What is a metaverse? There still is no definition that can be memorized and repeated every time we are asked this million-dollar question. Perhaps this is the very first thing a new standards group, called The Metaverse Standards Forum, will tackle. On board are 37 members, including Meta, Microsoft, Nvidia, Adobe, Epic Games, Qualcomm, and Alibaba. The idea is to build open and interoperable standards for metaverse experiences.
At this time, the forum is coming together as a mix of brands and companies. Some of them will provide the foundations for metaverse experiences including platforms and headset hardware – Meta, Nvidia and Microsoft stand out. Others, such as Ikea, Epic Games and Sony, could lead the way by providing experiences. The third layer will be companies and tech platforms which plug in with pieces of a complex jigsaw.
Big numbers, but there isn’t just one challenge ahead.
“The Metaverse Standards Forum is a unique venue for coordination between standards organizations and industry, with a mission to foster the pragmatic and timely standardization that will be essential to an open and inclusive metaverse,” said Neil Trevett, president of Khronos, a US-based consortium that focuses on developing and maintaining royalty-free interoperability standards for 3D, virtual reality, and augmented reality.
The latest numbers by Researchandmarkets.com in the Global Metaverse Market Research Report 2022 projected the space to be worth $758.6 billion by the year 2026 – that’s an annual growth rate of 37.1% from a value of around $107.1 billion in 2020.
Yet, consistent standards for developers and ease of switching experiences for consumers isn’t the only issue that’ll need tackling.
“The Metaverse, though difficult to define as it’s constantly evolving, can be understood as a network of real-time 3D rendered virtual worlds. It will be an evolution of the internet, where we will constantly be within it,” Aneesh Rayancha, co-founder of AppyHigh, a tech company, said while speaking with HT earlier.
What falls within a metaverse, and what doesn’t?
The new forum comes at a time when defining the metaverse is of utmost importance, which will further allow for a definitive structure of the type of experiences that will, or won’t, fall within the realm of the metaverse in the truest sense. The lack of any clarity at this point has allowed many brands to publicize what may otherwise be basic 3D experiences, as something from the metaverse. It may not always be true.
There has been extensive traction for fashion, entertainment, lifestyle, and sports experiences that can be classified as the metaverse. So has virtual land, and metaverse gaming. Research by CB Insights indicated that the metaverse market could be worth $1 trillion by the end of the decade.
Nike, for instance, acquired virtual sneaker company RTFKT and partnered with Roblox to build “Nikeland”, a virtual world where users can buy Nike outfits for digital avatars. Fashion brand Balenciaga saw a heavy presence in the popular game Fortnite. A digital Gucci bag sold for over $4,000 on Roblox last summer.
Is the debate of closed metaverse(s) over?
The open and interoperable standards will give a boost to the idea of more open experiences, and not walled gardens, something that remains a fear with the metaverse as it evolves. “We believe there is a need for technical products to solve the challenges we face in making the end-user experience seamless and scalable and our deep-tech platform is on that path,” said Sravanth Aluru, chief executive officer and founder of Avataar, an Indian tech company that builds interactive shopping experiences.
Meta, on its part, has tried to allay fears they could be building a closed metaverse platform. “There won’t be a Meta-run metaverse, just as there isn’t a ‘Microsoft internet’ or ‘Google internet’ today. Like the internet, the metaverse will be an interconnected system that transcends national borders, so there will need to be a web of public and private standards, norms and rules to allow for it to operate across jurisdictions,” Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs at Meta, said last month.
“Just like standardization has been an important foundation for open knowledge sharing and rapid development in the Web age, the same is true for the Metaverse,” said Arno Hollosi, CTO at Blackshark.ai, in a statement.
With the metaverse being used as the singular replaceable term for everything virtual, including augmented reality and virtual reality as well as basic 3D visuals, open standards will allow developers to build the content for different platforms without requiring extensive rework. At the same time, users will be able to carry their metaverse data, such as avatars and digital assets, between them.
It is too early to call this an end of the debate about closed and open metaverses because it is still not clear how tech companies will eventually build experiences, deliver these experiences and monetization methods. Some exclusivities will likely remain.
Conspicuous by their absence: an incomplete jigsaw?
Yet at this time, The Metaverse Standards Forum seems to be more defined by who is not on board, since the jigsaw wouldn’t necessarily be complete.
The biggest names still missing from the forum are Google, Apple, Roblox and Niantic, though that may change in the future. To be fair, Apple hasn’t been very vocal about metaverse or the experiences, but there have been persistent rumours about the company developing augmented reality and virtual reality hardware including headsets for consumers. Apple has never confirmed any of this speculation.
With Roblox and Niantic missing, there is still a pretty big gap that needs to be filled. Both companies have tailored their platforms extensively, to prepare for the next iteration of the internet. Roblox was the platform of choice for the McLaren Formula 1 team earlier this year to unveil the 2022 racecar, complete with a paywall for the extended experience. Niantic has a history of building games and products for smartphones in particular, which overlay virtual elements in the real world, deriving the latter from the phone’s camera.
Decisions beyond the definition: Lessons from social media
There will be other challenges to tackle in the coming days. Researchers from the Coburg University in Germany, Cambridge University in the UK, the University of Primorska in Slovenia, and tech giant Microsoft released a study this month that details the reactions of 18 people who spent a week working in the metaverse – two dropped out due to nausea, while the rest reported feeling anxious and said their eyes hurt towards the latter half of the weeklong experiment.
Even in the nascent stage, metaverse experiences that have come afloat, are struggling with issues including bullying and harassment, which are rampant on social media networks too. “Things like proving your digital identity, data protection and how ownership rights are granted for creators of digital assets are some of the other challenges that creators are likely to face,” Vipasha Joshi, Country Manager at Jellysmack, a global content creator platform, told HT.
In November, Meta confirmed a beta tester reported she was groped by a stranger on Horizon Worlds. The company termed this as “absolutely unfortunate” while promising that the feedback will help integrate the blocking feature better.
All this will need solutions.