Heineken just opened a virtual brewery there, Tommy Hilfiger now holds his fashion shows and according to Marc Zuckerberg, the metaverse economy will be just as big as the physical economy as we know it today. Not a day goes by without another organization reporting that they have joined the metaverse. Many trendsetters say that 2022 is the year of the metaverse, but what can you concretely do with it as an organization? This article provides an overview of the latest options.

If you’ve never worn virtual reality goggles, you probably don’t understand much of all the commotion surrounding the metaverse. Immersing yourself and really feeling part of the virtual environment is what sets it apart from the current virtual environments we see on our flat screens. Today, the gaming industry is worth more than the global movie and sports industry combined. Where the internet is built by web developers, the metaverse will be built by game developers.

High hopes for the metaverse
According to the researchers at Ark Invest (pdf), in 2021 we spent 38% of our free time digitally and this is expected to be 52% by 2030. By 2026, according to Gartner, a quarter of people and a third of organizations will be active in the metaverse. According to Grayscale, the number of users has already increased tenfold in the past year. By 2030, the metaverse economy could reach $13 trillion in size, according to investment bank Citi. According to research by Accenture, 71% of executives believe the metaverse will have a positive impact on organizations. 42% even think it will bring about a major transformation.

We spent 38% of our free time digitally in 2021 and that is expected to be 52% by 2030

There are no physical constraints — such as real estate, supply chains, and geographic reach — in the metaverse. This opens up many opportunities for companies of all sizes to earn money and get in touch with (potential) customers. We see the lines blurring between the physical and virtual worlds and companies are increasingly committed to creating experiences that engage consumers on a personal, deeper level. As humans, we are born and raised in a 3D environment. Because of this, it is also very logical that we will find the metaverse more interesting than the ‘flat’ internet on which we now spend a lot of time.

But the metaverse is not new. Every day there are still 1 million people walking around in Second Life, a virtual world in which $500 million was spent last year. More money than in the economies of many countries. But the game Fortnite is even bigger, with 350 million users, of which 15 million are logged in on average in a day. A concert in Fortnite by Ariana Grande has already attracted 78 million visitors. No wonder that all kinds of artists are suddenly queuing up to perform virtually. Manchester City and Sony are building a metaverse stadium and the Dutch Beyond Sports processes real-time data from events in all kinds of VR products. It won’t be long before you can walk around in a match live in the metaverse.

Marketing in the metaverse: experience is central
You can already experience Heineken’s Pixel beer, McDonalds’ McRib and Fantafonteinen at restaurant Wendy’s in the metaverse, but of course not taste it. They are especially funny examples of new ways of marketing. The key word here is real experience. Creating a virtual item does not mean that it will immediately stand out and customers will buy it. If you want to build something like this, think carefully about a user’s involvement in this experience and how it aligns with the fully immersed digital experiences in the metaverse.

Restaurant Wendy’s, for example, has a Buck BiscuitDome basketball court, where visitors can play and buy a real burger for just $1 as a thank you for visiting. Gucci opened her vault: a shop in the metaverse with all kinds of unique digital vintage clothing items. The company has more plans: “It will be a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place.”

But it is not just about the flat ‘selling’ of products and services. A good example is Nikeland, a mega complex of the sportswear manufacturer in the metaverse. Not only can all kinds of sports be practiced virtually here, but you can also design your own Nike sneakers here. You can virtually put them on as you walk through the metaverse. But you can also have them printed physically and sent to your home.

Co-creation, innovation & customer contact
You see more and more companies experimenting with the possibilities that the metaverse offers. Sharing ideas and concepts, discussing prototypes or even co-designing, or even letting people make something themselves. As a company, you can not only test beautiful prototypes and new innovations faster and more effectively.

In the metaverse you can also improve customer contact in all kinds of unique ways. A good example is car manufacturer Hyundai, which recently opened a ‘mobility adventure’ in the metaverse. Visitors can not only try new cars and participate in all kinds of cool activities and experiences, but also put together a custom physical car, try it out and order it right away.

Recently, the first Fashion Week was also organized in the metaverse. For five days, famous fashion houses showed their latest fashion in a unique way. Visitors could also try on Estée Lauder virtual make-up and free gold glitter was provided for each visitor, which made the virtual visitors sparkle.

Content and advertising
It will also usher in a new era for content creators. More than 50 million people call themselves “content creators”. A market of just under 100 billion euros, in which 41% of the makers actually earn a good income. With the new possibilities to not only create 3D content but also bring it to life, for example, by letting visitors experience and absorb it, this industry could even double in the next 5 years.

And what will the possibilities for advertising in the metaverse be? Meta has already applied for several patents for this, which show that it will be an important part of their metaverse strategy.

Events and training in the metaverse
I have now organized the first events and training sessions in the metaverse and the reactions have been positive. People go to events for a bit of experience. With a good setup you can also facilitate this beautifully in the metaverse. Everyone can participate from their own favorite location. But the metaverse has no restrictions, as I wrote before, you can build and color the event space yourself. The Sims goes events!

Research shows that training in a metaverse can offer many advantages over regular physical training. Not only can you visualize things much easier, but you can also make training much more interactive. It would be much nicer for introverted and autistic people to participate, which in turn reinforces the success of the training.

Not only meeting, but also in the field of collaboration I see great opportunities.

Learning and Collaborating in the Metaverse
Many elements that are now becoming popular in the metaverse have been used by companies for years. In the field of digital twins in particular, major manufacturers are leading the way with the deployment of virtual reality by their staff.

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing, for example, turns its aircraft into a digital twin, which mechanics can virtually walk through. This way they can test and practice certain things. That alone has saved 75% of the time required to train its technicians. Hong Kong airport trains employees in a virtual reality twin of the airport. Car manufacturer Ford is now also training all its technicians with VR environments, and care providers in England are trained in this way. Chipmaker Nvidia has therefore invested heavily in its software Omniverse, with which it offers a platform to more than 500 parties such as Adobe, Lockeed Martin and reportedly also Apple to develop metaverse applications.

Earlier I wrote about Salesforce, which has built an office in the metaverse for its 30,000 employees worldwide. And Microsoft wants to launch a metaverse variant of Teams: Mesh. In the past 2 years we have become accustomed to virtual working, meeting and meeting at breakneck speed, but only on the flat screen. Gartner also predicts that employers will be able to better engage and collaborate with their employees through immersive workspaces in virtual offices.

Working together and strengthening each other
Some tasks and business problems can be a much better approach for you visually, but in the real world, that’s just not always possible. For example, architects may want to design and draft several detailed mock-ups before setting a direction for further design. But there are time and cost limitations. Often mistakes are overlooked due to the lack of precision.

The metaverse gives all the space here, where almost anything can be modelled. For example, NextMeet offers such a metaverse platform aimed at interactive working, collaboration and learning. Pixelmax even offers the possibility to create workplaces designed to improve team cohesion, employee wellbeing and collaboration among employees. Employees can even meditate virtually, walk into the forest or even fly to the moon. But also to stimulate ‘coffee corner conversations’, which according to research accounts for 90% of communication in organizations. Gather gives employees the opportunity to design their own office. Are you going for the pirate office or a spaceship? This kind of technology has been used in healthcare for some time, by software from companies such as Medivis, which allows students to work with 3D anatomy models.

Are you talking to a standard doll? No, the New Zealand SoulMachines has already developed an AI solution for the metaverse. Based on your own emotions, it returns a modified emotion in the virtual person in front of you. Whether that is a broker, dermatologist or a healthcare provider, you will receive a tailor-made response, which fits your own emotional state at that moment.

These AI bots can be used wonderfully as assistants or advisors for basic tasks, so that you can deal with more fun, more complex tasks. An example is Daniel, the virtual financial advisor of bank UBS. So in principle you can design your virtual colleagues and have them take place in your virtual office to take over certain activities from you. Not a bad idea, now that the sun is breaking through again and the terraces are open again!

More than just marketing & measuring
I haven’t seen a single option that doesn’t have a cool use case for it. From an educational institute to a gym, from a manufacturer to a service provider, from a museum to a fashion store. You can already see cool examples emerging all over the world, of the most diverse activities, which are now also offered in the metaverse.

When the gyms closed, online sports classes shot up like mushrooms. According to research, you seem to participate much better in the virtual sports classes in the metaverse, so that you ultimately burn more calories. Will it still be okay with the summer body!

But also a wedding, which partly took place in a real temple in India and partly, for a large group of people who did not fit in that temple, in the metaverse. Yes, you can already reserve your own spot at the first metaverse cemetery.

Governments are also looking at the possibilities of building their activities in the metaverse. For the military, the possibilities are endless: preparing missions, viewing scenarios and training soldiers. Combined with the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), free online courses and education, great metaverse educational institutions can be set up for children from all over the world to attend virtually. The first metaverse university is a fact and the first existing universities are exploring the possibilities.

Metaverse, not Meta!
When I talk about metaverse at events, I hear a lot of people say that they assumed that Meta builds the (only) metaverse. But several metaverses are already active: the major game builders of Fortnite, for example, claim that their game is actually already a kind of metaverse and there are all kinds of open solutions, such as Decentraland and The Sandbox.

Here is another interesting development. I’m not a big fan of Meta due to the endless stream of scandals surrounding the misuse of user data. According to research from Stanford, being active in the metaverse for 20 minutes provides 20 million data points. With VR headsets, companies can collect all kinds of new data: how people’s legs, hands and bodies move, when the pupils of their eyes contract and dilate, and how their minds react. I don’t know if I want to put all that data in the hands of a company known for exploiting the data commercially.

But what if Meta develops a similar model for retailers to easily create a place in the metaverse? Just like they did with Instagram Shopping? This will ensure that many more companies can join the metaverse. Such a model seems to be already being developed in China by Alibaba. Apple is now also investing in the metaverse.

The innovations are actually not possible without the involvement of large companies with a lot of money. The development itself alone costs a lot of money. Meta estimates it will cost $10 billion this year already. I also see cool, decentralized and open-source metaverses emerging, managed and built by the users themselves. They do this with the structure of a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO). The rules are designed by the users. Fully democratic. Since the rules are programmed on the blockchain, misconduct is prevented. Doing evil is automatically made impossible.

According to Meta, it will still take a few years before we really use the metaverse en masse. VR experts also predict that the hype cycle will not just continue to spiral upwards at the moment. There are now all kinds of flourishing discussions about the necessary legal frameworks and, of course, studies are also being conducted into the effects of, for example, the long-term use of metaverse on the body. I will continue to follow developments closely!

Jan Scheele is active in the web3 (blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DeFi) industry since 2013. Besides (former) CEO of a web3 scaleup and founder of an advisory boutique (working for governments, family offices and several multinationals), he is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and Board Member at the Blockchain Netherlands Foundation (BCNL). He is writing, consulting, speaking and training regularly about everything web3, all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the rise and global impact of blockchain technology.