Metaverse: «The first step is to immerse yourself»

by Michelle Widmer

Mr. Gremli, in three years we’ll be doing this interview as an avatar in the metaverse. How do you rate these expectations by Bill Gates?
We’ve learned during the pandemic that we can save a lot of travel time — and fossil fuels — by scheduling appointments as a video call. However, in the long run, communicating only through small video windows – the keyword “magnification stress” has become cumbersome. This is where the technologies now grouped under the term metaverse come into play. When we wear VR glasses and meet as an avatar in a virtual environment, we feel like we are in the same room even though we are physically in a different city. This is already possible today and is being used more and more often. Accordingly, Bill Gates’ predictions are certainly not out of thin air.

Metaverse is currently on everyone’s lips. But very few people can explain this in their own words. Can you make it short and understandable?
Metaverse is the next evolution of the internet. The expression “from scrolling to strolling” sums it up nicely: Instead of clicking on websites, you dive into virtual worlds. The web becomes a 3D world where I travel as an avatar and meet other avatars. This experience is especially immersive when using VR glasses – but I can also immerse myself in the Metaverse via my smartphone or laptop.

The only parallel virtual world does not yet exist. What platforms already exist and what can you do?
There are countless platforms that can be included in the metaverse – depending on how you define the term. Two of the most famous are Sandbox and Decentraland. Both are virtual worlds based on the blockchain where you can buy land with cryptocurrency and own virtual goods in the form of NFTs. But gaming platforms like Roblox or Fortnite can also be included in the Metaverse – because in these worlds you can not only play, but also meet friends, participate in events and create your own content. While Sandbox and Decentraland still have a manageable user base of early adopters, Roblox and Fortnite have long since hit the mainstream market with 40 and 30 million daily users, respectively. And then of course there’s Meta, which is investing billions in the Metaverse. The group operates three Metaverse apps under the “Horizon” brand: “Workrooms” for virtual meetings, “Worlds” for user-created worlds and “Venues” for virtual events.

“The first concrete use cases often appear in discussions with companies”

What specific characteristics must a platform meet in order to be considered a metaverse?
The metaverse is 3D, synchronous, continuous, unlimited and interoperable. Every multiplayer game actually fulfills the first two criteria: you move in a 3D world and meet other users there. Therefore, persistence is a particularly important criterion for differentiation: if you build a virtual tree house in the metaverse, it will be visible to all other users and remain in place even if you log out – this is not the case in most games. This insistence also allows me to own and trade virtual things, which in turn are the basis for a virtual economy that creates very real jobs.

And the last two features?
The Metaverse platform is not yet unlimited and interoperable: there are currently technical limitations on the number of users that can be together in a virtual environment – in the future the number should be unlimited. And the interoperability should enable me to take my avatar and virtual properties with me from one platform to another, for example. To do this, the platforms must agree on common standards and, ideally, ownership should be decentralized – for example via the blockchain.

On Tuesday, the metaverse was also the topic of the gfm trend conference. How much advice is needed on this issue among your clients at the moment?
We are testing what we experienced with the topic of virtual reality when Bandara was founded nearly seven years ago: there is a lot of interest in the Metaverse, and the first thing to do is explain the topic and show the companies the opportunities. The first concrete use cases often crystallize in discussions with companies.

“When social media appeared, many companies hesitated at first and overslept.”

To what extent should Swiss companies now deal with the Metaverse? What exactly can or should they do?
“Web 3.0” is often talked about in relation to the Metaverse, which is why the comparison to Web 2.0 comes to mind here: when social media came along, many companies hesitated at first and overslept. The Metaverse provides a new opportunity to get started early on new development and do some initial testing – so you’ll be ready when the Metaverse goes mainstream. The first step is to immerse yourself in the metaverse – in my opinion, this is an important prerequisite to be able to evaluate the possible approaches of your company.

What is the budget for this?
You don’t need a lot of budget for the first experiments, but you need more curiosity and a desire to innovate.

Nike sells virtual sneakers and musicians give concerts in Fortnite. What other industries are pre-assigned to use Metaverse platforms?
There are basically two different ways: the first is that you are using existing Metaverse platforms because you meet part of your target group there. That’s why Nike, for example, has opened “Nikeland” on Roblox, a brand experience that includes a store with virtual products that you can outfit your avatar with. The second method is to use metaverse technologies for events or brand experiences. One example of this is a project we implemented for Ingram Micro: customers can immerse themselves in a virtual space as an avatar and have Dell consultants present them with the latest products.

How can the Metaverse be exciting for media companies and journalism?
A possible initial question is: What stories benefit from the 3D experience? For example, you can digitally rebuild a burned or destroyed building and make it accessible in the Metaverse – or a new mapped area. It is also possible to combine gamification elements.

“Metaverse platforms will reach more and more users and play an increasingly important role in their daily lives.”

After mobile internet, Metaverse is the next level. How can this development continue in the next few years?
Like Web 2.0 social media platforms, Web 3.0’s Metaverse platforms will reach more and more users over the next few years and will play an increasingly important role in their daily lives. And as with social media, don’t expect one dominant platform. This is why the topic of interoperability is so important: Hopefully the most important players will agree on common standards, then in a few years we’ll have an open field without ‘walled gardens’.

For the big tech companies, there are huge risks about who will lead the way in the Metaverse. What can we expect in the coming months or years?
It will be interesting to see how well Meta converts the user base of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp to Horizon. Microsoft also has big ambitions and recently bought game studio Activision Blizzard for $70 billion as it brings the “building blocks to the Metaverse”. Apple and Google know that they both run on VR or AR glasses. But Roblox and Epic Games – along with Fortnite – both have years of experience in virtual worlds and already generate billions in sales of virtual goods, is not to be underestimated.

Finally, some best practice: Can you name three metaverses that are particularly creative?
A good example comes from France: Carrefour launched the “Healthy Map” on Fortnite, where the topic of “Healthy Nutrition” can be experienced in a playful way. While you usually need “remedial items” in games to get back in shape after a fight, in the “Healthy Map” you have to find healthy foods instead.

Samsung has opened an Experience Center in Decentraland where you can win NFTs and participate in virtual events.

A particularly creative app is RSF’s “Uncensored Library” on Minecraft, which can also be described as the metaverse: while news platforms and blogs are often censored in authoritarian states, Minecraft is accessible for free practically everywhere – Thus it was developed by Reporters Without Borders used to bypass government censorship.

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