Visitor Quoc Buo Ngo (42) walks briskly, almost skipping, through the MET AMS ‘metaverse festival’ site in Amsterdam, while video calling eight colleagues in Vietnam. He taps another visitor on his shoulder and puts an arm around him to show his face to the Vietnamese colleagues. Moments later, he shows the 3D facility behind him, extending his arm far enough for his colleagues to look over his shoulder.
The circular building of the Gashouder in Amsterdam has been divided into two parts for the event that will take place throughout this week: a room with a podium for conferences, where speakers and round tables can then be heard. And a ‘playground’, where dozens of companies, including Unilever and the Moco Museum, show their demonstration of the ‘metaverse’, with virtual worlds on screens and virtual reality glasses. With glittering mirrored walls and lights, they compete for the visitor’s attention, like rides at an amusement park. Tickets range from 289 euros to 899 euros for three days.
real life interactions
Proponents have called the metaverse the successor to the Internet. It could be described as an interactive three-dimensional version of the Internet. Go shopping, go to a museum or go to the office for a meeting: according to advocates, everything could soon be virtual. Through the eyes of a virtual person, an avatar, looking around, moving and, for example, grabbing something, everything is part of it.
Quoc Buo Ngo, founder of the Norwegian-Vietnamese company MyReality, wears gray sweatpants and a New York Yankees cap. His company designs landscapes and 3D games, among other things. The metaverse is the future, he says. “We need more opportunities to communicate and work remotely,” he says, as his colleagues remain on the line. This makes Ngo’s opinion different from that of Stijn Detmar (20) from Dordrecht, who has been hired by food delivery guy Deliveroo to deliver ice cream at the festival. In the future, you could even order ice cream in the metaverse, the company wants to show off. Detmar doesn’t think the metaverse can replace real-life interactions. “It’s good to hear about it. But I don’t necessarily feel like participating yet.” He thinks it would be useful for people with a physical disability, who would like to exercise virtually in the metaverse, for example, he says.
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Facebook’s parent company, Meta, is largely absent from the festival. Peter Meere, 36, commercial director of The Brand Father marketing agency and organizer of the festival, has been in talks with the company, he says. “But it soon became clear that there was no collaboration.” According to Meere, tech giant Meta has long been at odds with the “metaverse community” of IT companies and creatives, because the company appears to be hoarding the supply of technology belonging to the metaverse. Meta bought the producer of virtual reality glasses Oculus, for example. Meere: “What exactly Meta wants with the metaverse remains to be seen. The community sentiment here is mostly: Facebook has changed its name to Meta, but what are they really going to add to the industry? Behind that critique lies a struggle between centralized and decentralized views of the metaverse: how much power goes to big corporations?
That battle is well fought. Meta is now going to start a ‘metaverse academy’ in France, the company announced on Sunday. At thirty locations, around one hundred students will be trained as developers and technicians. Meta also already has a virtual environment: Horizon Worlds already has more than 300,000 users. CEO Nick Clegg penned an 8,000-word essay last month, explaining that “There will be no Meta-run metaverse.” He compares the metaverse to the Internet, he says there is no Microsoft Internet and no Google Internet. He fails to mention that Google currently has a large share of the Internet as a search engine, browser, and advertising platform.
Back to the festival in Amsterdam. The applications of the metaverse are around you, but they are not always concrete: speakers and professionals talk about it all. Wasn’t that meant for us to experience it?
Digital influencers wearing virtual clothing, taking an online test drive in a car you might want to buy, a virtual concert (ABBA and David Guetta have already started), ordering food from your bed by walking into a virtual restaurant where the dishes are displayed: according to the speakers, it is about feeling and experiencing and, in the future, mainly about buying, companies expect.
But the technology continues to fail, as can be seen from some screens showing error messages. All those 3D ambitions require massive processing powerand the technology is not ready for that yet, it was stated above in NRC†
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It is not yet clear what the metaverse will finally look like, says Italian Antonio Talarico (30) of the metaverse market MetaMundo. At the same time, there is already a lot of trade in virtual environments, such as buildings, landscapes, and avatars (digital personas). A speculative trade, which is also often traded in volatile cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum. †it’s not a scam”, Talarico promises, but the Ethereum coin has already fallen sharply recently. Avatars that used to sell for the equivalent of $300 are now worth around $150.
Still, it’s good for designers and businesses if the bubble bursts in time, says Talarico. “We don’t have much use for that” hypeshows the real value.”