Is the Metaverse the future of entertainment?
Once again, it's the time of the year when analysts attempt to gaze into their virtual crystal ball to predict what emerging technologies and trends will transform our world in 2022. With big tech focusing on building the metaverse and even Disney staking their claim that they will be the happiest place in the metaverse, we can expect this trend to dominate 2022 and beyond. But how did we get here?
The Ready Player One character, Wade Watts famously said that "people come to the Oasis for all the things that they can do, but they stay because of all the things they can be."
These words appeared to resonate with big tech as Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella revealed his vision for simulated environments and mixed reality. Elsewhere, Jensen Huang, the chief executive of Nvidia, also announced plans to create a virtual replica of our natural world using its Omniverse 3D modelling software.
From Facebook to Meta: a social technology company
However, it wasn't until Mark Zuckerberg surprised the world with the news that Facebook would be rebranding to Meta that the world's media started paying attention. Zuckerberg shared a vision of an embodied internet, where users are not just viewing content; they are a part of it. Facebook's metaverse concept is to empower users to feel present with other people as if they were in another place having different experiences.
For Facebook's aging user base, this rebrand was a leftfield decision that blindsided and confused them. But many forget that if you dare to look under the hood of the world's largest social network, you will find a lucrative ad market running the algorithms that keep users endlessly scrolling.
The problem for Facebook is that recent projections suggest that teenage users are projected to drop 45 percent over the next two years. By contrast, Epic Games revealed that over 12.3 million "Fortnite" players participated live in Travis Scott's "Astronomical" virtual performance, and millions also virtually attended Ariana Grande's virtual Fortnite Rift Tour.
With Roblox Corp and "Fortnite" maker Epic Games already securing the attention of young minds, Facebook was in danger of looking out of touch. Instead, by rebranding as Meta, the company is arguably attempting to move away from Frances Haugen's recent attack on its bad behaviour and is desperately trying to attract younger audiences to protect its future ad revenue.
Facebook is planning to spend at least $10 billion this year and will also be recruiting 10,000 in the EU alone to help bring its vision of the metaverse to life. But in its current form, Facebook's vision revealed on Twitter looks woefully out of touch with younger audiences. The tech giant then chose to disable the comments on its YouTube promotional video that seemed to be aimed at kids. However, the verdict still consisted of words such as cringe-worthy, sinister, creepy, and dystopian.
Will the metaverse be the future of entertainment?
Weta Digital, the visual effects company co-founded by film director Peter Jackson, recently hit the headlines when it was acquired by Unity in a $1.625 billion deal. The company behind the 3D game engine advised the move was in preparation for the global metaverse transition as the race to build virtual cityscapes, and realistic facial animation gathers pace.
In entertainment, the rise of a digital version of a person is gaining momentum. For example, in the Star Wars franchise, both Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher were digitally recreated. Mark Hamill was also de-aged for a young Luke Skywalker in Mandalorian. But soon, maybe we could break through the fourth wall and hang out with digital versions of our heroes in the metaverse.
Soul Machines has big plans to populate the metaverse with a digital workforce that we can converse with inside digital worlds. But they are much more than NPCs, and they could also become an extension of ourselves if users want to adopt a particular persona or personality online. Although this tech is primarily used for customer service here in 2021, it can only be a matter of time that we will be able to create digital versions of ourselves.
Regardless of your age, here in 2021, you can enjoy an immersive music experience watching anything from ABBA to Ariana Grande. The entire entertainment industry is ripe for disruption, and a quick look across the digital landscape reveals a long list of big tech companies wanting a slice of the pie.
Meta, Microsoft, Alphabet, Epic, Amazon, Roblox, Intel, HTC, Steam, Nvidia, Sony, and Apple are all investing in VR-related products and companies as the digital gold rush to stake a claim in the metaverse intensifies. But will Hollywood adapt to how we consume entertainment? And what does this mean for the future of how we socialize and enjoy each other's company?
If you look around to find yourself surrounded by non-playing characters (NPCs), you could soon be forgiven for questioning if you are in reality or a simulation.
Imagine putting on a haptic feedback suit and headset to enjoy a painless life in the metaverse when you feel that the world no longer makes sense, or you want to escape the chaos. Whether making reality disappear sounds like a tech utopia or part of a sinister dystopian plan is a debate for another day.