"One of my oldest friends recently told me that from now on I’d be his ‘Metaverse Guy’. This was horrifying to me because despite hearing people say ‘like the metaverse’ for years, I still had no idea what exactly it meant in the real world. One trip to CES made it super clear to me: it doesn’t mean anything. It’s an empty buzzword that can mean anything the marketer wants."
That's what Nima Zeighami tells me following his enormous Twitter thread photographing every mention of the word 'metaverse' at CES 2022. He travelled to the major tech show this year to meet people, experience the latest tech, and help with his role of technical product manager for immersive products—focusing in AR/AR/Lightfield tech—and what he found was a whole lot of 'metaverses'.
“Start your company’s XR Metaverse”This is a software consulting company that registers a domain for you, gives you an NFT they minted, and then let’s you pay them a small fortune to build an Unreal experience they stream to the web that can’t run at even 20fps. pic.twitter.com/LfPhnb1YfuJanuary 5, 2022
MCity doesn't sound as fun as it should, though. First you've got to go through land registration, then what, virtual tax? A virtual economic collapse? No, couldn't happen.
So what does a metaverse boil down to, ultimately? I've visited a music festival in VR, a social event with areas to explore and a shared social experience, and I've massively enjoyed it, too. Clearly there is far more to do in VR and AR than just gaming, and social applications are a good use of the tech. But do these have to be labelled as a metaverse? Is VR Chat a metaverse? Is Second Life a metaverse? Do we need the term metaverse at all, or were we getting along just fine before it was ever popularised with terms such as 'VR', 'AR', and 'the Internet'?
“The Real Metaverse”Pack it up everyone, we found it! The REAL metaverse! pic.twitter.com/v1kQOLbuOMJanuary 6, 2022
"Everyone thinks the metaverse and VR are somehow tied together," Zeighami says. "I think if there was a true 'metaverse', all sorts of devices would be able to connect to it at different times. Phones, laptops, VR headsets, AR headsets, 3D displays, etc. And it would have to be open and fully interoperable. You know, the same way that the Internet is."
"I think 'metaverse' is just a new marketing buzzword for the Internet. There’s no value to using a new word since VR, AR, and 3D already work (nearly) perfectly on the current Internet. I think the people being marketed to simply don’t know that," Zeighami says.
That's the same conclusion our own Wes Fenlon came to when he didn't mince his words on the metaverse late last year.
Within that definition comes shades of grey: some companies have seemingly leaned entirely into the concept of an actual 'metaverse', throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks, while others may actually have some interesting tech that's been slathered in 'metaverse' from top to bottom. We're used to hardware companies spitballing concepts left and right for attention at CES 2022, so you can hardly blame anyone for trying—but let's call a spade a spade.
“The Untethered VR and Metaverse are here!”If they really made a wireless adapter for the Index that works, this is the first company I’ll give a pass to. It’s still a ridiculous term but real value gets a pass. pic.twitter.com/sWO2A84VyqJanuary 6, 2022
One such company in the Zeighami's thread is UnlinkVR, a company that specialises in laser-powered wire-free virtual reality. Is that a metaverse device? No! It's a VR device. Does it sound like a decent idea? Hell yeah, I'd give it a go.
The point is, this is not necessarily a strong indictment of the companies that use the term lavishly, or their 'metaverse' product. Though some do look a little out there. More so it's an indictment of the wildly misused and misunderstood term itself.
A chunk of these CES 2022 booths are advertising to build VR apps, experiences, and interactive models. That's cool, it's just not a magical interconnected wonderland where people go shopping in a virtual supermarket to buy food for their virtual house and clothes for their virtual kids, and where they watch virtual movies and play virtual games with their virtual friends wearing skins made in Fortnite. It's fine that it's not that, VR/AR/3D experiences are great, I've been saying that for years, but they can definitely be better, be more inviting, more engaging.
But major tech shows, such as CES, do love a buzzword after all, don't they?