As the initiative’s name implies, its stakeholders are still in the process of defining exactly what the term “metaverse” means.
However, according to the WEF, the metaverse, in part, involves a moment “at which our digital lives — our online identities, experiences, relationships, and assets — become more meaningful to us than our physical lives.”
One person involved in the talks, Julia Goldin, LEGO’s chief product & marketing officer, expressed optimism about how the metaverse could aid in children’s development:
“To us, the priority is to help create a world in which we can give kids all the benefits of the metaverse — one with immersive experiences, creativity and self-expression at its core — in a way that is also safe, protects their rights and promotes their well-being.”
Those involved in the talks positioned themselves to “develop and share actionable strategies for creating and governing” an “interoperable and safe” metaverse.
There also were extensive discussions on providing “guidance on how to create an ethical and inclusive metaverse, engaging organizations across the private and public sectors, including business, civil society, academia and regulators.”
The WEF described the initiative as “bringing together leading voices from the private sector, civil society, academia and policy” to “define the parameters” of the metaverse’s future development.
A May 25 session — “Shaping a Shared Future: Making the Metaverse” — included the following panelists:
- Chris Cox, chief product officer of Facebook’s parent company, Meta.
- Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, described by the WEF as “a spatial computing company building the next computing platform.”
- Philip Rosedale, founder of Linden Lab, which developed the “Second Life” virtual world, acquired in April by Meta.
- Andrew R. Sorkin, financial columnist for The New York Times and co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
- Omar Sultan Al Olama, minister of state for artificial intelligence in the United Arab Emirates, appointed in 2017.
Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs who was formerly deputy prime minister of the U.K., said the “multistakeholder initiative” aims to assume a leading role in establishing and shaping the metaverse.
The WEF said early stakeholders will play a particularly significant role in this process:
“‘Defining and Building the Metaverse’ is the world’s foremost multistakeholder initiative to develop and share actionable strategies for creating and governing the metaverse.
“By providing a space for global leaders in industry, civil society and government, the initiative will share and accelerate insights and solutions that will bring the metaverse to life.
“By joining the initiative, members are playing a vital role in defining and building the metaverse.”
Building a ‘metaverse’ that hasn’t yet been definitively defined
Though as its name implies, part of the initiative’s goal is to define “metaverse,” the WEF did offer this highly broad, general definition:
“ … a future persistent and interconnected virtual environment where social and economic elements mirror reality. Users can interact with it and each other simultaneously across devices and immersive technologies while engaging with digital assets and property.”
This expands on the “simplest” definition of the metaverse provided by the WEF, which described it as “a unified and persistent virtual environment accessed via extended reality (XR) technologies.”
The WEF said the metaverse is most usefully seen “as a lens through which to view ongoing digital transformation,” based on the belief that “virtual worlds, incorporating connected devices, blockchain and other tech will be so commonplace that the metaverse will become an extension of reality itself.”
More specific definitions of the metaverse, however, “can develop in many ways, depending on research, innovation, investment and policy,” the WEF said.
According to the WEF, the metaverse “can be categorized into three schools of thought,” which include:
- The metaverse “as a product or service.”
- The metaverse “as a place where users can connect, interact, and transfer themselves and their belongings across multiple digital locations,” such as “gaming and creator platforms.”
- The metaverse as a moment “at which our digital lives — our online identities, experiences, relationships, and assets — become more meaningful to us than our physical lives” — a definition described by the WEF in its article as “compelling.”
Despite the WEF’s ambiguous definition of the metaverse as a concept, the organization is definite in predicting its impacts and its value for major (and real-world) corporations and businesses:
“This will have significant impacts on society. Just as the internet and smartphones transformed our social and commercial interactions, the metaverse could change the way people and businesses communicate, and operate, in innovative yet unpredictable ways.”
The WEF’s new initiative will focus on two key areas, or “action tracks:” metaverse governance, and the generation of “economic and societal value.” The WEF “will explore themes across regulatory frameworks, technology choices and economic opportunities.”
More specifically, “metaverse governance” refers to a commitment by members of the initiative to recommend “governance frameworks for interoperable, safe and inclusive metaverse ecosystems.”
According to the WEF, “this entails finding harmonization between regulation and innovation in order to develop interoperability while preserving user privacy and safety.”
In turn, “generating economic and societal value” will involve members of the initiative sharing and accelerating “insights and solutions that will bring the metaverse to life.”
The WEF said that “in doing so, they will map new value chains and business models across industries, identifying elements and use cases that provide economic opportunity.”
Industry ‘stakeholders’ eye profit-making potential of ‘metaverse’
The initiative’s “generating economic and societal value” action track belies what may lie at the heart of the WEF’s efforts to set the rules of engagement in the metaverse while it is still in its nascent state.
More than 60 corporate “stakeholders” have signed on to the initiative thus far, including several Big Tech firms, such as Meta, Microsoft, Taiwanese consumer electronics firm HTC, and Sony Interactive, accompanied by Walmart, the LEGO Group, as well as academics and representatives of civil society.
Many of these stakeholders may be enticed by the growth potential of the metaverse market, which Bloomberg predicted will grow to $800 billion by 2024.
Examples of this are already evident. For instance, according to the WEF, the popular Fortnite video game “sells over $3 billion of digital cosmetic items to players each year, making it a larger apparel company by sales than several global fashion houses.”
Given the market potential, it’s not surprising executives from several Big Tech companies, and from the WEF itself, warmly praised the WEF’s new initiative.
For instance, Jeremy Jurgens, the WEF’s managing director, stated:
“‘The Defining and Building the Metaverse’ initiative provides the industry with an essential toolkit for ethically and responsibly building the metaverse.