Facebook goes Meta, Microsoft buys Activision for $69 billion, Sony follows buying Bungie – The Metaverse buzz beyond gaming?


A few months ago, Mark Zuckerberg brought metaverse into the forefront of tech vocabulary by rebranding Facebook to Meta and illustrating his vision for Horizon Home, an early vision for a home base in the metaverse. Interestingly, Facebook’s rebranding came with a quiet announcement that it was killing the Oculus brand of the virtual reality headsets maker that the company had acquired for $2.3 billion.

Those of us who dedicate our working lives in Information Technology continually scan the landscape for emerging technologies that can transform our lives. Such transformations come around once a decade or so – like the dot.com boom a generation ago or smartphone revolution we saw a decade ago.

Some of us might also remember Second Life that seems have distinct parallels to the Metaverse hype, albeit without headsets and eyeglasses. Second Life was designed to be an online “multimedia platform” that allows people to create an avatar for themselves and have a second life in an online virtual world. Launched in 2003, it saw rapid growth for some years with a few million users signing up to explore opportunities to build, create, shop, and trade virtual property and services with one another. Corporate marketers were not too far behind; some companies began planning advertisement campaigns and customer outreach opportunities in Second Life.

Meta (Facebook) built its dominance in social media by acquiring and stitching together Instagram and WhatsApp along with Facebook to create an ecosystem that help billions of us stay connected every day. Therefore, it is understandable why Meta is trying to carve out the next big thing in the virtual world. Not to be left behind, other FAANG giants – Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), and Alphabet (GOOG) – are also making varying bets in software and hardware, trying to carve out a niche in the Augmented/Virtual/Extended reality (AR, VR, XR) space. Even before the dust settled on Zuckerberg’s Connect 2021 keynote, Microsoft decided to jump on to the bandwagon by gobbling up gaming giant Activision for $69 billion. Not to be left behind, Sony announced plans to buy video game maker Bungie in $3.6 billion deal.

The Pandemic as the testing ground for Metaverse

The promise of metaverse seems rather straightforward – don your headset connected to a computer with specialized software and hardware with access to high-speed internet and you are transported into the virtual 3D universe focused on social connection. Invite your friends to play with you or find others lurking in the Metaverse and you have your entertainment lined up. The same goes for work where your avatar enters the virtual meeting room where you interact with your colleagues, draw on the virtual whiteboard and exchange your ideas.

The technology building for the Metaverse have been evolving at a fast pace. As Zuckerberg’s slick keynote demonstrated, it is all about stitching together the AR, VR, XR building-blocks along with headphones, goggles and high-speed processors to transport and immerse oneself into the ‘meta’Verse. Much of the current focus is on virtual games and gaming with tools promising gamers with a rich, immersive, and collaborative experience.

Avatar, Vijay
A few months ago, I bought my son a Nintendo Switch gaming set for his birthday and he took to it like a duck to water like kids of his generation. Not content with downloading a few games, he began exploring the ecosystem for multiplayer options and ways to earn v-bucks and other virtual currency by moving to top-levels. He enthusiastically explained that the v-bucks could be exchanged for cool merchandise like skins and other stuff in the gaming (meta?) verse. It went without saying that I had to seed his quest for v-becks for investing real-money on the account. If Zukerberg is to be believed, my son’s gaming is just one small step towards a richer, more immersive (and addictive) metaverse where the VR goggles transpose one’s avatar into the virtual world.

All play and no work?

The past two years have been a large-scale social experiment in remote work and learning when millions of office workers, educators and students have gone virtual. While many of us continue to be immersed in virtual work and zoom calls, some are already feeling the fatigue and are looking to return to the comfort zone of their offices, to be able to engage with colleagues and friends at the water cooler or the office cafeteria. The metaverse promises to address that challenge by bringing dry, zoom-ey connections to life, at least virtually.

Your virtual avatar can be sitting at the same table as others, observing their expressions and body language and they yours – just like in a face-to-face meeting. After that meeting, your avatar can hang out at the virtual-water-cooler or go to the virtual office café with colleagues. At least this is the promise of the metaverse after you don the clunky eyeglasses; and herein lies the challenge.
Work from home began to blur the lines between work and home, and metaverse seems to take this even further by moving you into the ‘other dimension’ behind the smart glasses.

The Metaverse challenge

The issue with Metaverse is twofold – first is the hardware. Clunky VR/XR headsets and eyeglasses are unwieldy, and most people claim to get disoriented or complain of headache after an hour or so in the virtual world. A couple of pounds (a kg or more) of gear strapped on a human head is not a pleasant user experience by any means.

Secondly, one might have to contend with claustrophobia as an effect of immersing yourself into the metaverse without any clue of what’s happening in your surroundings. When in that world, there is the risk of becoming oblivious to happenings in this universe around you; and the things that do matter in your life. Your avatar is not going to take your dog out for a walk, water your plants or attend to the crying baby, all of which have become part of the work from home routine.

And then there are the human dynamics to contend with. An article in the New York Times talks about a lady complaining of being stalked and bullied in the metaverse. Such cyber bullying this is just one risk. As more of us enter the metaverse, cyber criminals, stockers and identity thieves are sure to follow. Corporate Cyber Security experts who have their hands full thwarting hundreds of attacks a day will have to come up with techniques to protect corporate assets and virtual business engagement in the metaverse.

All this will take time, but entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for the dust to settle before dreaming up ideas around the metaverse buzz. Paraphrasing the old expression, there could be many a slip between the headset and the brain.

Show me the money

Hordes of entrepreneurs are joining the Metaverse gold rush, showcasing and advertising ‘innovative’ applications. For instance, a NYC jeweler is offering a Limited Edition NFT Collection of Necklace and bracelets – giving you the ability to purchase a digital art piece as a digital pair so customers can acquire both the jewelry piece and the digital NFT of it.

Hordes of analysts, VCs and angel investor are pointing to examples of multi-million-dollar sale of NFTs or the $2.4 million auction of a parcel of virtual land in Dreamland. Gamers have already started an active, though informal, trade in gaming tokens, skins and other paraphernalia for virtual exchange using money earned in the real world. Those rushing to the metaverse are content to earn and trade a few tokens.

Not to be left behind, tech savvy couples are dreaming up buzzworthy weddings and receptions in the Metaverse. For instance, an Indian couple from the state of Tamil Nadu made headlines announcing their wedding reception in the metaverse. Inviting guests to login in virtually from around the world, Dinesh Kshatriyan and Janaganandhini Ramaswamy plan to host their reception in the virtual dining room of Hogwarts castle.

Marriages made in heaven, and receptions in the metaverse – but one wonders how they plan to transpose the gourmet entrees of a wedding banquet or the aroma wedding cake and pastries there!

The real money however will go to the architects of the ecosystem, designing the foundational services, almost like those selling tracks of land and spades to the gold diggers in the wild West a century ago. The tech giants are hiring teams of engineers and programmers to bring this vision to life. And setting the standards that will ensure the rest of us are hooked to their platforms.

Bottomline – Going by the recent media headlines, Metaverse could be the next big thing. Or like Second Life and most other ‘technology foresight’ buzzwords, could fail to deliver after entrepreneurs have poured billions into it. But for now, it is certainly a technology trend watching.

About the Author

Mohan Krishnamoorthy is an Indian American technology executive with a multinational company. His viewpoints and papers have been published in several international technical and nontechnical journals. He can be reached at or Linkedin


References

  • It’s Not Complicated. Microsoft Wants Activision for Its Games. (NYT) 
  • Everybody Into the Metaverse! Virtual Reality Beckons Big Tech. (NYT) Tech’s biggest companies are joining game makers and start-ups in pursuit of an immersive digital world that some have been working on for years.
  • Sony to buy video game maker Bungie in $3.6 billion deal as industry consolidation heats up (CNBC)
  • Sony to Create Manchester City’s Metaverse With Hawk-Eye
  • Market Synopsys – Metaverse (emergenresearch) –  One research firm estimates that the market for metaverse technologies — including games, virtual reality headsets, and other emerging gadgets and online services — topped $49 billion in 2020 and will grow by more than 40 percent each year.


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