Last month, I met a friend for the first time since Q2 2019, before Covid. We celebrated on the terrace of a London West End restaurant, surrounded by patrons devouring their steaks and chips, before the shows began at nearby theaters. With the arrival of new friends, the overwhelmed waiter quickly prepared a second table to join ours, but unrolled an irregular tile and poured wine into his pants.
If you want to compete with this concrete dose of fun and real comedy – the combination of the warmth of a meeting and a bath of cold wine, accompanied by a salty laundry bill – the metaverse will have to work very hard to take control of it. the $ 13 trillion savings that many people predict for him. The current hype about the new market – at least for now – could be a phenomenon associated with the pandemic.
That $ 13 trillion figure, according to a report released this week by Citi Research, is the highest end of the hypothetical economic range for the broadest definition of the metaverse, by the end of this decade. The term is used with increasing frequency to encompass all future routes that may be covered by the Internet and by any company, institution or person that engages with it. The manager of a large international investment fund tells me that he loves the idea of the metaverse, but is not able to indicate a single stock in his portfolio from a company that operates only in the metaverse.
However, a number of similar projections have reached the banks of fund managers in the eight months since Facebook fueled general excitement by announcing its bet on the metaverse – which also included changing its name to Meta. Inevitably, when customers hungry for ideas asked them how best to deal with it, the instinct of stock traders was to extend the package of corporate names associated with the metaverse as much as possible, and with that its scope became astronomical, almost incomprehensible. . For now, the best bet in terms of investment seems to be companies working with shovels and pickaxes (i.e., managing digital infrastructure and hardware), and theoretically building the platform on which the base of the users of the metaverse will expand to, who knows, billions. of people. The corporate world (especially intensely in Asia) has met these expectations with great metaverse strategies that, in most cases, have cost close to zero and have not forced companies to make commitments.
This extension of scope has been facilitated by the complexity that the definition of metaverse implies. When a panel of internationally renowned experts tried to address this challenge at the Global Boardroom, an event hosted by the Financial Times on Tuesday, participants did an excellent job. But they recognize that the fundamental story – the convergence of physical and digital life – was a mixture of the real migration of work and leisure to the digital world (which in part is already underway) and speculative fantasies. We are talking about an investment issue that allowed JPMorgan to tell investors in January that “a next-generation financial company could potentially turn to digital clothing as collateral for underwriting mortgages on land and real estate.” . statement that seemed completely absurd.
The Citi report, in conjunction with other previous studies, describes the metaverse as “a three-dimensional virtual space that is interoperable with the physical world, and represents a changing step from the current content of the Internet, which is based on the two-dimensional web. ” Morgan Stanley, in a February report, expressed a closer view of a “next-generation social media platform, streaming, gaming and shopping.”
The internet is clearly on its way to a new phase in which much of what we now think “online” will be presented in the form of a virtual world. Games, entertainment and parts of the workplace will be the first to transition, but technology will evolve to appeal to everything else, and in the end, the risk of being out of the metaverse will outweigh the risk of joining, for companies.
But there is a serious timing issue attached to all the hype about a $ 13 trillion market. The concept of the metaverse and a distinctive transition to a new phase of the internet may have been around for some time, but the really explosive speculation on the subject has reached its peak at a time when the world feels uniquely receptive to the idea of life in a virtual world.
The October announcement of Facebook and the events of the following months came when most of the world had been forced by the pandemic to replace the norms of the social world and working life with their versions. digital. The prospect of finally exiting this phase seemed, at the time, to be seriously threatened by the omicron variant. Therefore, the time was right to plant the idea that this forced transition from the real world to digital will become a regular cycle and therefore millions or even billions of people could decide, very logically, that the virtual world was the refuge. .
That the world will emerge completely from the pandemic is not an inevitable conclusion, but the places that have moved farthest towards a return to normalcy are a reminder that the real world – with all its splendor and disasters – will always be a fiercely difficult competitor. for the world, virtual world.
Translation by Paul Migliacci