Should your business jump into the metaverse? Definitely maybe.

by: | Apr 5, 2023

We often get asked for our thoughts on the metaverse. Given that ArcTouch is entirely focused on building lovable digital products and experiences, our clients want to know our perspective on this question:

“Should we be building something for the metaverse?”

Our answer: Definitely maybe.

I’ll explain more in a minute. But first, here’s what the “metaverse” means to us.

What isn’t the metaverse?

The “metaverse” has become one of those ambiguous tech buzzwords that everyone defines differently. In some ways, it’s easier to say what it isn’t rather than what it is. So let’s start there:

  • The metaverse is not Meta. The company formerly known as Facebook may have tried to co-opt the term when it rebranded. But what some refer to as the original metaverse, Second Life, was around before Facebook. In fact, Second Life launched in 2003, the same year Mark Zuckerberg originally created Facemash, Facebook’s predecessor.
  • The metaverse is not a thing nor a platform. The metaverse is actually many things. And many platforms.
  • The metaverse is not just virtual reality. VR applications fit most people’s definition of the metaverse, but VR is not exclusively the metaverse, and vice-versa. Most experts agree that the future is not the vision portrayed in the dystopian thriller Ready Player One, where humans spend more time fully immersed in the digital realm with VR goggles on than they do in physical reality. It is fiction for a reason.
  • The metaverse isn’t a place for brands to just hang a billboard. Some brand marketers proclaim, “I want to be everywhere.” A virtual billboard or a pop-up ad isn’t the way to engage with people in the metaverse — at least, not in these early days. A successful metaverse presence needs to deliver an experience. Speaking of which…

So, what is the metaverse? A range of experiences

At ArcTouch, we have seen the emergence of many technologies over our 15 years of building digital products. We know from experience that the definition of metaverse will ultimately shift over time, just as other technological terms before it have evolved.

But to build for the metaverse, we need to know what we’re building. We think of the metaverse as part of a continuum of digital experiences, from augmented-reality enhancements in the physical world to immersive games and persistent virtual worlds, to full virtual-reality simulations.

metaverse experiences infographic AR gaming VR

The level of digital immersion for these different experiences varies — as you can see from our graphic above — while the devices and technology that enable those experiences are also very different. Meanwhile, the different adoption rates for these technologies and platforms mean the business case for the “metaverse” varies widely.

Don’t build for the metaverse. Build for a person.

Because the metaverse is so ambiguous, we don’t really build for it. We might build a virtual office for Decentraland. Or we might build a blended experience — as we did for McCormick — that uses VR videos to transport you to the source of certain ingredients.

These experiences are enabled by different platforms and different technologies. So we could say that we’re building for different metaverse platforms. However, we’re ultimately building for people.

We talk a lot about our process for building lovable apps — along with the attributes that make these digital experiences lovable.

One reason we do this: It’s too easy to become overly enamored with technology and shiny new (hardware) toys and (software) platforms. But technologists need to remember that we don’t build cool new things to satisfy our inner nerds. We build for our customers. We build for people.

The metaverse is exciting. But in some ways, building a metaverse experience is no different than building any digital product. It starts with identifying the intersection of a user problem and a business opportunity — and ends with creating a lovable experience for … you guessed it, a person.

The stuff in the middle that we call “product development” is a combination of sound strategy, innovative design, and savvy engineering. But in the end, all that effort is exerted with the goal of creating a lovable product — for a person.

So, is now the time for businesses to jump into the metaverse?

Yes. And no.

At ArcTouch, we help companies forge meaningful connections with their customers through lovable digital products. If a business or brand can’t make connections with its customers (or new ones) through a metaverse experience, there’s no opportunity.

The takeaway: Go where your customers are (or are going to be).

Here’s how we view the opportunity for connections in the metaverse today:

Virtual reality

While the buzz for the metaverse kicked into high gear in 2022, there was a perception that we were all going to be buying VR goggles and driving big demand for VR software applications. However, for the masses, virtual reality has proven to be more of a fad than a trend. Many purchased reasonably priced headsets like Meta’s Quest on the promise of the most immersive possible digital experience. And there are some great games available for VR. But like a fad, sales of those headsets are dropping rather than climbing.

While the mass market for VR doesn’t yet exist, there is an opportunity for high-value applications in niche segments. These include immersive experiences for remote training, simulated manufacturing, distance learning, field sales and field support, and other virtual simulations (e.g. nVidia’s “digital twin” simulations).

Persistent virtual worlds and games

Gaming is massively popular, of course. However, the opportunity to build non-gaming applications for metaverse platforms like Fortnite and Roblox is murky. With or without VR goggles, the masses aren’t spending much time hanging out in persistent virtual worlds — read: “It’s lonely in the metaverse” — aside from playing games. For most companies, not enough non-gamers — and specifically, their customers — are spending time in these digital realms to justify the investment in building and maintaining a presence there.

In 2023, the opportunities in these virtual worlds will mostly be limited to iconic brands. There’s certainly a market for big brands (and influencers) to reach gamers with experiences like Walmart Land in Roblox. Digital events — including concerts or celebrity talks — are likely to grow, even though coming out of the pandemic, we’re seeing a resurgence of in-person events. And NFT experiments like Nike SneakerFab will continue, although at a less frenzied pace than in 2022 given the recent crypto fallout.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes a computer-generated image over a user’s view of the real world. AR experiences can be enjoyed by billions of people today — anyone with a smartphone — and offer the most potential for businesses to reach their customers.

Pokemon Go brought AR to the mainstream in 2016 and had over 1 billion downloads by 2019. And the makers of Pokemon Go are back with their next AR creation, Truffel, which recently launched at SXSW in Austin. Another current example we love: The IKEA Place app allows you to see how the furniture fits, and looks, in your home.

Apple and Google continue to improve the AR technology in their platforms, and Apple is widely expected to introduce AR glasses or a headset in 2023. A new Apple AR product could quickly make the business case look even better to companies who invest in mixed reality experiences. Today, there’s ample opportunity to blend physical and virtual worlds by using phone cameras and presenting digital information to enhance real-world experiences.

To summarize, yes, there are opportunities to build metaverse experiences today. AR certainly offers the biggest opportunity for businesses to create lovable experiences for their customers. But for many businesses, it may still be too soon to expect any viable return on a metaverse investment.

However, that doesn’t mean these companies shouldn’t invest anything in the metaverse.

In fact, we believe…

It’s a great time for experimenting in the metaverse

To reiterate:

  • We build lovable experiences for people.
  • The metaverse is a range of experiences, delivered over a variety of hardware/software platforms.
  • As builders, we need to understand metaverse platforms.
  • For companies, the business case for building metaverse experiences depends on where your customers are.

There is little doubt that the business of the metaverse, regardless of how you define it, will grow. And different types of applications on the various platforms may eventually explode, as often happens with emerging technology. AI chatbots have been hyped for over a decade, but only recently exploded in popularity, as technology like ChatGPT made their utility far exceed their novelty.

That’s why we’ve invested resources to build proof-of-concept metaverse experiences for Decentraland and Fortnite. And why we continue to invest in AR opportunities — like the Volvo Petfinder or the IKEA Place app.

And that’s why forward-looking brands and businesses that want to be leaders in digital experiences should invest in metaverse R&D now — even if they don’t build commercial applications. They need to learn about the range of experiences they could eventually offer their customers via the metaverse. And they need to understand the platforms — by providing builders the resources to experiment — that could eventually unlock those experiences.

So, back to the question: “Should your business be building something in the metaverse?” Definitely maybe.

At a minimum, build things for the metaverse today so that you can learn. And so that tomorrow, you’ll be prepared to create lovable metaverse experiences for your customers.

Need help with your metaverse strategy?

ArcTouch has been building lovable apps and digital products for a wide variety of platforms since the dawn of the App Store. Want to talk with us about your metaverse strategy? Contact us for a free consultation.