2022 Will Not Be the Year of the Metaverse

So far, the hype around the metaverse has amounted to little more than a buzzword and a place reserved mostly for gaming. Understanding why that is and what’s likely to come of it all, however, is something the most savvy small and medium-size business owners will want to know. For while its time clearly isn’t now, there will come a day that the metaverse will matter more to everyone — business owners and employees alike.

One thing is clear about the metaverse: Everyone is talking about it, despite that fact that few even know with any specificity what it is. It’s viewed as the next frontier, the next gold rush, the next big thing. It’s a term used to describe one, common, united virtual world, the next generation of the internet, Web 3.0. In terms of their generational importance, both Gen-Y and Gen-Z view the metaverse and virtual worlds interchangeably as big deals, with 67 percent of the combined group, according to YPulse, expert on all things Gen-Y and Z, agreeing that the metaverse is the next big thing, and 73 percent of all young people saying the same thing about virtual worlds. It’s also a place that many young people, in the context of their social lives, are already familiar with, for many of them have been playing around in the 2.0 version of it for quite a long time. 

Young people who have been players of games like Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft, and Animal Crossing are already spending time in this 2.0 version of the metaverse. In fact, says YPulse, 75 percent of them — 88 percent of Gen-Zers and 70 percent of Millennials — have played a game that brought them into a virtual world. And during Covid, they began to use these spaces and time in these games as much to hang out in as to game in. 

Young people learned that the metaverse was a place they could socialize in during a time when the rest of the world was closed to them. According to YPulse, while 61 percent and 48 percent of Gen-Zers and Millennials, respectively, prioritize virtual spaces for gaming, 48 percent and 39 percent of them choose them for hanging out with friends. Still others say its buying things they can’t in real life (31 percent/24 percent), trying out hobbies they can’t in real life (30 percent/25 percent), and meeting people they can’t in real life (29 percent/25 percent) that makes virtual spaces fun for them. Almost all of them, 92 percent, say their virtual world life influences their life in the physical world — their hobbies, their style, the music they listen to, and even their friendships, relationships, and mental health. Eighty percent of young people believe that it’s possible to spend meaningful time with others in a virtual world. What’s more, 72 percent agree that it’s easier to talk to others in a virtual world than it is in real life (IRL). And 41 percent of Gen-Zers and 34 percent of Millennials say that roaming around the virtual world as their avatar helps them express their creativity, with 32 percent of Zs and 30 percent of Millennials believing that their avatar represents a perfected version of themselves. Young people are able to attend art exhibits, film festivals, and concerts all within these new idealized, virtual worlds, typically with the idealized avatar representation of themselves attending.

Likewise, young people are blurring their purchasing behaviors between the real and virtual worlds as brands become increasingly important in all aspects of virtual life. Brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, D&G, and others now offer wearable and other products for avatars in the virtual world. Even now, 56 percent of young people surveyed by YPulse say they’ve bought clothing or accessories for their avatar in a virtual world. Not only that, 69 percent said they are open to seeing ads from brands in the virtual world, with 61 percent agreeing with the statement, “When brands interact with the virtual worlds I am part of, it makes me more likely to purchase from them.” Additionally, 84 percent said they’d be interested in participating in a brand event in their virtual world. Predictably, then, more and more brands are staking out trusted space in the metaverse, with brands like McDonald’s, Miller Lite, Adidas, and others snapping up virtual real estate in a land grab that topped $500 million in 2021.

As regards the future, the vast majority of young people (73 percent) want to see a single virtual world that allows them to do many things. Already, 30 percent of young people envision the metaverse as a place they’ll eventually work in the future. For now, though, most see the metaverse as an opportunity for personal commerce and entertainment and one they access in the web’s 2.0 configuration. 

The future of the metaverse, in the context of work and business, though, exists in the 3.0 version of the internet, where even the most popular content commands very small user bases today. Likely running on blockchain technology, the metaverse for work will be a place where people will come together, virtually, to interact together and with elements of their work, in three virtual dimensions, in real time, from anywhere on the planet. Its pioneers will most assuredly be young Millennials and Gen-Zers, despite the immediate ambitions of aging executives like Mark Zuckerberg and Satya Nadella, and the millions of dollars their organizations will throw at their own respective platforms — neither of which have any cache with young people. In fact, Express VPN’s recent survey on the subject of the metaverse found that just 61 percent of workers trust Microsoft with their concerns regarding the metaverse and even fewer, only 36 percent, trust Meta. Beyond individual brand trust issues, current hardware implementation and potential security concerns also stand in the way of the metaverse making sense for work anytime soon.

Those working-age Zers whom I spoke with who are looking ahead to a metaverse-enabled workspace want a helmet-less or headset-less solution before they climb on board. The thought of spending even a few hours of an eight-hour day in a helmet or headset is a dead turnoff to the dozen-plus young people I spoke to about the metaverse workplace. Besides, YPulse found that only 9 percent of young people even own a headset. YPulse also found that roughly a fifth of those it surveyed used words like “weird” and “creepy” to describe the future of the metaverse–possibly owing to those doing the early pioneering in the space–in addition to the third or so who used words like “exciting” (38 percent) and “innovative” (31 percent). This was bolstered by the research Express VPN has done so far; 24 percent, 20 percent, and 16 percent of their sample said they were anxious, suspicious, and distrustful about an eventual metaverse implementation for work. 

The team at Express VPN further found that nearly all of these concerns were rooted in personal data security and surveillance issues. While more than half of all workers expressed curiosity regarding an eventual metaverse work solution, with more than half believing that the metaverse will positively impact productivity, unfortunately nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the Express VPN sample indicated concerns about their employers collecting their data in the metaverse and (61%) about being monitored by their employer in a virtual workspace. So, again, young workers aren’t rejecting the notion of a metaverse enabled workforce out of hand. They can quite positively envision it. But not until potential security issues are resolved.

So, I think that’s been the real story of the metaverse workplace that so many predicted for 2022. It’s been a simple story of not yet, not by you, and not if you plan to spy on me.

These youngest generations have shown a remarkable tolerance for change. But they tell us where and how fast they will go, and who they will let take them there. I suspect that the transition to the metaverse of work will unfold accordingly. It will grow in time … out of gaming … when these young people are ready. It will be led by brands they trust. And they will define the standards from now on, which almost certainly will exclude anything having to do with a turn-of-the-century social media app used mostly by their grandparents.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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