At KPMG’s Boston office on Tuesday, partner Kevin Bolen posed a question to a group of business people who gathered for the accounting firm’s Business Disruption Forum:
“So, what is the metaverse?”
Depending on who you ask, that’s a question likely to elicit eye rolls, at least outside of Silicon Valley.
Many people dismiss the metaverse as a nascent, virtual world filled with cartoon avatars that has no clear purpose. (And in some ways, that’s an accurate depiction of what it is like today.) Some firms joke about the thought of investing in it.
But in his slideshow presentation — complete with images of a polar bear avatar, Gucci sneaker NFT, and a virtual Wendy’s store — Bolen made the case that even though it is early, business leaders need to pay attention to the metaverse and its potential.
That’s because he expects it will play an increasingly significant role in people’s professional and social lives, impacting where they spend their time and money. (Think retail, entertainment, fashion.)
“This is a new economy,” he said. “We have to at least understand it, because it will be competing for their real, fiat currency dollars in the real world.”
Bolen said it is still hard to clearly define what the metaverse is. Immersive video games, virtual concerts, digital conference rooms — “this is all the metaverse,” he said, likening its “all of the above” nature to the Internet.
“If you’re going to try to characterize how the Internet is used today, you wouldn’t be able to pick a single dominant use case for it,” he said. “It’s just pervasive.”
Few people in the room raised their hands when Bolen asked who had a “general familiarity” with the metaverse. And he admitted that some aspects of it are hard to grasp.
“That may seem crazy to us, that you would pay $200 for a picture of a sneaker that your avatar could wear walking through the metaverse ... [or] millions for a computer-generated ape,” he said. But people are doing it.
Bolen emphasized that different demographic groups see the metaverse much differently. Take his 21- and 18-year-old sons, for example. Younger generations, he said, are far more used to representing themselves, creating relationships, and spending long hours online.
“Organizations cannot stay immune to the momentum this is having,” he said.