Amazing immersive and interactive experiences are already available, including games like Fortnite, Minecraftand Roblox. But none of these games truly deliver on the promise of the metaverse we envision today, a virtual world where we can meet friends and strangers from around the world to play, explore, shop, and interact. To bring that vision to reality, we have work to do in areas like content production, technology standards, and virtual commerce.
One thing we know about the metaverse is that it will only be successful if it is filled with rich, interactive, personalized, and immersive 3D content. Many companies and creators have already started stepping up to 3D content creation, not just because it allows them to experience metaverse experiences for the future, but because it helps them solve business problems now. 3D authoring allows companies to create marketing imagery for websites, catalogs and ads in a faster, cheaper, scalable and sustainable way. For example, three-quarters of product images in IKEA catalogs are already rendered in 3D, rather than filmed. Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s produces thousands of product images in weeks instead of months, all rendered in 3D and at a fraction of the cost.
Many companies now also use 3D creation to design new products. Tommy Hilfiger used 3D assets to shorten the design review process by two weeks. Designers at footwear brand Salomon have also found that rendering new shoe designs virtually cuts the time it takes to produce a prototype by up to 67%.
In 2023, having all that 3D content at your fingertips gives businesses the freedom to experiment with new metaverse concepts. They can experiment with new approaches, collaborate with other companies, and see what works and what doesn’t. A great example is Amazon, which is experimenting with an augmented reality system that allows shoppers to place AR versions of products in their homes. No one knows exactly what the metaverse will look like – it will come together through trial and error – but companies with libraries of 3D content to experiment with will be the architects of this new medium.
The other factor essential to the success of the metaverse will be its technological standards. HTML, for example, helped the Internet flourish by ensuring that web pages looked and behaved the same in all browsers. Likewise, companies and individuals won’t spend the time and money creating content for the metaverse if they can’t publish that content anywhere and make it look and behave the way they want. There’s still a lot of work to be done here, but groups like Khronos Group, Realtime Conference, and the Metaverse Standards Forum are bringing together tech companies, hardware makers, and retailers to work on open standards that will begin to govern metaverse content. Among the standards under development is USD, known as the HTML of the metaverse, which will allow 3D assets to be shared and rendered in many different immersive experiences. Another standard, glTF, the JPEG of 3D, will allow 3D assets to be compressed so that they are small enough to be transmitted efficiently.
Just as hundreds of billions of dollars of shopping now take place on the Internet, the metaverse will also become an important avenue for commerce. But the metaverse won’t just be a place to buy a shirt, coffee pot, or other physical possessions. As people develop their own personal avatars in the metaverse, they’ll want to equip their alter egos with virtual shoes, cars, and artwork. In 2023 we will begin to establish how to buy and sell physical and virtual goods in the metaverse. We’re already starting to see that with NFTs. A key to their value is their portability – they can be stored, accessed and transferred easily across the blockchain.
Overall, the most important aspect of building a successful metaverse will be recreating human experiences on a large scale. In many ways, we all long for a small-town life: we want digital experiences that feel more intimate, we want to do business with people who know us, and we want to build our community. The promise of the metaverse is to enable the kind of essential human experiences in a world free from the laws of time, space and physics. If we can get it right, there’s no doubt that the metaverse will be successful.