- The metaverse – essentially a 3D version of the internet – is the next big thing when it comes to technology.
- But it still has a long way to go before it breaks into the mainstream and becomes popular with the public.
- Metaverse platforms should focus on user experience and minimizing entry barriers to increase uptake.
"We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society, when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered" – Martin Luther King
The metaverse – a virtual space in which users can interact digitally within an environment and with other users – is a hot topic right now, but there is still a lot to develop for it to make it into the mainstream.
With the aim of helping people build a better metaverse, we used a framework to assess the current user experience of existing platforms and identify areas for improvement.
The metaverse user experience matters
User experience is crucial for any technology product to enter the mainstream market. Just look at the history of the smartphone, where the product that won over the mass market was not the first with the technology – it was the one who built a better product.
By the time Apple released its first iPhone in 2007, smartphones had already been in the market for a while. The world’s first Windows 3G smartphone HRC Universal was launched in 2005 and the LG Prada, the first with a large capacitive screen, came out a year later.
But the iPhone was the defining product because the high-resolution display with a user-friendly multi-touch function gave users a fundamentally better way to use their phones.
Quest 2 – the defining metaverse technology?
Mark Zuckerberg seems to see this trend replicated in the metaverse world. According to Business Insider, he compared Meta's Quest VR headsets to the first iPhone. Zuckerberg argues that XR technology – an umbrella term describing immersive technologies that merge the physical and virtual world – is on the right track to become mainstream because of Oculus Quest 2, the first mainstream virtual reality (VR) headset with a significantly improved user experience.
It used to be costly to get a VR headset, which tended to require a console or a gaming desktop to support it and involve content mainly targeted at gamers. So it made little sense for the general public to pay more than $1,500 to try this new technology as there was no clear use case.
Quest 2, a standalone VR headset with better graphic quality, lighter weight and a cheaper price (only $299 for the 128 GB model) than its predecessor Oculus Quest, was simpler and more affordable for the mass market. COVID lockdowns also gave users a strong reason to hop on VR and metaverse platforms.
As a result, Quest 2 was a huge success – in November 2021, Qualcomm stated that at least 10 million Quest 2 headsets had been shipped worldwide. To put that into context, according to Gartner, the sales number of the worldwide PC market in 2021 was just 88.4 million, highlighting how VR technology is becoming increasingly mainstream.
More work needed on the metaverse user journey
Though there has been a breakthrough on the hardware side, there is still much to improve on the current user experience and journey of metaverse platforms.
We explored the platforms The Sandbox, Horizon Worlds, Decentraland, Mona, Cryptovoxels, Somnium, Roblox, Rec Room, Spatial and VRChat and evaluated them by the six phases of the user journey. Here are the issues that came up:
Most metaverse platforms have one common pain point: how to convince more mainstream users to try it. A lot of people see the metaverse as a place just for gamers or Web 3.0 investors. Many still cannot see a use case for them to try it and some of them do not know how to access the relevant platforms. To address these issues, metaverse platforms should spend more resources on promoting their services. A good example of best practice is the Quest 2 advert that seeks to attract mainstream users.
Companies need to continue reducing the financial entry barrier of the metaverse and give users a strong reason to try it, so they are willing to invest their money, time and energy to acquire the required products/services. Many users feel traditional computer or mobile applications already fulfil many of their requirements. If Metaverse platforms cannot lower the initial costs and offer a better use case, there is no reason for potential users to spend.
- Set-up and exploration
First impressions of using metaverse platforms is extremely important – if users face a lot of frustrations in the ‘set-up’ and ‘exploration’ phases, they will quickly lose their enthusiasm. Everyday technologies such as mobile apps have been through years of user experience optimization and people are well-versed in using them. By contrast, the Metaverse user experience can be frustrating. Decentraland, for example, asks users to set up the account on top of a cryptocurrency wallet and to configure their browsers or operating systems. Casual users may be unwilling to do that.
- Repeat usage
Users who successfully set up and explore metaverse platforms need reasons to return. People who have invested time and money to set up and explore the metaverse want to find the unique experience that it can provide. So it is crucial for companies to develop use cases, create the right culture and support people to build bonding relationships with other users, creators and the platform itself. But Metaverse platforms still have a lot to improve. Take Roblox as an example, many games on it are not as user-friendly as PC games and there are frequent notifications asking for pay and upgrades. We found these frustrating and didn’t come back.
Last but not least, companies need to optimize functions that allow their loyal users to share their metaverse experience. The metaverse is still in the growth stage. Most potential users are still on other traditional 2D channels such as Youtube and TikTok. Users can only share their 3D experience in the 2D format, and it is hard to let others fully experience why they enjoy the Metaverse. Platforms need to build functions that allow fans to communicate the immersive experience in other channels.
Token rewards to attract users
Applications with token system and “play-to-earn model” currently attract a lot of attention and venture capital funding. Some metaverse platforms such as The Sandbox also adapt this mechanism to entice users back by providing tokens with potential monetary value.
However, optimizing user experience is still the key for metaverse platforms to attract mainstream users. In the short term, setting up a good token reward system can be effective to attract some. But the users motivated by the token system are quite a niche – they are those who are already familiar with the decentralized economy and believe in value of a the token released by the relevant metaverse platform.
For platforms that attract the first group of users merely by token, it is hard for them to collect useful user data and feedback to optimize their platforms for mainstream users further down the line.
What is the Forum doing to close the gap between technology and policy?
The World Economic Forum has brought together governments, businesses, startups and civil society into its Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Network.
It promotes public-private collaboration in the development of policy frameworks and pilots new approaches to technology regulation and adoption to ensure it benefits people and the planet.
Headquartered in San Francisco, the network has centres in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Colombia, India, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. It has also launched a thematic centre on the ocean, based in Norway.
The network is playing a vital role in shaping the governance of emerging technologies at a local, national and regional level.
The better path is to attract people by the user experience first, then integrate token systems into their platforms later. The more loyal users a platform has, the more likely people are willing to invest in their tokens.
As such, and echoing the quote from Martin Luther King, we hope the future metaverse can be a person-oriented world that people enjoy being in. Profit motives should not be more important than people.
If we want people to treat the metaverse as a world that they want to spend their time in, the joy that comes from using the platforms should be the strongest reason for people to keep using it.