I was recently asked to write a series of articles about the metaverse for a client. I didn’t know much about the metaverse when I started out, but a bunch of research soon fixed that.
As I was doing that research (which looked at the role of the metaverse in a particular industry) I found myself wondering how this Shiny New Thing applied to my own world of work. Were there trends that I needed to know about? What skillsets might I need to get? This article is the result of my own research into the issue.
First of all, what is the metaverse?
Every article on the subject starts with a definition of what the metaverse is. This Business Insider description sums it up well, because the broadness of the definition encompasses the various branches of the “metaverse”:
The metaverse is generally thought of as a 3D version of the internet that can include elements of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). Running parallel to the physical world, these virtual spaces allow users to live their digital lives.
While Facebook founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s version of the metaverse is heavily focused on AR and VR to provide a fully immersive experience, the broader definition can include any virtual world where human-controlled avatars interact with each other and digital objects.
IT News Africa extends the concept to include some of the hardware that might be needed:
The metaverse is the vision of a persistent 3D virtual world where we can explore and interact with others as avatars, whether for work or entertainment, using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets.
It’s easier understand the concept by looking at some real-life examples:
- There’s an African metaverse called Africarare, which houses a metaverse marketplace that showcases African art, and provides a platform for businesses and artists to display their offerings, according to ITWeb. This 3D virtual reality experience is set in Ubuntuland, a virtual world in Africa that marries creativity, crypto-currency and commerce.
- Some online games are thought of as being part of the metaverse. Fortnite, for example, hosts virtual music concerts. Pop star and songwriter Ariana Grande is has performed a series of concerts inside the game. The BBC explains:
- Or there’s this, from Bloomberg: The entire 40-square-mile metro region of Orlando, Florida, may soon live virtually inside the offices of the Orlando Economic Partnership (OEP). The group has partnered with a gaming company to develop a 3D model of the area… that the city can show off to potential investors in its bid to grow as a tech hub.
Why all the hype?
The concept of a virtual world in which humans can interact with each other and with digital entities has been around a long time in science fiction, and has been on the radar of people in the tech world for a while now.
As hinted in the definition above, the blogosphere lit up with the concept when Facebook climbed on the bandwagon. In October 2021, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be changing its name to Meta as a way to “bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses”.
Is the metaverse a thing you need to worry about?
The short answer is yes.
The parallels with the growth of mobile technology are compelling. It is almost impossible to imagine what life was like without a cellphone close to hand. And yet it was only in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced, that the combination of technologies (phone, Internet, MP3 player and camera) into one small gadget became a reality.
As an Analysis Group report says: ‘Although these technologies each already existed on their own, putting them together in a single device fundamentally altered how users connect(ed) with the Internet by overcoming the limitations of geography.’
Now, we might be poised for just such a sea change. The Analysis Group report proposes that the metaverse might follow the same trajectory as mobile. As the metaverse is understood now, existing technologies (augmented and virtual reality, videoconferencing and multi-player gaming) will be combined into something new.
So even if elements of this are not in place yet, this is something coming our way over the next few years.
Why you should care
The metaverse could give rise to new business models and ways of working, IT News Africa says. Many businesses are trying to create more meaningful experiences with their customers, and the metaverse could provide space for that. Also, the metaverse could one day support its own digital economy where users can create, buy, and sell virtual goods.
In summary: You should care because instances of the metaverse do exist, they are the flavour of the month and (crucially) there’s money in it.
As Ben Williams, Publisher of The Johannesburg Review of Books, writes in the Daily Maverick:
That the metaverse will descend upon us, however – in one form or another – may now be taken as read. This leads to other questions, which those who want a stake in the brave new world to come should be confronting sooner rather than later. Things are moving fast.
What kind of work might writers, editors and other freelancers be doing in the metaverse?
THE PUBLISHING WORLD
Writing for Self-Publishing News, Dan Holloway notes that you can ‘do pretty much anything in the metaverse that you can do in the physical space through which we move every day’. He says that could include giving readings of published work, setting up an ebook store, or holding underground literary parties. ‘You could even, dare I say it, set up a virtual store there to sell NFTs of your books.’
Williams agrees. He suggests that ebooks could furnish meta rooms. ‘Books are, among other things, prestige objects. Showing them off to others is half the fun of owning them. Two opportunities for publishers thus immediately present themselves in the metaverse: books as digital collectibles; and imprints as tokens.’
And what about publishing imprints, he asks? Publishers will need to have a tokenised presence in the future — tokens being the fundamental assets of web3, the things that allow you to plug into the network (just as a website allows you to plug into the current, web 2.0 network).
(Question to think about: Will individual content creators need tokenised presences, in addition to their websites and social media accounts?)
Writing for Forbes, Falon Fatemi says there’s one demographic that will almost certainly see disproportionately strong disruption by the metaverse: creators. Fatemi lists the possible sources of disruption as:
1. An expectation that content will be immersive and interactive. Creators could be tasked with making traditional two-dimensional content – but also creating the means through which users interact with content. ‘The famous phrase by theorist Marshall McLuhan, “the medium is the message” will truly define this next era of creating. Today’s Youtubers, TikTokers, and podcasters will create digital replicas of themselves, their homes, their studios, and other objects to propel audience experiences into interactive and immersive ones.’
2. Content will need to be more intelligent. ‘If the metaverse realises its potential, creators will work alongside AI-assisted tools that enable them to translate a high-level vision into content that is ready for consumption.’
3. Avatars: Creators will create virtual avatars that can interact with fans in public spaces (remember those Fortnite concerts?)
KINDS OF WORK AND ROLES
Halley Bondy, writing for The Freelance Creative offers some glimpses into where things are headed:
1. Brands will continue to need scripts for video content, presentations for virtual gatherings and events, and marketing copy for their products. There may even be design and copywriting opportunities in niche markets like digital real estate. But copy will need to be adapted for a more multifaceted environment. ‘Calls to action, for example, may involve nudging users to perform haptic gestures or some kind of physical activity versus simply saying, “Click here to learn more”.’
2. World-building: In the same article, copywriter John Paul Hernandez is quoted as citing the example of Roblox, a massive digital environment. Currently, game designers can make money on Roblox if their game gains traction in the virtual world. This means that anyone involved in game creation (writers, voiceover artists, etc.) can also profit. Charles Hambro, CEO of SaaS gaming platform GEEIQ, takes it further: he suggests creatives familiarize themselves with the ‘world-building universe…. I would encourage creatives to consume as much content on these platforms as possible to understand these communities, the economies, what makes them tick, and the culture and the language around it.’
3. Avatars and chatbots: Brands are likely to create digital ambassadors and interactive customer service chatbots. These digital creations will need professionally crafted scripts, character profiles, stylists, and more. Additionally, these avatars will live in full-on immersive environments rather than websites, calling for sound mixers, creative producers, digital interior designers, illustrators, data visualisation specialists, and more.
To sum up: many of the skills that people in the creative industries might need in the metaverse are skills they already have. What is going to be key is the willingness to learn new way of working on platforms that combine older technologies in new ways.
Where to start?
I go back to the early days of the Internet. When I first started working in online news, I knew very little about what was happening behind the scenes, and I certainly had no idea how it was going to change all our lives. But I left my safe job in print news, joined an online news platform and set about learning everything I could.
I have a feeling in my waters, as I did in 1999, that this is the next big thing. And we all have to start somewhere. even if that is just with a willingness to learn.
On a more practical level, I asked a member of Gen Z (my 19-year-old son) about all this. He has strong opinions about the metaverse, based largely on scepticism about how it will scale in environments like Africa.
But, taking pity on me, he said: ‘Start by learning game logic.’
I have set up a Steam account, downloaded a game called Stray, and am embarking (with help) on my first proper foray into gaming.
You could also take a look at Metalents, a jobs board for freelancers wanting to work in the metaverse.
Above all, don’t pretend this isn’t coming soon to a device near you. Because it is.
Former head of strategy at Amazon Studios Matthew Ball’s Metaverse Primer
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Main picture: Vinicius “amnx” Amano, Unsplash