The metaverse is not delivering right now. Fact?

Connecting the real world with virtual ones is a hugely promising approach that could create revolutionary benefits in many areas of life. For brands, the metaverse offers a new means of engaging audiences through uniquely immersive and interactive user experiences. 

But it is clearly not fulfilling its potential right now. Some would say that the technology for supporting the ambitions of the metaverse is not ready. Is this true? Let’s find out.

13 October 2022
Ralf Paschen

There is clearly a huge appetite for what the metaverse has to offer. Connecting the real world with virtual ones is a hugely promising approach that could create revolutionary benefits in many areas of life. For brands, the metaverse offers a new means of engaging audiences through uniquely immersive and interactive user experiences. 

Ever since it jumped out of geeky sci-fi novels into the public eye as one of the hottest trends in consumer entertainment and enterprise tech, the concept of “the metaverse” has taken over headlines, attracted billions of dollars in investment, and vaulted towards the top of many executives’ strategic plans.

With so much hype and hard cash invested into the potential of metaverse worlds, why are they failing to engage with consumers?

You could forgive casual observers from outside of the metaverse and web 3.0 niche for being baffled by the amount of interest it is getting from serious business leaders, given the admittedly questionable quality of the so-called “metaverse spaces”, “metaverse galaxies”, “metaverse worlds”, or simply “the metaverse”, depending on who you listen to, that have gained the most publicity thus far.

Mark Zuckerberg's ugly selfie in the metaverse.
Mark? Is this what you rebranded your multi-billion-dollar company for? (Source: Meta)

Time and time again, we have been promised revolutionary virtual experiences only to be presented with ugly, poorly optimised, and ultimately boring virtual worlds that do little to improve on what Second Life did way back in 2003. 

Were you one of those who got in on the Second Life hype, only to join and wonder what the heck you were supposed to be doing there?

The decline of Second Life to relative obscurity should serve as a lesson to all of the current walled gardens that are capitalising on trendy “metaverse” branding. Failing to create long-term user engagement through innovative functionalities and future-proof design philosophies will lead to their downfall. Just as dial-up was consigned into the annals of history with the invention of modern broadband, the prototype metaverse worlds of today will become redundant when creators are able to harness cutting-edge web 3.0 solutions to create truly open virtual worlds. 

The clear technical limitations of these worlds, however, would seem to show that existing technology stacks are not ready to accomplish what visionaries are touting as the potential of the metaverse.

Technical limitations of web 2.0 infrastructure are holding the metaverse back

One significant factor in our disappointment is that the metaverse worlds are graphically so inferior to the quality we have been used to seeing in video games and animated movies for many years already.

A beautiful landscape in the video game Read Dead Redemption 2.
Read Dead Redemption 2 is an example of a virtual world whose stunning vistas and visual details help to draw users in to engage with it for hours on end. (Source: PCGamesN)

Coming from these beautiful, lifelike, and immersive worlds, how are we supposed to look at the blocky, cartoonish graphics of the so-called “future of the internet” with any kind of excitement?

There is a common excuse given for these worlds looking the way they do: the unprecedented connectivity and functionality of metaverse worlds, implementing novel technologies like AR, VR, blockchain and full-scale cloud streaming, as well as external apps like web browsers and productivity tools, are far more taxing on the backend than what is expected of a tightly packaged game world or pre-rendered film, and so, wherever computation is limited, there are compromises to be made on visual fidelity.

This is certainly true. However, it is also true we have not yet been presented with worlds whose functionality, from the end user’s point of view, has justified the lowering of graphical quality to such an extent. Rather, the all-around technical limitation of web 2.0 infrastructure means that metaverse worlds are failing to achieve their potential on all fronts, including connectivity and functionality, even with their visual compromises.

Early mass-market representatives of the metaverse like Roblox, whose expansion from a pure gaming experience into an all-inclusive entertainment hub has featured blockbuster concerts from real-world stars like Lil Nas X, David Guetta, and Charli XCX, still limit events to 100 users in one virtual instance.

This means that no matter how many people want to gather in massive celebrations with like-minded people from around the world (like, say, at a concert), they would only ever be able to see a maximum of 100 fellow attendees at a time, and with very limited interactivity at that. The lack of scale and depth in these worlds prevents them from being the massive, persistent gathering places that bridge physical and virtual worlds in the way we would expect from the metaverse.

The same goes for virtual worlds that have set out to embody the novel principles of web 3.0 from the outset, like The Sandbox and Decentraland. Both worlds are blazing new ground in the integration of decentralised economies on the blockchain, allowing for digital land and items to be bought and sold by users independently of the creators. High-profile enterprises have sought to extend their real-world interests by investing millions of dollars into their virtual presence on these platforms. In actuality, however, their worlds are little more than economic proofs of concept.

With little to do besides buying land to build structures with no innate functionality, showing off your branded NFT wearables, or gambling your cryptocurrency, these worlds turn out to be superficial economic playgrounds with little long-term value. In terms of user experience, they are extremely basic, severely limited in terms of connectivity and visual appeal, and there is little functionality in the world to keep the average user sticking around.

These limitations mean that they do not even work as a social experience. Huge worlds being limited to only 100 users per instance means that encounters with other users are rare, and you are left running around in a lonely world ogling at the ugly, incongruous buildings placed there by their landlords at one time or another but offering little dynamic interaction in real time.

An avatar standing in an empty world in Decentraland.
Running around in the empty worlds of Decentraland is lonely and boring. Is this what we expect of the metaverse? (Source: CryptoPotato)

It gets even worse with Meta’s Horizon Worlds, which has almost 10,000 worlds to offer but none where you could throw a decent party, as each of these worlds is restricted to no more than a couple of dozen users at a time. If a world fills up, you will land in a copy of it isolated from the rest. Meta’s Web 2.0 technology does not provide the computational power to deal with more users in a single instance. Not a great experience!

And to top it all off, even with all these technical compromises, we still see the sporadic virtual events intended to bring people together around novel use cases marred by crippling performance issues. Decentraland’s hugely hyped Fashion Week, for example, suffered from consistent glitches, connection drops and overall limited interactivity that gave guests a messy, unfulfilling experience, and certainly did little to delight users or boost the reputations of the brands involved.

Likewise, the Foo Fighters virtual concert hosted by Meta suffered from crippling connection issues that kept players from joining altogether. The concert was therefore poorly attended, and those that did join were presented with a disappointing 2D rendering of a pre-recorded video, far from the ground-breaking ‘metaverse’ experience that was promised to them. 

Finally, the advent of play-to-earn game such as Axie Infinity has highlighted the novel potential in the era of web 3.0 for games not to be just escapist pass-times, but to be able to bear fruit in the ‘real world’ by generating economic value that can be transferred beyond the bounds of the virtual and into the users’ everyday life. Axie Infinity rose to fame by capitalising on the short-term incentive for users to make some easy money through a relatively simple game on their phone. However, the value of its digital assets has proven to be built in the clouds, and their fall to earth has shown that users do not want to engage with a boring experience just for marginal economic gains. Rather, the value of the virtual-physical economy in web 3.0 will hinge around high-quality functionalities and experiences that keep users sticking around for their own sake.

With these being  the platforms that are getting the most investment and publicity right now, and therefore most representative of the “metaverse” trend in its current form, there is certainly grounds for disappointment.

Is it all a waste of time? No. It is the beginning of a metaverse strategy that will exist without these limitations. 

I don’t want to seem too negative in this article. All of the virtual worlds that I have mentioned have their merits. But they simply are not good examples of what developers, brands, and creators mean when they say that the metaverse will revolutionise how we live our lives.

​​It is my firm belief that, like AOL or the early “tip the phone to drink a beer” smartphone apps did before them, these limited prototypes for the metaverse will have to stand aside when brands and creators learn to harness the latest technology to create experiences that provide long-term value to their users. 

Ultimately, it is the user experience that will determine the acceptance and future prospects of the metaverse. The only way it will flourish is through safe, fun and engaging experiences that push the boundaries of what was previously considered possible in virtual worlds. This will be underpinned by a technical infrastructure that permits not only openness, interoperability and decentralisation but also stunning graphical fidelity, massive concurrency, and an unlimited range of satisfying functionalities.

It has become abundantly obvious that the limit of the legacy technology that current platforms are built upon is the root of the disappointment felt now. Web 2.0 infrastructure is simply not up to the task of fulfilling the promises of the metaverse. Without major upgrades, there is no hope of populating the world with thousands of real users in immersive, persistent worlds the way that we would want from a true metaverse.

That is why, at Hadean, we are powering a new generation of virtual experiences that are tailor-made for the requirements of web 3.0 and the metaverse. This is founded on unique technologies already being used by numerous partners to blast through the commonly accepted ceilings in connectivity, fidelity, and scale, as well as enabling interoperability and security in vast decentralised ecosystems of interconnected virtual worlds driven by persistent user identity and ownership.

Tired of demos with no real users? A preview of Aether Wars, a special event in Eve Online cohosted by Hadean and CPP Games.
Hadean has been able to host thousands of real users in a single virtual world since 2019. Click here to see the live demo with CCP Games

With Hadean, creators and brands can build, run, and monetise experiences that are genuinely exciting, satisfying, and generate long-term value through extended engagement. This is the cornerstone for unlocking the creator economy based on user agency, creative freedom, and unbounded functionality.

Our belief in the metaverse is founded on the proven ability that we have to power it today and for the future.  

Let’s give brands a chance to bridge the physical and virtual worlds in the metaverse truly. No more boundaries!

Get a chance to discuss this with the Hadean team at Unreal Fest New Orleans and at O3DCON Texas next week.

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