UK consumers still wary of socialising via metaverse

16 May 2023 Consultancy.uk 9 min. read
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The metaverse may take longer than five years to become mainstream, according to 28% of UK consumers. Meanwhile, only 15% said they would be comfortable socialising via the technology – something which may slow its widespread use even further.

A concept historically more linked with science-fiction, the ‘metaverse’ has become the latest technological trend to excite investors around the world. Metaverse technology seeks to build a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection, and is forecast by some as the next iteration of the internet – with the global network finally manifesting a single, universal virtual world.

The concept of the metaverse has long been the preserve of science-fiction dystopias, but it came to prominence as a business concept far more recently. The metaverse was brought to many people’s awareness when Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would rebrand to Meta – a Metaverse company, in 2021. While the move prompted a veritable gold-rush oflarge companies throwing even larger amounts of money at their own metaverse preparations, however, just what the metaverse is, or how it could be of practical use to most people, is as vague as it was two years ago.

How long do you think the metaverse to become widely used

Cutting through the hype surrounding the metaverse, its primary promise was to build a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection – but where users could also invest their money, or function as part of a remote labour force. This seemed an attractive prospect to many businesses, not only because in the wake of pandemic lockdowns illustrated the need for some ‘shared space’ to command remote workers from, but because ‘metaverses’ suggested the potential of monetising the concept of human social interaction, in a way never before seen.

Actually making that sale has always rested on the general public seeing the metaverse as an exciting platform, where they would actually want to spend time – and not just a 3D marketplace for NFT grifters, and low-resolution mini-games they could get on their phones. New research from KPMG suggests that the billions sunk into Meta’s metaverse, and many more like it, have so far struggled to have that impact. Indeed, while a headstrong cohort of 2% of respondents assured KPMG that the metaverse would become widely used before the end of the year, less than one-third of British consumers could see it catching in the next five years. Meanwhile, a sizeable 14% chunk did not believe it would ever become mainstream.

Even when the metaverse does catch on, it seems unlikely that it will be in the way many of its proponents had hoped. A 37% portion of the 3,000 UK consumers KPMG polled said that they did in fact have positive opinions of the metaverse, just ahead of the 31% with negative opinions, and the 32% who did not know enough to form an opinion. However, even with this thin level of positivity, those consumers who were happy to engage with the metaverse suggested it would be in ways which were far from interactive. A 36% portion of respondents said they would be willing to seek out entertainment via the metaverse, but that fell steeply when less passive modes of use were suggested.

What would you be open to using the metaverse for

Critiques of the technology’s poorly populated and abusive environments seem to still be at the front of most consumers’ minds. Previous research suggests that 67% of users have found the metaverse is “hostile to women, people of colour, and sexual and gender minorities.” As such, it may not be surprising that only 15% told KPMG they would be “open” to using metaverse platforms for socialising. At the same time, just 19% indicated they would be willing to use the metaverse for work purposes. Worse still, the largest group ofrespondents said they would not be interested in using the metaverse “for anything in particular”. This 49% cohort included the people who said they would not use the metaverse at all.

Ian West, Head of Technology and Alliances at KPMG UK, commented, “Perceptions of the metaverse from UK consumers seem broadly positive but there is more to be done by those who seek to pursue metaverse applications to persuade potential customers of its benefits. Ultimately for the metaverse to become a success, it needs to convince a mass audience. Businesses can invest in the technologies but unless there is customer demand for it, it won’t be as successful as the potential it holds.”

With consumers still unconvinced of the metaverse, the idea of being able to monetise social interactions remains a distant promise. With huge investments having yielded little to that end, the likes of Meta have already announced they are now prioritising investing on AI as opposed to the metaverse – suggesting its hype-train may be swiftly running out of steam, and leading some commentators to have pronounced the concept ‘dead’. KPMG’s analysis might not have arrived at such a dramatic conclusion – but the prognosis for the metaverse is not bright, if it cannot shake off the its reputation as a drab, legless space filled with bigots.