Corporate Migration to Metaverse Not Waiting for Zuckerberg

The metaverse, a virtual world where people embody avatars and live their lives online, was largely the purview of gamers and sci-fi movie fans until Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it part of the everyday lexicon, prompting a media assessment of how the metaverse is accessible now. Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled a new Mesh app for augmented reality and virtual reality experiences using various goggles, including its own HoloLens. E-commerce platform Shopify has launched a browser-based game, “Shopify Party,” that lets employees appear as avatars for team events. Other companies are also considering a future in the metaverse.

Wired says the most well-known virtual workspaces include Gather Town (below), “which amassed 4 million users in just over a year as the pandemic took hold,” drawing users who are attracted to a “retro, pixelated design” that “is intentionally basic.” Other favorites include Roblox’s Loom.ai, and a privately held platform called Teeoh, both of which “use sophisticated graphics for more realistic virtual worlds.”

Looking back, “the preeminent simulation platform ‘Second Life’ was adopted by Cisco and IBM over a decade ago,” Wired notes.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have been test-driving avatar-based VR and AR platforms for remote or hybrid work spaces. Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms use Oculus VR headsets to allow people to meet in a virtual world. Likewise, Microsoft Mesh for Hololens 2 enables immersive, corporate mixed-reality meetings enabled with PowerPoint and Excel.

Bloomberg says Mesh will allow companies to create navigable, digital copies of their existing offices, and workers who lack a 3D-enabled device can still utilize the space and avatars in 2D. “This pandemic has made the commercial use cases much more mainstream, even though sometimes the consumer stuff feels like science fiction,” explained Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

An app called Teamflow provides users with a photo-based avatar or lets them stream into meetings using Zoom. HeySummit operations manager Natascha Morgan told Wired that her company, which has always operated remotely, chose the Teamflow platform “for its customizable office spaces, which include a space-themed room and a breakout zone plastered with memes.”

Accenture worked with Microsoft to construct a “digital twin” of its headquarters wherein it ran more than 100 new employee orientation meetings for more than 10,000 employees throughout the pandemic, Bloomberg reports. Anheuser-Busch InBev “created copies of its brewing operations and supply chain that are synchronized with the actual facilities and based on up-to-date information.”

Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces joins AI and computer vision to help individuals interact within factory and retail spaces while supplying valuable data based on the patterns of those interactions.

Microsoft also expects the metaverse to impact its Xbox gaming platform. “If you take ‘Halo’ as a game, it is a metaverse,” Nadella told Bloomberg. “‘Minecraft’ is a metaverse, and so is ‘Flight Sim.’ In some sense, they are 2D today, but the question is, can you now take that to a full 3D world, and so we absolutely plan to do so.”

Related:
The ‘Metaverse’ Prompts High-Stakes Race for Big Tech (Video), The Wall Street Journal, 11/3/21
In the Metaverse, It Could Be Meta vs. Tencent, Bloomberg, 11/2/21
How 5 Brands Have Launched into the Metaverse Since September, Glossy, 11/1/21
Sorry, Meta: Epic Games Is Already Winning the Metaverse Race, Digital Trends, 10/28/21