Key Takeaways:

  • Initial excitement around the metaverse was driven by the allure of immersive experiences, limitless possibilities, enhanced social connections, and economic opportunities, but these high expectations contributed to the ultimate decline in numbers and interest.
  • The decline of the metaverse does not necessarily signal the end of the potential of immersive technologies and virtual experiences. Instead, businesses and individuals are now finding ways to reinvent digital experiences in the post-metaverse era by blending online and offline elements in creative ways.
  • Balancing the benefits of connectedness and community-building with the need for real-world experiences and face-to-face interactions will be crucial for shaping healthy social dynamics – and redefining brand-to-consumer interactions – in the digital age.

The metaverse is changing. Or is it? Before it had this fancy buzzword that was swallowed up by bigcorp, and since the pandemic, the metaverse hasn’t really evolved into the wunderkind we dreamed of when we were wearing sweatpants to zoom calls. The initial excitement around the metaverse was driven by the allure of immersive experiences, limitless possibilities, enhanced social connections along with the economic opportunities, and the technological advancements supporting it. These factors contributed to a wave of enthusiasm and anticipation for the metaverse’s potential impact on users‘ lives but have our high expectations contributed to the ultimate decline in numbers, and dare I say it, interest in this brave new world? Something is bubbling under the surface of the metaverse, and I think I might have a theory as to what it is and why it has happened now.

The concept of the metaverse promised a highly immersive and interactive virtual world where users could escape reality and engage in rich, multi-dimensional experiences. The idea of being able to explore virtual environments, socialize with others, and participate in diverse activities captured people’s imaginations. It was perceived as a realm of infinite possibilities and envisioned as a space where users could create, customize, and shape their virtual identities and environments according to their desires. From social connections, transcending physical boundaries to interactions with people from all over the world, forming communities and engaging in shared experiences—this promise of forging meaningful connections and expanding social networks in a digital realm appealed to many and for a while it delivered.

Image courtesy of Nak3d

We know that the metaverse presented enticing economic prospects: a day didn’t go by (and still doesn’t) where we were bombarded with opportunities to buy really precious and valuable NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). The metaverse was envisioned as a platform for entrepreneurship, commerce, and virtual economies—and I think that this was my first eureka moment. At a time when stores are closed, no one is doing business and, well, businesses were foreclosing; the great pivot came and the metaverse paid in dividends. Users could engage in virtual businesses, trade virtual goods and services, and potentially generate real-world income. The prospect of financial gain and novel economic models excited entrepreneurs and investors. Using advancements in technologies predominantly from the games industry; entertainment and industry sectors really gained from virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and blockchain. These technologies promised to enhance the metaverse experience, making it more realistic, interactive, and secure. The convergence of these technologies fueled optimism and enthusiasm for the potential of the metaverse. But most of these failed the Mom Test. The Mom Test comes from the idea that moms, who typically want to be supportive, may not provide honest feedback if asked directly about a product or idea. The goal of the Mom Test is to ask questions that focus on the customer’s problems, needs, and experiences, rather than seeking validation for your own ideas. In short if my mom or my 7-year old niece doesn’t understand your newfangled idea, no one will.

Perhaps we can blame the downgrading of COVID in shifting our desires and priorities in the metaverse towards a return to physical experiences. Our renewed focus on mental well-being, a reevaluation of virtual engagement, a renewed emphasis on physical spaces and local communities, and a pursuit of authenticity and realness. These changes reflect a broader desire for balance, human connection, and meaningful experiences in the post-pandemic era. The extended period of relying on virtual platforms for work, education, and social interactions during the pandemic has also led to a reevaluation of the role of virtual engagement in our lives. Some individuals may have experienced “Zoom fatigue” or digital burnout, leading to a decreased desire to spend additional time in virtual worlds. The metaverse, which was once seen as a potential escape, has faced a decline in appeal as people seek more balanced approaches to their digital and offline lives.

As a result I’m seeing a lot of business creating a “no metaverse plan” as though it never existed. I think this is a big mistake. Some businesses have a decreased emphasis on the development and adoption of virtual worlds and immersive digital experiences. Instead, the focus shift towards physical interactions, real-world experiences, and prioritizing the tangible aspects of life over virtual environments shows a misunderstanding of what the original purpose of the metaverse wanted for us. Businesses have responded to the no metaverse plan by reallocating investments towards physical locations and experiences. They are reimagining retail experiences, emphasizing local and experiential offerings, adapting entertainment and hospitality industries, investing in real estate and infrastructure, and adjusting supply chains to meet the evolving consumer preferences. By aligning their strategies with the desire for physical interactions, businesses aim to capture customer attention, drive sales, and stay relevant in the evolving marketplace. When all along they should have kept a few aces in their sleeve for online collaboration and remote working onboarding. For many people, especially the disabled workforce; forcing workers back into buildings provides more problems than solutions on many levels.

We know that the future of the metaverse depends on various political factors that encompass government regulations, privacy concerns, and the influence on digital policies in order for it to be accepted, for it to become more native to our lifestyle. The metaverse even has a darkverse! But in honesty, was the threat of privacy, fraud and data improved by the metaverse being there or not being there? 

The decline of this once huge hope for technology is not quite a decline. If we are to believe that the metaverse is actually a base layer or a foundation technology for us to plug other things into we’re making great strides. It has spurred technological advancements in AR and MR, which offer alternative approaches to blending the virtual and real worlds. These technologies are gaining traction across industries, impacting retail, manufacturing, healthcare, education, and entertainment. The integration of AR and MR with existing technologies presents exciting opportunities for innovation and immersive experiences, transforming the way we interact with the digital and physical realms.

In this weird hybrid “world” of the metaverse and us; we have to reimagine what the metaverse can be post-pandemic. Companies and individuals are reinventing digital experiences in the post-metaverse era by blending online and offline elements in creative ways. The emergence of innovative platforms, interactive retail experiences, blended reality experiences, immersive events, virtual-to-physical connections, and community-driven initiatives are reshaping the way we engage with digital content and interact with the world around us. These approaches provide unique and engaging experiences that combine the best of both the digital and physical realms.

As recently emerging technologies such as 5G and IoT mature and address the challenges faced in the past, the metaverse could evolve into a more seamless, inclusive, and engaging digital landscape. The convenience and practicality of combining digital overlays with real-world environments could make AR and MR the preferred choice for various industries and individuals, shifting the focus away from fully immersive virtual environments. Balancing the benefits of connectedness and community-building with the need for real-world experiences and face-to-face interactions will be crucial for shaping healthy social dynamics in the digital age.

The extent to which the metaverse makes a comeback or alternative approaches dominate will depend on factors such as user acceptance, technological innovations, economic viability, and the ability to address societal concerns. Striking a balance between digital and physical experiences will be key to harnessing the potential benefits of immersive technologies while supporting individual well-being and fostering inclusive, connected societies. The metaverse isn’t over, it’s just beginning. It’s growing up and coming to terms with the way the world is changing. In a sense, the metaverse is all of us. This persistent online social space will continue to grow, shrink and metamorphose as we face a new future of everything.