We’ve all heard about the metaverse by now. The term itself dates back to a 1992 science fiction novel by futurist Neal Stephenson. “Snow Crash” is set in the 21st-century world where the economy and Earth are collapsing. At the same time, in the novel, society is shifting from the physical world to the metaverse — a digital space full of immersive experiences.
Is it all science fiction, or will this become our reality in some shape or form?
In 2023, it is all about exploring and experimenting with the metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg is taking a tools-first approach to the metaverse by building the necessary hardware and software. In contrast, John Carmack, the chief technology officer at Oculus VR, believes in a game-first strategy: build something fun, make it popular, and turn it into a social network.
Whatever the approach, every piece of content we currently consume on a flat screen in 2D, we’ll take in spatially through AR/VR headsets, holographic projection tables, and more. But how far and fast will the space develop, and what impact will it have on creative culture in the near future? We asked some metaverse producers on Storyhunter for their thoughts. Here’s what they say we need to pay close attention to next year.
The appeal of immersive video is “obvious and instantaneous,” says Metaverse Production Pioneer Alfred Caudullo.
“There are a couple of common expressions of people viewing Immersive videos for the first time,” Alfred said. “I like to call it the ‘Oh Wow’ moment, although many have expressed it more graphically as the ‘Oh S***’ moment. They never thought it would be like this.”
Immersive video is designed to make the viewer feel like they are inside the video. There are levels of immersion. “An intense 2D film that rivets your attention to the screen has a degree of immersion. But in terms of the Metaverse, immersion can be 2D 360 video, 3D 360 video, or 3D VR 180. Of course, all these formats can be viewed using the web on a PC or Mac, but true immersion comes when you put on a VR headset,” Alfred, who received two Emmy nominations for his immersive work on Micro Monsters and Kingdom of Plants, both with natural historian David Attenborough.
Immersive video is here to stay. Meta launched a six-episode VR series “Oh Hell No! With Marlon Wayans” in October. In the series, American comedian Wayan’s celebrity friends will be challenged to confront their fears in the metaverse, everything from phasmophobia to acrophobia.
Additionally, ByteDance, the Chinese technology company that owns TikTok, bought VR headset maker Pico in 2021, betting that the immersive device would be how people would spend more of their time taking in content. ByteDance’s Pico is a direct challenge to Meta’s Oculus. Pico has launched in Europe, South Korea, and Japan. It doesn’t have a strong footprint in the U.S. as of yet, but the message to brands and creators is clear: Stay alert on all things metaverse, or risk falling behind.
Holograms are one way we will be catapulted into the metaverse, says Los-Angeles based Storyhunter producer Rory C. Mitchell.
“The metaverse is an extremely broad concept but the best way to think about it is as a persistent 3D space that intersects with our shared, lived reality at various connection points,” he said. “Each of those points of connection could be an entire metaverse unto itself, for instance, Roblox or Fortnite, are basically metaverses that use computers or phones as connection points. A VR Headset is another potential connection point to a metaverse.”
Rory predicts holograms will play a major role in providing photoreal representations of humans, as opposed to the “cartoon-style avatars” in Meta’s Horizons.
“Our holograms capture actual human beings doing their thing just like a video camera or a photograph, only in full volumetric 3D, unmediated by motion capture suits.”
There’s been a lot of talk about avatars as the trend to watch out for. So, what is the difference between avatars and holograms?
“They’re similar, in that they’re both representations of people, but conceptually they fit into different areas. We could make a hologram of you, and you could use that photoreal hologram of yourself as your Avatar in the Metaverse, depending on what you want to do,” Rory said. “But we can also record a monologue of you performing a Shakespeare monologue, and then people could watch you, in 3D, perform the monologue without having to control it or anything, basically a video with volume (hence volumetric video).”
Scalability and economic sustainability
Metaverse projects have been “money-pits of R&D,” says Henry Keyser, who was the director of XR for Yahoo. “A lot of money to learn little and no economic ROI.”
“Now, there are lessons and templates to follow that allow brands to experiment with content cost-sustainably rather than needing to engage a large studio or R&D team at a risky price point,” Henry said. “The economic sustainability of the industry allows people to experiment at what works for their audience and brand at a pace which can be scaled up and down based on learnings, readiness, and demand.”
Yahoo, for example, grew its XR operation based on story templates and product designs, which gave them the space to figure out what worked for their target audience versus what worked in general, Henry said.
We’re going to see more integration into the Metaverse in 2023, especially ahead of the launch of Google and Apple’s headset devices. There’s also the Microsoft-Meta partnership: Meta is seeking to integrate Microsoft’s Office 365 suite apps into its Quest VR headset, hoping to entice people into the virtual workspace.
By Shivan Sarna, Head of Stories