper) is better than getting a real one.

And the pandemic has already proved that lifeless avatars, virtual meetings, and video calls simply don’t cut it when it comes to real-world interactions. The metaverse inherently assumes that once you put a headset on and see avatars of other people closer than on a computer screen, you feel more connected. Whether that is true, the industry will have to discover.

Ads, ads, and more ads…

It is no wonder that the metaverse will greatly depend on advertising through a commerce-led business model. Access to it will likely remain free, with additional things like pets, furniture, and avatar skins costing extra money.

Yet, nothing is really free when it comes to platforms and apps. But while you may choose to look away or click out from ads online, your metaverse experience might periodically get interrupted by the latest Walmart sales. Your only option? To deal with it or take your VR glasses off.

As exciting and cool-sounding as the metaverse is, it’s important to consider it as a business concept and a tech innovation that companies are pouring lots of money into. And if virtual reality is nothing more than a small part of our lives, then we might be too quick to think that the metaverse will be anything more than that.

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