5 Takeaways from Microsoft's Latest Metaverse Messaging
Microsoft is one of the metaverse's most influential cheerleaders, but what does it think the metaverse even is?
In late November, Microsoft published a lengthy blog post outlining its stance on the metaverse.
Arguably, though the "metaverse" as popularized by Mark Zuckerberg and his company Meta is relatively new, Microsoft is already a veteran in this space. Microsoft's HoloLens headset and mixed reality business have existed for years, as have mixed reality, AI and 3-D capabilities in Microsoft business applications like Dynamics 365 and SharePoint.
Now, though, with the metaverse becoming more visible to everyday consumers as well as enterprise IT stakeholders, Microsoft is taking steps to reintroduce itself as a pioneer in the field. In a Nov. 29 post titled, "The metaverse: An evolution in transportation, travel, and hospitality," senior Microsoft industry digital strategist David Catzel paints a broad-strokes picture of Microsoft's vision for "the latest evolution of the internet." Here were the most notable takeaways.
1. For Microsoft, Metaverse Has Been a Long(ish) Time Coming
The metaverse timeline at Microsoft began long before Facebook became Meta, and thus fueled the modern metaverse hype cycle. Catzel pinpoints Microsoft's 2014 acquisition of Mojang, the purveyor of the popular Minecraft game, as the start of metaverse development in Redmond. Valued at $2.5 billion, the Mojang acquisition remains one of Microsoft's largest deals.
"The beauty of Minecraft is that like little Lego blocks, it offers infinite possibilities within an infinite digital space to allow anyone to create their own metaverse," Catzel writes. "Minecraft is but one early example of the metaverse impacting our daily lives."
2. There Are Many Metaverse Pretenders
As mentioned, Microsoft was on the metaverse wagon already before the hype -- and indeed, before it was even called the metaverse. Catzel notes that the Facebook-to-Meta rebrand in late 2021 is what catapulted the metaverse into popular culture, but implies that a rogue's gallery of hangers-on is what's mostly keeping it there. Though he doesn't name names, he writes, "The hype has been driven by a variety of technology players preemptively claiming to be metaverse companies or to be creating a metaverse."
3. The Metaverse as Defined by Microsoft
The answer to, "What exactly is the metaverse?" can vary greatly depending on whom you ask. For its part, Meta defines it simply as "a set of digital spaces that you can move seamlessly between."
In his blog, Catzel provides as detailed a definition of the metaverse according to Microsoft as the company has ever provided:
We see it as a set of technologies that allow for persistent digital representation, connected to aspects of the real world. Meta means, 'beyond,' and verse means 'universe.' Together the metaverse refers to a virtual world parallel to the real world that can be experienced more completely with technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). These virtual worlds will connect to a social system and fully functioning economy in which data, digital goods, content, and intellectual property (IP) can pass, and individual users, organizations, and companies can create content and goods to ensure that the metaverse continues to expand and evolve.
More concretely, he identifies four technological pillars that hold up the metaverse: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and blockchain. An honorable mention goes to edge computing technology, which Catzel says is critical "to ensure the plurality of the metaverse."
4. There Are Just Two Metaverse Categories?
"We see metaverse experiences classified as industrial or consumer metaverse," according to Catzel.
The former category, industrial metaverse, is self-explanatory, and a path well-trod by Microsoft. Live conference demos of the HoloLens have almost exclusively been based on industrial scenarios; in the case of this year's Microsoft Ignite conference, it was the factory floor of a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Likewise, the first demos of mixed reality integrations in Dynamics 365 were set in machine repair and factory training scenarios. Catzel's blog itself is full of examples of the industrial metaverse in action.
Consumer metaverse experiences that are as fully formed are slower to come by. And, notably, Catzel doesn't even mention the commercial metaverse, which is the term Microsoft used at Ignite this year to describe metaverse for business work. At that conference, Microsoft announced the private preview of metaverse-based avatars for Microsoft Teams -- a major feature addition for one of Microsoft's most central products. Curiously, however, it escaped mention by Catzel.
5. What the Metaverse Still Needs
The foundations of the metaverse may have already been laid, but before it can become a reliable and widely adopted technology, Catzel notes the following requirements have to be met:
- A mutually agreed-upon set of underlying standards that make it possible for people to live, work, and play in the metaverse together and to move between different instances with persistent digital identities and profiles.
- The creator economy.
- Universally accepted rules of behavior.
- Recognition of digital currencies and a means of converting them into real-world currencies.
- Digital object ownership rights.
- Security standards and processes.
- Web 3.0.
But once all of these elements have been established, will the metaverse finally become the technological and cultural touchpoint that its most vocal proponents say it will be? Not even Microsoft seems to be sure, according to Catzel. "Will it revolutionize everything?" he writes. "The answer is yes, no, and maybe."