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The metaverse is just an idea, but Adobe says it’s time to prep for it

Though it may be years before metaverse hype gives way to reality, it’s not too early to create 3D content and dip a toe into existing immersive worlds.

The metaverse is just an idea, but Adobe says it’s time to prep for it
[Animation: courtesy of Adobe]

It shouldn’t come as a tremendous surprise that Adobe would like to be a leading purveyor of tools for creating content for the metaverse. It’s a reasonable enough aspiration for the company, given its nearly 40-year-history as a kingpin of software used for generating imagery and experiences, from the printed page to the web and beyond.

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There’s just one catch: The metaverse doesn’t exist yet. And in its fullest sense, it can’t—not until the tech industry coalesces around open standards for creating shared, immersive worlds. That’s not even considering that we could be years away from the day when there are affordable, comfortable, power-efficient metaverse-enabled goggles that hundreds of millions of people will happily wear.

Still, when the metaverse arrives—let’s assume for the moment that it will someday—it won’t represent anything entirely unprecedented. Instead, it will lash together aspects of technologies that are already very much with us, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and NFTs.

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Adobe already offers tools in all those areas. So, even as it acknowledges that the metaverse is still in the process of being invented, the company is urging organizations to become “metaverse ready.” That involves creating 3D, immersive content that’s useful on platforms that exist today, with part of the idea being that doing so should provide a head start once the true metaverse starts to come into focus.

The pre-metaverse inflection point is already here, argues Adobe Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky. “A few dots have connected over the last year for us, as it relates to what a lot of people are calling the metaverse, which really is just an immersive experience in which we are present together, and we are able to collaborate and have a synchronous experience,” he says. Along with the buzzword itself gaining currency, Belsky adds, the pandemic accelerated the trend: As live photo shoots became impractical, businesses compensated by creating photorealistic models of their products which they could depict in fully digital renderings.

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Among the Adobe products that can help an organization become metaverse-ready is Substance 3D, a set of Creative Cloud tools (based on a 2019 acquisition) for producing 3D content. Later this year, the company plans to add an app called Substance 3D Modeler that’s designed to let people sculpt objects without requiring the technical knowledge required by something like a computer-assisted drafting package: “This is a product that actually democratizes 3D creation,” says Belsky. Adobe also offers Aero, a platform for creating AR experiences. And it’s involved in NFTs with such initiatives as an upcoming feature that will let you mint them inside Photoshop.

So, when might we segue from the period of metaverse readiness into the true metaverse era? Belsky didn’t specify a timeline when I asked. But he does point out that it’s not just about the technological necessities being in place. There also needs to be a critical mass of people who are eager to enter the immersive world the metaverse envisions. And there, he adds, existing products such as Roblox and the Meta VR platform previously known as Oculus show that interest is already blossoming.

“I do feel like it always comes down to moments,” he says, referencing  a 2019 Marshmello concert in Fortnite—which attracted nearly 11 million attendees—as one such moment along the way to the full-blown metaverse. “You saw what other people were wearing,” he says. “They saw what you were wearing. Identity was a part of it. Cultural flex was a part of it. Interaction was a part of it.”

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All those factors should all be part of the metaverse, too. And if nothing else, dabbling in the immersive environments that are already out there is a more productive use of an organization’s time than talking about the metaverse as if it’s already a done deal.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the global technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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