Mark Zuckerberg has just conceded that the metaverse is still nonexistent after Meta lost $13.7bn in just one year of intensive research on Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) tech. But is this a failure of vision or a failure of the ability to make it happen? We’ll first have to answer the question: “So, what is the metaverse, really?”. Despite hailing it as world-changing, no one has ever defined the concept adequately.
To further muddy the waters, people use terms like 3D-web and Web3 interchangeably. Web3 proponents want to rebuild the internet entirely on blockchain technology, which allows over-enthusiastic punters to make rosy financial predictions in which they include income from the entire cryptocurrency space. And since AI became the hottest tech of the day, everyone keeps wedging it indiscriminately into every tool, app, or piece of software.
It’s a nebulous and possibly treacherous landscape. What is the future of digital marketing in the metaverse, and dare we continue to rely on our streams of user data for future success?
Metaverse backers agree on only three things. Firstly, building the metaverse is a long-term project. Secondly, it won’t come from a single breakthrough, and everyone’s efforts will contribute to the collective effort. And finally, they agree that the defining characteristic would be a “feeling of presence.” You would feel like you are fully present in another place, time, or with another person.
In less poetic terms, that means it’ll have persistent 3D visuals, surround sound, and some tactile experience. In practical terms, it means we’re a long way off from asurrogate’s future, where we can stay in bed all day while an idealized “skin” goes out to earn a living.
Do we currently have metaverse front-runners or just poor imitations of a poorly defined concept?
Is the needle moving yet?
The only currently viable metaverse precursors can be found in the gaming industry, where platforms like Roblox, Fortnite, and Minecraft accommodate VR and AR expanded reality technologies. On the digital marketing front, some games have managed to incorporate NFTs (Web3). Several brands are pioneering sponsored hangouts, digital-only products, digital billboards, and digital shopping.
The platforms’ user bases are growing, and the range of services is expanding. Soon, education, live entertainment, and healthcare options will become more accessible.
The race to improve VR technology
But the general public doesn’t yet don headsets en masse for a trip to digital Nirvana every day. Apart from the hefty price tag for even the cheapest model ($400-plus), they soon find there’s not much to do except play some VR games - which you have to buy separately.
This elite market segment is unlikely to show explosive growth even after 5 June, when Apple is expected to unveil its own VR headset because the price tag is rumored to be in the thousands of dollars.
However, Apple’s move is on-trend for the industry race to improve awkward VR tech and develop cheap devices that people can bear to wear for longer than two hours. The next iteration will be better, and immersive tech will improve until it finally brings the metaverse within our grasp.
Immersive experiences may bring immersive threats
VR technology relies on even more invasive tracking than anything users have encountered before. That data can and will be harvested and sold, even for ill intent. In this context, digital marketers may remind themselves that increasing numbers of people are fighting an increasingly vehement data privacy battle against Big Tech. People are turning to privacy focussed browsers, for example, Brave and TOR, and adopting privacy protection solutions with Threat protection, for example, NordVPN.
Over the last twenty years, digital marketers have become more data analysts than creatives. We’re stumped without our massive data streams and automated predictions. So, we cling to such broad predictions as “people don’t want cookie-cutter experiences and will willingly give up their most intimate data if you just ask nicely” when the truth is far more complicated.
For example, some people disdain social media platforms because of privacy threats. The sentiment may spread to the metaverse if it can’t offer people adequate privacy protections.
Will the privacy movement become so powerful that digital marketers will get cut off from their precious data? That’s unlikely. But still, we should be careful not to rely solely on increasingly sophisticated tracking and data collection methods to reach people in the metaverse.
Perhaps the entire industry may improve if we become more flexible, more creative, and, perhaps, more human.
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