Will the Metaverse suffer the same fate as Second Life?

Or is it about to break?

More than ten years after the hype of Second Life, we are once again on the possible eve of a major advancement of virtual worlds, today known as the Metaverse, a fusion of the physical and virtual worlds. Why would it be a lasting hit this time?

A second life for virtual worlds

Remember, about fifteen years ago, every technology and marketing conference was about Second Life? A promising new virtual world where you could float from one hotspot to another with an avatar of your own design, usually a human-shaped doll. You could talk to other Second Life visitors everywhere, whether you were standing up, at a party or on a bench. Companies and municipalities opened their own counter where they created buildings and rooms to be in contact with their customers. Managers and scrum teams set up modern breakout sessions in Second Life, where you ended up exchanging text messages with your avatars sitting and standing in a room.

After a few visits to Second Life, the novelty wore off and the ease of use also left something to be desired. The question is what was the true success of Second Life in commercial or social terms. Wasn’t it primarily a place where marketers got together to discuss how good it was? In fact, there was a small group of users who frantically participated in Second Life parties and spent money on beautifying their own avatar or building a house. Something that also happened in the then popular Habbo Hotel, where mainly children set up virtual rooms with purchased furniture. After a long period of popularity, interest in Second Life and Habbo Hotel slowly waned. Why?

Better user experience?

Some ten years later, according to some, we are once again on the verge of a breakthrough of virtual worlds and associated VR goggles. Under the title metaverse, a fusion of the physical and virtual, man-made, online world. Just like in Second Life, you can walk around as an avatar and be present.

Could advanced technology finally make a breakthrough?

Facebook and Microsoft have big ambitions to play a leadership role in the metaverse. Facebook acquired VR headset maker Oculus ten years ago and changed its name to Meta last year, an indication of the company’s vision for the future and the importance it places on the metaverse. With a companion app store Meta also tries to get other parties to submit new applications and services for Occulus. Microsoft is in the process of acquiring gaming company Actvision, known for, among other things, World of Warcraft, an MMORPG that takes place in a virtual world where players log in and compete against each other. Microsoft already has a games division (and the Minecraft game) and has been working on its own VR glasses for years, the Hololens, which also have many features of the also ex-hype Google Glass, through which you can see in part for that reality and the virtual world can go hand in hand.

Would more advanced technology, improved VR goggles, and greater ease of use finally guarantee a metaverse breakthrough? Are consumers going to buy new hardware en masse, and will VR headsets become the new interface for connecting and socializing?

Virtual consumption?

Or is the metaverse primarily driven by social development? Are we at the beginning of a thriving virtual economy with virtual consumption where big money is paid, virtual works of art (think of the hype of non-fungible tokens in combination with blockchains and crypto currencies), virtual concerts, and perhaps also virtual travel? ? Are we going to spend money in that virtual world to make a more beautiful and sexier virtual representation of ourselves, including luxury items like clothes, jewelry and makeup? In a number of online games, including Fortnite and previously Habbo Hotel, we’ve seen consumers seem willing to do this. And in Minecraft, The Sims, and Animal Crossings, users spend hours building and developing their own world.

Millennials grow up with these games and are used to using social networks, filters and synthetic media (deepfake technologies) to create a world and self-image where the boundaries between what is real and what is ‘fake’ are overlapped. They easily switch between ‘virtual’ and physical consumption. Will they become the movers and shakers of the metaverse and reach a wider audience? Will this supplant current social networks?

conclusion

The development of technology and trends in social networks may indicate that the metaverse is about to break. On the other hand, there have been few substantive changes since Second Life, so it’s obvious that the metaverse will suddenly break through. The simplicity of texting and the personality of human contact suddenly turned out to be more important during COVID than we thought with all the possibilities of video calls. The added value is not always in faster computers or glasses.

Is the metaverse, after all, a bubble of marketers and techies who love new technology and opportunities to sell products in ‘immersive’ and ‘persuasive’ worlds? A toy for middle-aged men who feel like kids again with their flashy VR goggles to hip rapper concerts and luxury goods?

Which clever integration will lead to a metaverse breakthrough?

Time will tell if and how the metaverse will take shape. You could say that the metaverse is already there in some form, waiting for a real breakthrough. This may occur as technology becomes more powerful and accessible (more widely available and cheaper) and as more parties come up with ideas and see new opportunities. It was smartphones, an integration of hardware, software and market, that ensured a boom in mobile services. Which clever integration will lead to a metaverse breakthrough?

The breakthrough could well come from an unexpected place and from ‘unusual suspects’. Maybe from Asia. Or will the hype collapse in a few years, as Second Life did, to develop underground and flourish again, finally breaking through in ten years? Exciting!

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