The rise of ChatGPT and the excitement around generative AI has inspired a host of headlines touting the death of the metaverse and its replacement as the buzziest topic of the digital world. The shift in conversation is dramatic and pervasive, particularly as the metaverse’s biggest proponents appear to be abandoning ship.
Samples of these headlines include:
RIP Metaverse, An obituary for the latest fad to join the tech graveyard — Business Insider
The Metaverse is Quickly Turning into the Meh-taverse - Wall Street Journal
The Metaverse Has Definitely Lost Steam — But Is It Dead?- Entreprenuer
However, while artificial intelligence has overtaken the focus and the news, is it truly fair to say the metaverse is dead? More importantly, can we say the metaverse was ever actually here?
The metaverse appeared to have endless potential, and investment in the technology entered the billions. However, while platforms such as Roblox have found great success in both entertainment and commerce partnerships, the same cannot be said for other metaverse endeavors. Where Roblox built a successful and engaged community first, many entrants to the metaverse race relied on demand that never appeared. This could in part be attributed to high cost of entry; Meta’s Horizon Worlds required an Oculus headset to participate, but in many ways the greatest downfall was the failure to deliver real value to users that inspired them to spend their time with a given world.
And here is the question we began with, was the metaverse ever here?
In of itself that question is very “meta,” but while it may seem odd, many experts would argue we never fully reached the creation of the metaverse. Yes, there were and are plenty of activations and experiences inspired by the possibilities of the metaverse, and even more built on the expectations of web3. However, as Matthew Ball addressed in his book, The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything, the metaverse is years, possibly decades, from existing in the manner in which it has been presented. A true metaverse requires interconnected worlds in which materials, IDs, and possessions move seamlessly as they would in the physical world. A user’s identity and capabilities in Roblox would not only transfer, but makes sense in a world built by Activision.
Meta, Disney, Microsoft, and many others each hyped their own metaverse iterations, but what they all had in common was the inability to integrate between one another, therefore falling short of the true definition of the metaverse. The potential for the metaverse to drive value for the masses is there; however we are far from achieving the technology and scale required to make it a reality. The promises made by the distinct individuals promoting the metaverse were in fact promises for platforms, but not the metaverse.
AI is stealing the headlines not because the metaverse is dead and gone, but because of the current real world capabilities and applications. Users do not need special equipment or specialized training to take advantage of what AI has to offer, and we have seen a steady stream of add-ons and congruent tools that offer real value right now.
For now it may be AI’s time to shine, but as any tech enthusiast and many casual observers will point out, there have been countless surprises and dark horses to emerge as the digital world advances, and it is unlikely we have heard the last of the metaverse.