The metaverse is a long-term vision, but many companies are beginning to take steps towards their metaverse goals.
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The past few months have brought on an influx of discussion around the metaverse, both in product announcement as well as general interest and knowledge gathering. Facebook’s metaverse ambitions have become well-known, with Mark Zuckerberg again reaffirming in no uncertain terms that the future of Facebook lies in the metaverse; yet another announcement came with Horizon Workrooms, a corporate collaboration branch of the Horizon VR platform, launching into beta. Facebook’s transition to a metaverse company is unknown but long-term, and in the meantime other market players are making notable moves.
SKTelecom has a metaverse platform called Ifland that launched in July of this year. Already, the company aims to launch the service in 80 countries. NexTech AR Solutions, enabling AR for advertising, education, e-commerce, and virtual events grew revenue YoY over 100%; revenue was over US$6 million in Q2 as well. Niantic acquired Scaniverse, which created a 3D scanning solution. Unity acquired Parsec, a game streaming and remote desktop streaming platform, for US$320 million. NVIDIA expanded their Omniverse platform, adding some unique automated simulation and content creation capabilities into the collaboration and simulation platform. Owlchemy Labs, a VR game developer, spun out a studio named absurd:joy that raised US$5.5 million for its remote collaboration platform Tangle. Alethia AI raised US$16 million for their intelligent NFT platform aimed at the metaverse.
Disparate Ideas but Ultimately Related
These announcements may seem fragmented or unrelated, but all play a role in the broad metaverse idea.
- SKTelecom is no stranger to VR, or even to persistent VR platforms; the company launched a live 360 streaming platform in 2017, and a “Virtual Social World” in 2019. The need for connectivity in a pervasive and persistent digital platform should be obvious, and so a telecom’s interest fits perfectly.
- NexTech is a great example of monetization in a digital environment and specifically for immersive content, where a mixture of traditional monetization and new paradigms are required. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are likely to also play a role being unique and traceable—valuable both in enterprise and consumer. Alethia AI hopes to capitalize on that specifically as these digital platforms grow.
- Niantic is looking to expand its digital footprint with more substantial and democratized scanning capability, ultimately building out an increasingly larger collection of digitized locations to leverage in its platform.
- Unity has been pushing into non-game engine markets for a while, perhaps first with Unity Reflect. The Parsec acquisition aligns well with a broad enterprise enablement effort in parallel with its engine (heavily used both for gaming and AR content today). The future of work is increasingly digital and pervasive, with not only workflows but collaboration being a part of that but also dedicated remote collaboration platforms like Tangle are entering a quickening market with a few huge incumbents.
- NVIDIA sees potential for the metaverse from a hardware, software, and service perspective. Distributed compute is already happening with Metaverse and other efforts, especially around AI and cloud streaming. Omniverse is positioned favorably as a content creation tool for ubiquitous immersive experiences, covering simulation and graphics processing to more traditional content creation. Using the Universal Scene Descriptor (USD) helps standardize some content labeling and usage as users start to distribute across platforms and device types
Each of these today represent a portion of an end-to-end metaverse. However, that will be the norm as the immersive digital ecosystem matures: many parts that merge, acquire, and partner into a more cohesive whole.
Is This Just Hype?
For now most discussion of the metaverse is powered by hype and uncertainty around future digital ecosystems. Realistic timelines and expectations are necessary. The metaverse is such a loose set of ideas and technologies today that it’s impossible to definitively identify a timeline, market potential, or go to market options without strict, low-level definitions for what the metaverse is and is not. As a persistent virtual platform with social elements, then the metaverse already exists today in siloed, company specific platform offerings. As a ubiquitous ecosystem that spans AR and VR, brands, e-commerce, collaboration, content consumption, and more (the original fictional vision for the metaverse, a la Snow Crash or Ready Player One), then the market is far from anything approaching that within a single platform. Only a handful of companies can do that under one roof—Facebook notably one of them—but the reality of the metaverse requires partnership and cooperation, at least within long term vision.
That being said, there’s potential in the run-up to that vision. Facebook believes that, as do SKTelecom, NexTech, NVIDIA, and many more. While the cycle of startup, acquisition, maturation is not a new one, the breadth and scale that the metaverse requires is new. Look out for differentiated startups that have one or two pieces of exciting technology, but are missing other components: immersive hardware without a clear go to market, collaboration tools missing a connectivity thread, content platforms yearning for a user base, etc. These players will mostly fail or be acquired, but the technology stacks and broader innovation are a necessity to move the market forward.
There will be some significant crossed signals with the metaverse this year and beyond. Many will latch to the term more as a marketing ploy than long term goal, where business plans do not look far enough into the future to truly be a metaverse play. These business plans are necessary to get there though, even if tagging the metaverse buzzword to them is less than accurate. Remote collaboration alone isn’t the metaverse, social VR alone isn’t the metaverse, virtual events alone aren’t the metaverse. Only the combination of these within a single platform are, but that’s not to say there isn’t success to be had before then.