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The metaverse proposition for product managers

Updated: May 15, 2022

The internet is an essential part of our lives. Almost everything we do today requires us to use the internet. We use it to work, to make a living, stay connected with family and friends, do our shopping, use it to access entertainment and rely on it for transportation. Had the pandemic happened a decade ago we would have been even more miserable. It seems like all of this was scripted and some higher force said let’s experiment with these humans and see how they survive using the internet, WhatsApp and zoom. Isn’t it amazing that all these technologies were available to us when the world got paralyzed with the coronavirus?

Humans are a species who thrive in a social setting. We need to interact with other and be part of a tribe within a world where we can experience the stages of life and grow. The pandemic has taught us that technology while it is useful is not a substitute for that human connection. We need the physical presence of each other, be able to hold, smell and touch. Families have waited for years for the borders to reopen so that they can finally embrace.

When I first heard of the metaverse I was intrigued. I found it amazing that billions of dollars is being spent into this digital world to create a parallel world for humans to engage other humans through the computer. What’s wrong with how we connect with others today? The metaverse looks like one big immersive video game for adults and sounds like a scam akin to the Tulip Bulb craze. Users in the metaverse use apps and services which can be paid through crypto to interact with each other. The pundits who are pro-metaverse paint it a digital utopia where all the problems of the real world such as trust, hierarchy and control are being non-existent. The term “metaverse” first appeared in Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel Snow Crash, where it described a virtual reality world.

The investors behind metaverse are the big corporations which by itself means that if one is hoping for a decentralized operating model then that is not going to happen. We are at an infant stage and how this propels forward is going to be dictated by how much friction and complexity stands in the way for an ordinary person to use it and benefit from it without having to use crypto. It’s a interesting concept but I would rather be in the real world.

The whole existence of the metaverse rests on the the creation of immersive 3-dimensional worlds. I tried my hand in decentraland and sandbox on my laptop and it barely made it through. The frame rates were dismal if you bumped up the graphic quality. What this tells me is that for this digital world to be truly enjoyable people need to have decent computing power, preferable with dedicated graphics chips to plough through those pixels.

From an investor point of view is the demand for graphics power going to increase to a point where all computers being sold from say 2025 will as a defacto be super-charged with suitable graphics to give users a seamless access into this new playground. Perhaps investing in Nvidia, ATI and Intel should be the way to go, take a punt on these stocks in the hope that they will be powering the future worlds. I wonder if the market has already priced this into their stock price.

Real estate in the metaverse is hot! Big brands are getting into the space whether its in Decentraland, Roblox, Second life, Sandbox etc. My primitive thinking is why would these companies’ setup shop here. Simply put its all about branding creating a presence in the world. Think of them as having a pop-up shop in a new mall, it gives the brand the opportunity to display it catalogue and allows the population to interact with the catalogue. I doubt one could buy a pair of Nike shoes, but there certainly is an opportunity for NFTs and promoting exclusives and limited editions. The land grab is real and akin to buying prime domain names during the dotcom boom. Getting in early and buying up land makes absolute sense as they can flip it over and exit if its no longer a play which the brand wants to pursue. The other main point for brands is to learn about the ecosystem and study the behaviours of their audience. It’s a safe place to experiment and get feedback. Imagine if a car company set up an innovation centre and got feedback on the new designs – nothing better than seeing models in 3D. The potential to experiment is limitless, companies can test new shop design concepts, have virtual concerts and run exclusive drop with their loyal fan base.

With metaverse all the buzz these days it’s a great advertising tool, the media tends to amplify news from such investments, in contrast there is no press coverage if 100 outlets are opened in the real world. Retail investors should not take these brand moves as an indication of endorsement on the technology and should refrain from pouring money in the hope that this a gold rush. All companies are at an experimental stage and this is just the beginning an early alpha If I say so. With mobile being the predominant device for billions of consumers we are a long way away for the metaverse to come to mobile – perhaps this is where the future generation of google glass and oculus will take us to. If the metaverse doesn’t become mobile friendly then we have a serious problem as desktop access would make it a platform just for those who have fast computers and top hardware.

The gaming community has been entrenched into the metaverse for a while. Its second nature for gamers to explore the vast 3D world – the gamification aspect makes it a place to hang out and show off their avatar, personality and digital assets, it’s like being in a Discord chat but in 3D. Friends can see their gear, clothes and homes. It’s all quite compelling as it adds to the cool factor – check out my crib! It’s certainly another way of levelling up in the social ladder.

I personally struggle with figuring out which metaverse to log in to. If metaverses were interoperable that would be ideal. If I could go from Sandbox to Decentraland in one click that would mean I could hop around and carry my avatar with me. I am sure someone will solve this one day. Afterall in the real world I am the same person going to Boston and then on to London and I carry my same clothes and assets across as I travel through different cities.

The metaverse is the future of the internet. Think about how the future narrative of business will change in the next 10 years and how we must as product managers position ourselves for our own career growth and how we need to change the way we think and empower ourselves to continuously adapt.Nothing lasts for ever. Business models will change, technology and innovation affects us in a very personal way. How we are touched by technology in our personal lives eventually morphs itself into business, we expect business solutions to reach that same level of interactivity and immersion.

The way we touch technology today is getting more immersive. How will augmented reality and virtual reality shape our living dimension. I cant get my grips around this. I wait for the day when online commerce transcends into the AR/VR as a mainstream way for businesses to engage their customers. Many a product managers are not yet ready to delve into such use cases and are still grappling with solving todays problems, with todays technology.

The products of the future will be smart, connected, decentralised, and immersive. Think about your products today and overlay these concepts on them to get started on the journey of defining what tomorrow could look like. If you’re open to thinking about the future you will realise that the universe gives you small signals to help you discover what the future holds. These signals are small dots which you need to glean on and then connect them together ever so intelligently. You will need to research, understand and connect to appreciate the potential and inertia of change which is about to happen. If we limit are creativity and innovation to the problem statements that are driven from the events and systems that exist today, then we are not doing justice to our roles as product managers. We must ask ourselves “What will the problems of tomorrow be?”

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