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Did ChatGPT kill the metaverse? Experts from the Middle East clear the air
The metaverse seems like a distant dream, but is it completely dead?
Eva lives in the metaverse, owns virtual land, and eats digital burgers drenched in technicolor sauce. She is building a memorial for all those avatars that believed the metaverse was dead.
We’ve been urged to consider a digital world that looks like our world, where our digital extensions live, shop, eat, and thrive. But after a few months last year, the metaverse and all its hype seemed buried under digital debris after various iterations of the metaverse – such as fashion shows, malls, restaurants, and concerts – cropped up.
Opinions in the tech world – on how the metaverse should be owned, controlled, and developed – are contrasting. While Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella is confident in the potential of the metaverse and believes that the real world can be integrated into the digital world through apps like Mesh Team Meetings and HoloLens, Mark Zuckerberg envisions an “embodied” metaverse in the next decade. Questions about interoperability, sustainability, and viability are yet to be answered.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center sought insights from 624 technology innovators about the metaverse’s impact by 2040. According to the study, 54% of experts believe that by 2040, the metaverse will be a well-functioning, fully-immersive aspect of daily life for at least half a billion people globally. However, 46% of experts predict the opposite.
With the recent hype around Generative AI, many are asking if the metaverse is dead.
“ChatGPT stole the metaverse’s thunder in terms of hype. But all these technologies will contribute to the growth of the metaverse. Imagine if you could use Generative AI to create any metaverse experience in a matter of minutes. This is the ‘WordPress moment’ when anyone can build their metaverse experience for almost no cost, democratizing access to the metaverse. So we do not see them as competitive trends, but instead as highly complementary,” says Sam Huber, CEO of LandVault.
The decline in fascination with a particular tech category is not conclusive evidence that it will disappear forever.
ChatGPT doesn’t replace the metaverse or vice versa, says Supreet Raju, co-founder of OneRare, a foodverse platform. “It just shows us how technology can change our daily lives.”
HYPE OR HOPE?
As per Google trends, the metaverse hype is completely dead. While the ChatGPT trend showcases an uptick every day.
But it’s normal for a trend to die out, this is part of the “hype cycle,” says Huber. Citing an example of 2001, when many deemed the internet as dead because of the dotcom market crash, he says it could be a similar case with the metaverse.
“2022 was a year of tech trends, and like many hype cycles, each peak and plateau. When we look at the metaverse and compare 2023 versus 2022, we are witnessing less media hype and a move to more practical use cases of the metaverse,” says Karl Escritt, CEO of Like Digital & Partners, a digital transformation agency to retail and luxury brands.
Last year, Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) made its official debut in the metaverse, giving virtual tourists a chance to visit a fully immersive 3D replica of Hegra’s Tomb of Lihyan. While the UAE’s ministry of economy, set up shop in the metaverse, retail chain Majid Al Futtaim launched the mall of the metaverse . Last month, Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, launched the Meta Academy in KSA to accelerate metaverse adoption in the MENA region.
According to experts, while the metaverse hype has settled, the fundamentals remain strong.
“There are 3 billion gamers, and the metaverse is just an extension of gaming technologies into broader use cases,” says Escritt.
“The metaverse is not new behavior, but it does need more use cases for consumers to jump in, and that is what we are building,” says Huber, currently heading up one of the largest metaverse real estate builders.
THE NEXT INTERNET BATTLEGROUND?
Technologies are developing rapidly all across the world. “ChatGPT is not a one-day wonder, AI research has been making progress over the years, and we finally have a product that can be used and scaled globally. Products like ChatGPT are proof that once technology finds an apt use case, it has the power to change the world,” says Raju.
There’s no denying that Generative AI has showcased several use cases by simplifying life and mimicking human attributes of creativity and innovation.
“AI has stolen its column inches off the metaverse. But it’s important to understand why. New tech is driving a lot of interest in the media, and Generative AI feels like the golden child of the moment. However, this is because of its practical application for the end user,” says Escritt.
The most logical explanation is that unlike the metaverse, which requires hardware to access, anyone can use it and can start using it on a micro level quickly to improve functions in their day-to-day life, he adds.
“Metaverse technology is being rapidly built at a hardware and software level, and we will soon see a metaverse product that manages to grow from a niche audience and establish the true utility of this concept,” Raju notes.
INVESTING IN A DORMANT TREND
So the big question remains, is it a worthy investment? Aside from the use cases of shopping, living, and dreaming in virtual cityscapes, supporters of the metaverse have spoken about real estate in the metaverse. LandVault, which focuses on real estate in Web3, relocated to Dubai because of the UAE’s vision to be the “Silicon Valley of the metaverse.”
“We believe that land in the metaverse is the 3D equivalent of a web domain — your unique destination in the metaverse. This destination will be valuable because of the audience that can pass by. While location matters less than in the physical world, proximity to affluent areas and traffic does. For consumers that want to go beyond investing only in the land, we are also developing a protocol, Matera, which tokenizes metaverse experiences to make them investable,” Huber says, adding that every investment has risk, so do your research.
“The Middle East is an exciting region for emerging tech and luxury,” says Escritt.
So what’s holding the metaverse back? Experts say the metaverse has been established in mindsets as an immersive 3D experience, but the reality is it is extremely hard to handle 3D hardware devices like Oculus for long periods.
“For metaverse adoption, there needs to be more accessible, affordable, and comfortable hardware,” says Raju.
“In the next 12 months, I see most of the focus on driving the end consumer experience rather than the wow-focused projects we have seen in some of the hyped PR around metaverse,” Escritt adds.
Unlike the trend, experts say the metaverse is only just beginning.