Metaverse: Here and Now

Roshan is an industry leader collaborating with clients in creating their strategy and executing transformational programmes leveraging business and technology services and holds over two decades of global experience in the IT industry

Despite being coined in Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, the term Metaverse has become part of the public consciousness only over the past couple of years. So why has this happened now?

Metaverse or the idea of a world where people can interact virtually with each other through digital representations of themselves is a market that is exploding. According to Global Data the metaverse market size reached $22.79 billion in 2021 and expected to reach $996 billion in 2030, with a compounded annual growth rate of 39.8% It is growing into an idea that is impossible to dismiss.

Why now? In the past few years, the global pandemic has forced people to explore options at the intersection of the physical and the digital. The shift to remote working, and the myriad ways different industries have navigated the 'phygital' have made the metaverse a real possibility for deepening interactions that have moved online already, and for unique and interesting collaborations.

Virtual communities like Second Life and Roblox allow participants to build whole lives - play games, customise their avatars, engage with each other almost exactly as they would in the real world

Further, in the light of the focus on climate change, the metaverse opens doors to significantly more sustainable options in many industries. According to Forbes. com, in a recent survey of nearly 5,700 consumers in the U.S. and Europe, those who are more likely to purchase sustainable products are also more than twice as likely to also shop in the metaverse. The metaverse gives us the space to ask the question - what would happen if we removed the overheads?

We are uniquely placed to observe this phenomenon as it unfolds. Take for instance, travel and tourism. We get the sense that something large and transformational is happening to travel and tourism. Millennium Hotels and Resorts being the first hospitality group to open a hotel in the metaverse, in `prime digital space' in Decentra land. Guests can interact with each other in the lobby, but also those who reach the top of the hotel can receive `real world' prizes. Another wonderful way that tourism is integrating into the metaverse is by the creation of tours from the past. Have you always wanted to know what the chapel of Hatshepsut might have been like during her reign? Well, you can take a tour virtually!

Retail is another sector which is likely to be revolutionised by the metaverse. From Nike selling NFTs to Forever21 having a virtual storefront in the Metaverse, allowing customers to shop virtually, to cosmetic brands that can use AR and VR to let consumers try on make up remotely, to the many ways in which company talent can be engaged through the use of the metaverse like in virtual onboarding programs, or customer engagement simulations. Even the food and beverage universe has arrived into the metaverse, where people can play games from Chipotle, the Mexican fast food chain, and earn burritos in the real world. Another area where the metaverse has potential is healthcare.

Not counting telemedicine, the possibilities for remote interventions and rehabilitation virtually are tremendous. It is here that the idea of the `digital twin' becomes so exciting. A digital twin is a virtual model, or simulation - in this case, of a patient. The idea is that the digital twin could help you gather insights about the real life counterpart. Digital twins could help us predict how people would react to surgeries, medication and more. It could change how we deal with life threatening conditions, like strokes. Rehabilitation possibilities for patients undergoing speech, physical and occupational therapy become more accessible, with remote supervision.

The presence and impact of virtual communities in the metaverse also remains to be seen. Virtual communities like Second Life and Roblox allow participants to build whole lives play games, customise their avatars, engage with each other almost exactly as they would in the real world. Particularly Roblox draws hundreds of thousands of users, many of them children. For their onplatform virtual awards ceremony in 2020, they had over 600,000 spectators. During the pandemic children began to use Roblox as a virtual space to meet with their friends and host birthday parties. It became a space to get to know others better while staying at home, as well as an opportunity to attend concerts and win free goodies. Decentraland, which we've talked about earlier in this essay, is also an interesting virtual community. It is a fully decentralised virtual world, in which users create all the policies on the way the world behaves via voting mechanisms.

But as with all things, no technology can be a panacea. The challenges of the metaverse are tremendous. From data privacy and regulation, to the as yet unknown impact on younger technology users, it is far from perfect. And it is only on the rise. According to Gartner by 2026, 25 percent of people will spend at least one hour a day in metaverse for work, shopping, education, social and/or entertainment. Which is why, we at Sonata, are so keen on making our design solutions to combat and address some of these concerns. We have the unique advantage of leveraging our experience across consumer facing industries over the years to be the modernization partner for our clients, leveraging well designed solutions around Metaverse and deliver better business models to benefit the consumers.