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Who has the upper hand in the metaverse?

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For the past year, we’ve been told that the future of the Internet lies in the metaverse: a persistent, immersive, interoperable multiplayer world that blurs the lines between physical and digital. In reality, this view of the metavers is probably still a long way off. according to Intelrealizing its potential requires an overhaul of the “whole plumbing of the Internet”.

While it is uncertain to what extent we will achieve a metaverse similar to Spielberg’s world Ready Player One, it is clear that the internet of the future will be much more immersive than that of the past. Two frontrunners have emerged to define this vision of the future, with very different ideas of what it might look like: Meta and Microsoft. But who comes out on top?

This immersive vision of the Internet — with whole new worlds to get lost in that continue to evolve even after you quit — isn’t a new concept. Gamers have been building, exploring and playing in these worlds for decades. Big Tech’s attempts (and failures) to break into gaming are well documented, from Google Stadia to Amazon’s Amazon Game Studios. Such efforts were designed to apply product-building best practices to game development, without a deeper cultural and behavioral understanding of gamers and what it takes to make a game “fun,” according to one wired report.

Meta, with Horizon Worlds, risks going down the same path as Amazon and Google, trying to build this new experience without the family tree to back it up. Microsoft, on the other hand, has built a legacy for itself among modern gamers through Xbox and recent strategic acquisitions. From Halo until Minecraft until Age of Empiresthey have created and supported some of the world’s most iconic games, and with the acquisition of Activision, the brand has put itself in the driver’s seat to deliver captivating and entertaining immersive experiences in the future.

Meta believes that we will move more and more of our physical lives to the digital world and eventually ‘live’ in virtual reality. We hang out with friends, go to the movies and even go to concerts virtually instead of physically. However, it is unclear what problem this will solve. Life after lockdown has taught us that when given the chance, people always prefer to go outside the real world. (With one obvious exception: the office.)

According to Kastle Systems, which tracks access to buildings in the US, office attendance is just 33% of the pre-pandemic average. In addition, companies are beginning to use VR for meetings, product demonstrations, recruiting, 3D modeling, training, virtual showrooms and more – applications that offer a superior, efficient and more cost-effective option to the real alternative. Therefore, the real opportunity for everyday virtuality in the future lies in B2B, not B2C.

And for enterprises, trust, safety and security are critical. Through Windows and Microsoft Office, Microsoft has built its business on business sales. Most companies rely on their software for their operations on a daily basis and it is an industry leader in data privacy. In comparison, scandal after scandal has left Meta reeling, with Facebook ranked as the least trusted social network in a Insider questionnaire. There have already been security issues in Horizon Worlds, with reports of a user being groped by a stranger. With his business built on selling its users’ data and whistleblowers claims that the company prioritizes “profit over public good”, it’s hard to imagine that many IT departments would approve the use of Meta’s enterprise tools.

On the other hand, Meta currently has an edge over Microsoft when it comes to hardware sales. Nearly 80% of VR headsets sold in 2021 were an Oculus Quest 2, while Microsoft had limited success selling its HoloLens. But headsets are expensive (the cheapest Oculus Quest 2 costs $400) and not a requirement for access to a more immersive internet. Microsoft Mesh, the brand’s mixed-reality software, is already included with Microsoft Teams and is designed for use via a headset, computer or smartphone. The integration into the daily functioning of their existing customers would therefore be seamless. Meta has acknowledged this and announced the development of a web and mobile version of Horizon Worlds in April. Still, this gives the impression that they are currently lagging behind.

To realize this, the future of the Internet will require collaboration with other organizations. Here, Microsoft will capitalize on its long history of business partnerships. Historically, the brand has provided the rails for other companies to build products and services and enabled new types of tools and technologies to grow. Meta has mainly worked in isolation, with Facebook and Instagram being the only previous successes in integrating two different products. As a single platform, Meta, Horizon Quest and its services are easier to replace.

So far, all signs point to Microsoft dominating the metaverse. Perhaps the biggest obstacle in Microsoft’s path is itself. To drive change in organizations as large as Microsoft, communication in all parts of the business must be efficient and streamlined. For example, will Activision really be able to influence Microsoft’s business, or will it remain mired in bureaucratic challenges that create a lack of agility?

Overall, success in the Internet of the future will probably be better propelled for Microsoft, because of the existing foundation. But regardless of the winners, it will be important to remain vigilant. The risks of misinformation, identity theft, harassment and bullying are even greater in a 3D world. The potential of progress is limitless, but so is the possibility of damage. So Microsoft should not rest on its laurels and instead learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

Siddharth Seth is senior strategist at Superunion.

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