The metaverse is reshaping commerce – so where has it come from and, as it's still in its nascency, where might it go next?
Although the concept of an alternate virtual reality existed earlier, the word ‘metaverse’ was first coined by the writer Neal Stephenson in 1992. He used it to describe a digital world in his novel Snow Crash, where people interact and buy things like real estate.
Oculus would take a big step towards enabling the metaverse when it crowdfunded US$2.5mn in 2012. The company was acquired by Facebook two years later before releasing the Rift, the world’s first virtual reality headset made widely available to consumers, in 2016.
By 2020, manufacturers were shipping more than 5mn shipments of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets per year. There is a consensus that, although the metaverse could be accessed in a number of ways, consumers will need an immersive headset to take full advantage.
In 2021, Facebook positioned itself to capitalise on the future of the metaverse by rebranding its parent company as Meta. It also announced it would invest US$10bn and hire 10,000 in Europe to build out a metaverse.
The word ‘metaverse’ came runner-up in a public vote to determine the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year – on its 30th birthday, no less. The word became one of the hottest fintech buzzwords of the year and investors spent millions acquiring virtual real estate in the metaverse.
According to analysts, the global metaverse industry will be worth nearly US$100bn by 2030 – almost 50 times what it’s worth today. But adoption will be defined largely by the number of people buying VR headsets. In the US alone, around 15% of people own a VR headset today, compared with 53% for tablet computers.