What is the metaverse and why should you care?

Whether you think it’s a gimmick or the future of the internet, the era of the metaverse has arrived. But what exactly is it and how might it affect your business or career?


Careful listeners will have heard mumblings around the metaverse for several years, but those whispers have grown into shouts since Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of Facebook to Meta late last year.

The company spent over US$10bn on metaverse-related activities in 2021, and Zuckerberg’s big announcement led to an explosion of interest in the concept, which to this day still doesn’t have a globally agreed definition.

So, what is the metaverse?

Ask any group of people to describe the metaverse and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some think of it as the use of augmented reality (AR) overlaid in our daily ‘real world’ lives, others look at it as a virtual world we enter using avatars – think Ready Player One.

Although the metaverse is yet to be truly defined, in broad terms it’s essentially a networked world that integrates off and online experiences.

“The metaverse is a persistent and immersive digital environment of independent yet interconnected networks that will use yet to be determined communication protocols. It enables persistent, decentralised, collaborative, interoperable digital content that intersects with the physical world’s real-time, spatially oriented and indexed content,” says Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen.

“One misconception is that the metaverse will be a single virtual world from one provider, but as with the internet, no one company, organisation or individual will be able to own or control it,” he adds.

The ‘true’ metaverse isn’t here yet

Experts agree that the metaverse is the future of the internet and the natural step in the evolution of our digital lives, but it’s worth noting we’re not there yet.

We’re currently in the emergent stage and this wider interoperable metaverse is still some way off.

However, its seeds of virtual worlds and spatial computing have been here for a while, and today the metaverse is used as a catch-all term for the growing number of virtual environments we’re using for work and play.

These are often accessed using virtual reality (VR) and AR interfaces, but they aren’t a prerequisite, as virtual worlds have been accessed by PCs, consoles and phones for many years.

Capabilities continue to expand. In these environments businesses can now talk to clients, host internal meetings and workshops, run conferences and events, sell virtual and physical products and recruit and onboard staff. “Socially, we can play games, meet friends and family, buy land, build properties, develop experiences for others, create metaverse outfits, art and objects,” says Rohit Talwar, CEO of foresight agency Fast Future.

Gaming leads the way

Ian Hughes, chair of BCS’ Animation and Games Development Specialist Group, notes that development tools from the games industry have helped power the IT systems developing the metaverse and that this sector is likely to lead the way – a view others agree with.

In GlobalData’s Tech, Media and Telecom Predictions 2022 report, thematic analyst Emma Taylor forecasts that this year gaming companies will invest in the metaverse to expand their already substantial user base to create even wider communities.

“Niantic, known for AR game Pokémon Go, and Fortnite developer Epic games will launch early versions of their metaverse platforms, while other large game publishers such as EA and Tencent will begin to develop their own. These are likely to not be dissimilar to the worlds developed in games already, but may offer higher levels of emersion and interoperability,” she says.

Bart Schouw, chief evangelist at Software AG, agrees that the obvious candidates to succeed in the early stages of the metaverse era are the gaming companies like Epic, however he believes e-commerce and retail will soon follow suit and that B2C companies won’t be the only ones trying to understand how to exploit the metaverse. “There’s also a big opportunity for the B2B industry,” he says.

Ignoring the metaverse is bad for business…

GlobalData forecasts that enterprises will become a prime market for metaverse developers this year.

It predicts that new cases will emerge in areas such as training, factory optimisation and collaborative working as companies like Nvidia, Microsoft Meta and HTC strengthen their metaverse capabilities and start-ups develop their own specific solutions in areas such as data visualisation and AR.

This gives you an idea why businesses need to pay attention to the metaverse. Not only has it got the potential to improve staff training and optimise processes – just think of the benefits of digital twins for example – some predicts it’s where businesses will find many of their customers in the future.

“Gen Z is a generation spending eight or more hours a day online, and the metaverse promises a whole new world of commerce for businesses,” notes Filip Martinsson, COO and co-founder of Moralis. “It will not only allow companies to sell customers new digital products like NFTs, digital memberships and virtual event, but also allow businesses to understand customers better, build authentic communities and develop deeper relationships.”

Businesses also need to understand that the metaverse will enable new business models, and consider what this might mean for them.

“With blockchain technology and cryptocurrency tokens, users can now claim ownership and decision rights in decentralized platforms. Put simply, more value will be redistributed to users of virtual worlds, and less to their corporate owners,” highlight Jean Philippe Vergne, associate professor at UCL School of Management.

“Because of, or thanks to blockchain, the ‘corporate’ form is no longer required to design and grow a virtual world with a digital platform infrastructure. That's a fundamentally new way to create and distribute value, which is why a surface understanding of the metaverse as ‘the Web but with a VR headset on’ will result in strategic failures among established companies.

IT professionals need to understand the new technology, but equally important is for them to understand that some of the ways by which their business used to make money may become obsolete in the next five years.”

…and potentially your career

IT professionals also need to consider how the metaverse could affect their career.

Talwar points out that a range of new jobs are already emerging or on the horizon, from virtual assistants and building and workspace designers to creators of meetings, events and training experiences.

“As firms move online there will be roles for designers of metaverse business models and organisation structures. There will also be roles for developers and maintainers of metaverses, ‘in-verse’ content creation tools and virtual world cybersecurity solutions.”

Consider your place in the metaverse

While the metaverse’s impact on businesses will be minimal this year – and not all businesses will find large gains from investment – it’s vital organisations begin to consider their future in the virtual world and what it might look like.

This is because over the next few years experts predict the metaverse will become more unified and democratised, and those that adapted the earliest will be the ones to come out strongest.