Industry insiders like Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of the company formerly known as Facebook, insist metaverse is the future, but Virtual Reality (VR) headset sales are slowing and mass adoption is not happening as fast as some would like.
CGTN Europe went to the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona to gauge where the metaverse is right now.
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The first question most of us ask is what is the metaverse?
"The easiest way to think about it is that it's the Internet that we've been building for the last 30 years, but it's the 3D version," says Alvin Wang Graylin, China President and Global VR lead at High Tech Computer Corporation (HTC), a consumer electronics company based in Taiwan.
"It's powered by AI using devices to put you into immersive worlds at any time," he continues. "It's not that complicated. A lot of people talk about decentralization or crypto, but those are other types of technologies, not requirements for the metaverse."
'An opportunity to go to the max'
There is absolutely no doubt that in some fields, the metaverse has seen phenomenal success. Artists like BTS, BlackPink, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and even Ozzy Osborne have performed live on the metaverse with millions of people around the world paying to attend.
The highest grossing concert in the metaverse was by Travis Scott when he performed on the Fortnite platform, for which over 45 million people plugged in. The nine-minute virtual concert reportedly hauled in $20 million, smashing records and offering a glimpse at the potential the metaverse has.
Meanwhile, Scott's four-month Astroworld tour grossed $53.5 million over 56 dates.
"It was an opportunity to go to the max, to create a world that permits won't let you do, fire marshals won't let you do, building codes won't let you do," the artist later said.
What is the 'real value' of metaverse?
At the 2023 MWC, two of the most popular experiences that people queued hours for were HTC Vive's wide floor for virtual reality gaming, and SK Telecom's VR flight simulator. SK Telecom's experience was inside a moving prototype for a future flying taxi, and it was a hit.
But the enthusiasm was curbed a little at the MWC, at talks like 'Metaverse - Future, fad or fraud.' The MWC23 Barcelona Daily publication reported that three out of four analysts said the metaverse was overhyped.
Speaking to CGTN, Sohjin Baek, a tech market analyst with GfK, AI-powered intelligence platform and consulting service for the consumer products industry, shared her doubts too, particularly from a consumer angle with questions over a return of investment (ROI).
"The value proposition about what's indispensable and what the metaverse promises might have a longer way to go to persuade the users," she says.
Beyond gaming and entertainment Baek believes the real value is in the corporate world. The question is, will success on the metaverse reach beyond gaming and entertainment to mainstream work and daily life?
"The entertainment side is probably where a lot of it is going to start," says Wang Graylin. "But the real value to me is actually bringing it into the corporate and work world, so you can do collaborations around the world and feel like you're in your office with a bunch of your colleagues even though you're hundreds of miles away.
"Or to do education, so you could be with classmates from around the world and be able to feel like you're right there."
Baek also sees similar potential.
"I do see that the metaverse for industrial/enterprise offers high potential as it provides a firm value of cost saving and return of investment through real-time interactive simulation, training or prediction in a digital twin environment," she says. "With a clear benefit that the metaverse promises, there is no doubt that corporates would actively utilize metaverse to maximize the ROI and minimize the risk."
Issues of safety and privacy
The potential for education is one area that many have marked out as a possible way of bridging the 'digital divide.' One third of humanity has never been online and future advances in 5G and 6G with satellite WiFi connections could help revolutionize the way the world learns.
But Wang Graylin also admits that it will be a few years before the metaverse is used to its full potential while many people are also hesitant about security and data protection in this new space.
"Safety and privacy are definitely really important issues in this space because we're going to get more and more information about this individual, what they look at, how they move, the area around their homes," explains the HTC executive. "So there's going to be a need for better data and privacy regulation, but that's still in the process, so I think the companies in this space need to be more responsible."
Sohjin Baek agrees it will take time.
"I do see what metaverse could bring to consumers' life can be revolutionary," says Baek. "But in terms of providing cost efficiency and high ROI, it might take time for the consumer segment.
"Think about the internet – first the world and people didn't really know what to do with it… but now after all the entrepreneurship and start-ups have flourished, the internet has become key in consumers' daily life."
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