CES 2022 attendee photographs every weird use of 'metaverse'

A picture outside of CES 2022 convention centre showing a building with Metaverse City branding
(Image credit: Nima Zeighami)

"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'.

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'?

"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.

"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.

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.

Virtual reality

(Image credit: Valve)

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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? 

Jacob Ridley
Senior Hardware Editor

Jacob earned his first byline writing for his own tech blog. From there, he graduated to professionally breaking things as hardware writer at PCGamesN, and would go on to run the team as hardware editor. Since then he's joined PC Gamer's top staff as senior hardware editor, where he spends his days reporting on the latest developments in the technology and gaming industries and testing the newest PC components.