The metaverse is no longer a vague and futuristic concept. It’s beginning to take shape. During the next few years, these immersive and augmented spaces will change the nature of business and life. People will act and interact in different ways, they will shop and purchase goods in augmented and 3D worlds, and new types of products and services will appear.
While the metaverse will incorporate elements of the web, smartphone apps, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR), it’s important to recognize that it’s more than a linear extension of today’s digital tools. The mashup of these various technologies will fundamentally change online interactions.
As a result, it’s wise for business leaders to plan for the metaverse now. As pieces of this puzzle combine, coalesce and take shape over the coming years, those that establish a robust framework—with talent and technology—will be equipped to navigate this brave new virtual world.
It’s essential to understand what the metaverse is and what it isn’t. Although definitions vary, it’s clear that the metaverse exists as a persistent space with virtual content that delivers lifelike digital interactions. For example, immersive 3D environments on PCs and smartphone apps might dip into a metaverse and intersect with people accessing the metaverse through virtual reality. This is called a multi-modal experience.
Not surprisingly, people will drop in and out of these spaces during the course of a day. They might peruse a 3D virtual storefront using a laptop or virtual reality headset, view items of interest—clothes, food, electronics, travel destinations, virtual objects, whatever—step through immersive environments, watch videos and gather information, and then head to a physical store. There, augmented reality on a smartphone might guide them to the products they previously looked at.
While the excitement around this topic has been heightened in the last few months, a bit of perspective is necessary. The Metaverse has been quietly taking shape over the last several years. At this point, it isn’t a brand-new world to build from scratch. It’s more like a digital jigsaw puzzle that hasn’t yet been assembled.
Here are four critical factors that will make or break your organization’s metaverse strategy:
1. Content is everything.
As customers float between physical stores and digital locations, populating a storefront in the metaverse with the same products that line the shelves of a physical store will be essential. This necessitates the use of digital twins, which create a virtual copy of a physical item, such as a pair of shoes, a piece of furniture, or even a house.
In addition, there’s a need for 3D avatars. That’s because visitors to the Metaverse will spend most of their time and money using their own digital identity: their 3D avatar.
Ideally, portability will allow users to bring their digital investments with them once they switch to a different metaverse. It’s likely that the digital identity used to navigate the metaverse will take on greater importance than a Facebook profile photo was in 2010. 3D avatars will become ubiquitous. New ways for avatars to interact will emerge. How people use these avatars and identities will change.
2. The experience you deliver matters.
Once portable assets exist, the next step is to get them in front of your audience. While this is a straightforward proposition for a webpage because we have web browsers, things get more complicated with AR and VR in the metaverse.
This is where 3D rendering engines come into play. They deliver the fidelity and interactivity that the metaverse demands. Already, 3D engines from Unity and Unreal deliver deep and long-form experiences while Adobe Mercury serves up short-form interactive experiences in AR. There are also platform-specific solutions like Snap. Selecting the right delivery engine is key. It’s also critical to pull the right analytics from the engine. This makes it possible to determine how successful your content is and what is driving engagement.
3. AI is the glue that holds the metaverse together.
In the metaverse, it’s vital that humans feel they are speaking and interacting with other humans. This is what makes an experience seem real—and compelling. Extended reality (XR) makes this possible. It melds virtual elements and introduces a human-machine interface that makes AI seem “human.”
With the combination of 3D, XR, and AI, it’s possible to have human-like digital companions populating our lives. Even more remarkably, these companions can understand who we are, what we’re looking for, and help at the precise moment we need it. But this cannot happen without preparation, including building talent and forming teams that understand everything from visuals and user experience to AI integration. A whole new world of human-machine interactions will be unleashed.
4. Mapping this new world is paramount.
The nature of the metaverse is that it is “persistent.” People will move from one metaverse to another with an expectation that they can pick up exactly where they left off—and overlay these experiences to actual geography.
Complicating things is the fact that visitors might assemble in a completely virtual space, a virtual reality copy of the real world, or an actual physical location, with content layers created through augmented reality (see figure).
This is no small challenge for content creators. In the case of a purely virtual world, like a video game, we can build experiences that take place in an ever-expanding virtual territory with a constantly changing map. However, when it comes to AR, actual physical spaces in the real world must overlap with the user’s experience. Therefore, locating persistent experiences at a micro level—even down to a centimeter at planet scale—becomes key to creating a compelling experience.
Already, there are Virtual Positioning Systems (VPS) from Google, Apple, Microsoft, Niantic, and others. It’s difficult to predict which will prevail over the long run. The upshot? It’s a good idea to implement a level of abstraction above those solutions or to look for one that’s easily integrated and highly flexible.
Amid all the hype and uncertainty about how exactly the metaverse will continue to take shape, it’s tempting to dismiss the concept or stand on the sidelines and wait a while. That would be a mistake. To succeed in this emerging world, business leaders must learn about this framework, amass technical talent, and build a technology foundation that’s powerful and flexible enough to support the metaverse when the time is right. At Adobe, we will make this process a little easier by continuing to invest in our 3D and immersive tools, such as Adobe Substance 3D and Adobe Aero, to make metaverse content creation accessible to anyone.
Stefano Corazza is head of augmented reality, VP and fellow at Adobe. He is also founder and CEO of Mixamo, which is now part of Adobe.