First up in our debunking-the-metaverse series, we explore what it is. And what it isn’t…

It’s “the future of how we socialise, work and play,” says Mark Zuckerberg. There is a lot of commentary about the metaverse world. Everyone is talking about it. The CEO of Disney, Bob Chapek, calls it “the next great storytelling frontier,” and there are thousands and thousands of articles written about its potential. As a brand or a business, it’s hard not to feel like it’s the place to be. 

The idea of the metaverse began in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, where digital avatars escape to the metaverse far from a dystopian meatspace. Now, 30 years later, the term ‘metaverse’ is used to describe web3, the concept of a total convergence of our physical and digital life. 

The metaverse today is best exemplified by digital platforms like Roblox, Sandbox, Decentraland, Minecraft and Fortnite. They successfully enable virtual experiences that are enhanced by connectivity, AR and VR. To the digital native generations, this virtual space is how they socialise and hang out. They can chat with friends, build houses, or spend virtual money on virtual yachts and virtual designer clothes. 

But these early metaverse forays are actually just online experiences that have been around for ages, and lean on pre-existing in-game economies. It’s all been done before (albeit with less press attention). The metaverse could be so much more: it could be an interconnected digital system of endless immersive potential. A virtual experience across worlds, realities, gaming, digital economies, spaces, UGC platforms and hardware. 

We know there is an engaged user already there – the millions spending hours building and gaming and playing. But not yet the technologies that will help the metaverse live up to its promise of creating truly immersive experiences, such as sonic innovation, synchronised experiences, and affordable and intuitive tech. 

Only then can we imagine a world where an absolute merging of physical and digital life could happen. Where our real and virtual self could do separate tasks at the same time – maybe even have two jobs, or perhaps two different hairstyles. Or where everyone, from developing regions to established economies, has the same access to utilities and chances. Or where IRL borders are no longer relevant and people from all countries can be part of one big online society and economy.

When that happens, it won’t just be the digital natives or over-excited brands banging on about how great it is. Until then, we have to conclude that the metaverse does not exist…yet.

This blog is based on our recent Crowd DNA Amsterdam webinar, which you can read here and watch in full here.