4 things you need to know about the metaverse this week

By June 22, 2022The Sandbox
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A young person using a VR headset.
Diversity and inclusion must be built into the metaverse at a foundational level, advocacy groups warn.
  • This regular roundup brings you a selection of the latest news and updates on the development of the metaverse.
  • Below you'll find insights and opinions on how this emerging technology could transform the way we work, make purchases and spend our leisure time.

1. Meta to sell virtual clothes for real money

Facebook owner Meta Platforms is launching a digital clothing store where users can purchase designer outfits for their avatars, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has announced.

Virtual outfits designed by fashion brands Balenciaga, Prada and Thom Browne will be available for purchase to start, said Zuckerberg, speaking in a live video stream with Instagram's head of fashion.

A Meta spokesperson said they would be priced between $2.99 and $8.99, much less than the real outfits by those designers. Prada's Matinee ostrich leather bag, for example, sells for $10,700. Zuckerberg said he hoped to build the store out into an open marketplace where developers can create and sell a wide array of digital clothes.

2. Some of the world's biggest brands join forces on metaverse interoperability

Microsoft, Meta and other tech giants racing to build the emerging metaverse concept have formed a group to foster development of industry standards that would make the companies' nascent digital worlds compatible with each other.

Participants in the Metaverse Standards Forum (MSF) include many of the biggest companies working in the space, from chip makers to gaming companies, as well as established standards-setting bodies like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the group said in an statement announcing its creation on 21 June.

Conspicuously missing from the member list for now however is Apple, which analysts expect to become a dominant player in the metaverse race once it introduces a mixed reality headset this year or next.

Gaming companies Roblox and Niantic also were not included among the forum's participants, nor were emerging crypto-based metaverse platforms like The Sandbox or Decentraland.

Neil Trevett, an executive at chip maker Nvidia who is chairing the MSF, said in a statement to Reuters that any company is welcome to join the group, including participants from the crypto world.

3. Tencent forms 'extended reality' unit as metaverse race gathers steam

China's Tencent Holdings has announced to its staff the formation of an "extended reality" unit, formally placing its bets on the metaverse concept of virtual worlds. Reuters reported the announcement quoting sources familiar with the matter.

The unit is tasked with building up the extended reality business for Tencent including both software and hardware, the sources said, adding that it will be led by Tencent Games Global's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Li Shen and will be part of the company's Interactive Entertainment business group.

The unit was first formed earlier this year but remained shrouded in secrecy, according to the three sources. Extended reality is a term that refers to immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, which are seen to be the building blocks of the metaverse.

Tencent, China's most valuable company, declined to comment.

4. Diversity, equity and inclusion must form the foundations of the metaverse

The metaverse is still in its infancy but there are already multiple reports of early adopters suffering gender and racial harassment in virtual spaces.

Jane Lu, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper has been analyzing the imperative to build an equitable, safe and interoperable metaverse. Lu argues for a foundational approach to diversity and inclusion as developers build out the metaverse and warns a failure to address discrimination will come at both a social and economic cost.

"A metaverse platform that lacks inclusivity may give new users a bad first impression. For example, if the first thing that female users encounter is sexual harassment or unpleasant comments about their gender, they may lose the desire to return to the platform in the future."

The CTO of Blavity, an online media company for Black millennial creators is calling for greater representation in tech companies developing metaverse spaces. Jeff Nelson told CNBC's 'Make It' blog, “when you don’t have people at the table who have historically suffered harms or abuses, or who have to live with certain things in the back of their mind, then you don’t build platforms in a way that protects those people.”

Experts believe that the metaverse will come to represent the next major computing platform, transforming consumer experience and business models across industries.

Fashion brands are one example. Over years, apparel companies have perfected the design, manufacture, and distribution of clothing to anticipate consumers’ wants and needs in line with seasonal changes. But today, most of their revenue is surpassed by the $3bn worth of sales of digital cosmetic items in Fortnite, which have a cultural significance that extends far into the physical world.

This is one of the economic opportunities of the metaverse - the possibility to “assetize” digital content, creating a framework of digital ownership for users. If it is replicated at scale and across sectors, then entire industries will be reshaped by changes to their traditional value chains.

However, the promise relies on the advancement of several key technologies, including augmented, virtual and mixed reality (collectively known as XR), as well as blockchain, connected devices and artificial intelligence. How should these be governed in a way that promotes their economic upsides while protecting individuals’ safety, security and privacy?

The World Economic Forum is bringing together leading voices from the private sector, civil society, academia and government to address this precise question. Over the next year, it will curate a multistakeholder community focusing on metaverse governance and economic and social value creation.

It will recommend regulatory frameworks for good governance of the metaverse and study how innovation and value creation can be strengthened for the benefit of society. Updates will be published on the World Economic Forum website on a regular basis.

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