It's most often associated with gaming and online worlds, but metaverse technology has a number intriguing uses across enterprise sectors — some of which are already in use.
If you hadn't heard about the metaverse before Facebook announced its name change to Meta in October 2021, you likely have since. Broadly defined, the metaverse is a virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) digital, online space where users can interact with each other and with the computer-generated universe they're using. It sounds like the stuff of sci-fi — but if you've watched your child play a Roblox game online, then you've seen the metaverse.
This might sound like literal child's play, but the metaverse is estimated to become an $800 billion market. The primary benefit of the metaverse for industry is the opportunity for users to interact not just with the company, but with each other, efficiently and effectively in a customized digital environment. Adopting this technology gives companies new ways to connect with customers and clients and create immersive experiences for them. And given the advanced technology needed to run metaverse tech, IT professionals play an important role in its successful adoption and potential ROI.
Here are 10 industry sectors already using the metaverse, or soon to be.
1. Retail: The term "metaverse" didn't originate with Meta, but the tech giant is the company most widely associated with the concept. The company highlighted the metaverse's potential for retail in its much-discussed October video, and (somewhat confusingly) opened a bricks-and-mortar retail store to sell the VR headsets needed to access much of this tech. Several brands already participate in metaverse communities for retail, and there's evidence that 3D and augmented/virtual reality can help sales.
2. Virtual meetings and events: Thanks to innovations such as Apple's head-mounted display, which incorporates physical hand and arm movements to help users be more present in virtual meetings, the metaverse is providing new opportunities for interaction. Roblox got attention early in the COVID-19 pandemic by hosting virtual concerts with artists like Lil Nas X, and Disney CEO Bob Chapek has named the metaverse as a strategic priority.
3. Real estate: It might sound contradictory, but real estate is booming in the metaverse too. Companies like Decentraland sell virtual plots of "land" companies can use to build a virtual headquarters or to create online experiences for staff or clients. More traditionally, metaverse technology offers potential for real estate agents working with remote sellers — for example, people could do a VR walkthrough of a home they are looking to buy or rent across the country, or test out potential paint colors in their soon-to-be new home while construction is still underway.
4. Architecture and engineering: Architects will be tapped to design metaverse properties in ways that are attractive and on brand, making them as seamless for a company's clients to use as possible. But metaverse tech also provides opportunities for architects and designers to meet virtually in new and more efficient ways — for example, while examining a 3D model of a building under development or testing potential design choices via virtual reality.
5. Software development: Of course, all of this new tech will require the expertise of software developers to build and maintain it. But just as it can with physical engineering projects, the metaverse also provides exciting opportunities for virtual collaboration and testing for software engineers. For example, Unity Software provides a real-time 3D software development via augmented or extended reality, allowing companies an opportunity to develop metaverse software in a virtual environment. As more tech companies adopt remote-first or hybrid workplaces, the potential to use the metaverse for a wider variety of their operations will be increasingly appealing.
6. Creator economy: It's not enough to simply purchase a virtual space and invite people to visit — there has to be something for customers and staff to find once they arrive. The $100 billion creator economy sector already plays a significant role in the metaverse in areas like web development, design, and brand partnerships. But think beyond influencer marketing: Content and copywriters are essential for helping your customers and staff learn about your metaverse offerings, for example, and UX designers are key to making your digital environments welcoming and accessible.
7. Gaming: Gaming in the metaverse is nothing new. Second Life attracted attention from the private sector about a decade ago and still has a robust community. And kids and adults alike regularly use metaverse tech in games like Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite. Looking ahead, expect the existing metaverse players in this sector to expand their brand partnerships and consumer offerings — and expect the trends set by gaming to influence the adoption of metaverse tech by other, unrelated companies.
8. Manufacturing: 3D prototype design, rendering, and simulation have already changed the manufacturing industry across a variety of sectors. As metaverse technology becomes both more advanced and more accessible, this only seems likely to continue. For example, it's plausible that a metaverse environment could soon allow employees at different sites to meet in a virtual environment to examine a 3D model together. The possibility of virtual simulations of full production cycles also offers a lot of promise in cost and time efficiencies for the sector — BMW has already put it into use.
9. Technology infrastructure: The metaverse requires powerful and reliable connectivity technology in order to run smoothly and effectively. If consumers have a poor experience using a company's product or service, they may never try it again — and this seems especially true when that involves an unfamiliar technology. Enterprises providing 5G, WiFi, and cloud services, along with those making essential hardware like GPUs, servers, VR headsets, and haptics, need to stay ahead of rapid development in the metaverse sector.
10. Decentralization sector: There is considerable overlap between the metaverse and decentralized technologies like blockchain, cryptocurrency, decentralized finance, and edge computing. There are considerable uses for blockchain technology across industry sectors, and a wide variety of businesses are now using or accepting cryptocurrency in their operations. Given the existing convergence between these sectors, and the potential of edge computing in particular, enterprises should watch for developments (and risks) associated with decentralized tech as they build out their metaverse strategy.