Innovation

Tomorrow, will we all be working in a virtual world?

Can working in new ways be realised during the current crisis and beyond?
10 minute read
By Gary Jobe

As we approach another week of lockdown it has been impressive how people have adapted to the situation, be that via video conferencing for work, meeting friends for virtual drinks or connecting with others for exercise, above all we really have embraced the various technology platforms. This is creating a ‘New Norm’ that I think will change our lives way beyond the lockdown, in particular how we communicate with each other, experience entertainment and our working practices. Technology is enabling all these connections and as we embrace it more and more what other ways will we connect beyond Video conferencing, Will the power of Virtual Immersive experiences eventually be realised, where we work, craft and chat in a virtual environment. All this it got me thinking or revisiting the concept of the Metaverse.

Some Metaverse history. I first came aware of the concept of the Metaverse and alternate reality worlds from reading William Gibson and Neil Stephenson novels. The Metaverse penned by Stephenson is the concept of a shared space, where humans as Avatars interact with each other in a virtual 3-Dimensional world. Gibsons novel Neoromancer is based on a similar world called the Matrix, later turn into a very success movie franchise. These worlds contain currencies, real estate, and their own eco-systems, so a near replication of the human world, events occur whether your there or not, it’s a living breathing eco-system. The Metaverse was always described as a form of escapism from problems in the real-world, maybe there are some parallels there with our current situation?

There have been a number of platforms developed over the years trying to recreate the concept of the Metaverse. One of the first real and most well-known attempts at an environment was Second Life launched in 2003. Everyone flocked to this world including businesses, from companies recreating retail outlets and selling real products to Creative companies setting up agencies. We even flooded it to raise awareness of global warming in 2007. Second Life’s creators Linden Labs have been going through somewhat of a rebirth, recently introducing Tilia, a currency that can power virtual environments. Meanwhile Facebook have now developed Horizon for the Oculus Virtual Reality headset. Its currently in Beta but will allow users to create and socialise in a new world but more immersive as it’s via a headset. Horizon could be the closest to Neil Stephenson’s Metaverse yet.

How Fortnite is changing the game.

The Metaverse borne out of Science fiction was always accessed by Virtual Reality headsets, with voice control and Haptic feedback, all separate elements we have today, what with Oculus VR headsets, the mass adoption of smart speakers via Alexa and Google and the emergence of haptic feedback in gaming. One thing they don’t have yet is a coherent virtual world that merges all those things together, yet.

However, this brings me to Epic games Fortnite platform, which we might not naturally see as a MetaVerse or understand it as such. First came across this thought via an article by Paul Tassi in Forbes*.

Fortnite is an online gaming platform that was first developed back in 2011 as an internal initiative, with a public launch in 2017 with Battle Royale as a free-to-play game. In the first year it gained 45 million players worldwide, it now has a current active user base of well over 125milion and growing.

So why could Fortnite be a Metaverse? Its seen primally as a game but in a short matter of time has developed into a social meeting place, where players can meet, chat, message while playing the game.

As Fortnite has developed into a social meeting place away from the real-world, brands and celebrities have followed. This weekend for instance the rapper Travis Scott played a gig exclusively on the platform to 12million people, a 200 foot version of him. This follows a Marshmallow gig that topped over 10.7 million viewers, as well as an exclusive Star Wars preview launch with an intro from the director.

This franchise model not only includes gigs but elements within the game that can be monetised, such as Skins. Skins are outfits for Avatars costing anyway up to £20. These skins have included John Wick, Bat Man and Star Wars characters. It is estimated even though the Travis gig is free the franchise sales could top $1million.

The gigs in Fortnite are not only interesting from the size of the audiences and engagement, but the fact in the current climate that is the only gig you could attend in person, well as your virtual self anyway. As the lockdown prolongs and with no real defined end, we have turned to new ways to communicate, meet with friends, but well beyond the lockdown it could become the ‘new normal’. It will be interesting to see how business start adapting to this new paradigm shift in ways of working, looking at new spaces and platforms to work in.

How the Metaverse can help companies enter the "new normal".

Remote working and the death of the office penned back in the early 00’s never took hold due to technology constraints, although Digital companies embraced remote working some time back, be that via Slack or Microsoft Teams. However, with improvements in home networking all businesses have adopted remote working, even if it was forced upon them. Could this current adoption of technology be the push that was needed?

With platforms and technology developments, the multiple ways to connect, and ways of working are here, be that via video conferencing, WhatsApp or even VR chat rooms. We have been forced on mass to embrace these new ways of connecting and it appears to be working well. I always think regarding technology people have tended to separate their work-life from their home life, which is as it should be, but those worlds are now merging more than ever. Especially around the tools and platforms being used.

I’ve described the Metaverse and how Fortnite is more than just a game not only a place for players to meet and engage as Avatars but a world where players and brands and IPs all collide and coexist. How Facebook is creating a Virtual Reality platform to socialise and create worlds, and how we as the public are embracing platforms to connect, both for work and play. But as we return to work post virus what will ‘New Normal’ be?

It will certainly mean more remote working, reduced office spaces, collaboration platforms. But as we’ve embraced technology to enable the current situation those platforms will develop and offer us new opportunities.

Designing Tomorrow's Office

So I’m going to take a leap here and we aren’t there yet, however the day when we use a VR headset to drop into a Virtual office can’t be that far off. Where we meet work colleague’s from across the globe as avatars no matter where they are in the world, we discuss ideas, touch and explore products, review creative, we could then take to the client and present all within the virtual world. Architectures could meet colleagues from around the world, discuss plans, and even visit the construction site, discussing progress with the site manager, adding changes in real-time, all without leaving their respective offices. Teachers taking children on a tour of the world, meeting historical figures of the past or the class of the future could be Virtual*. Or the Medical specialist taking other surgeons through procedures as if they were in the operating theatre, the applications could be endless. This fully hyper immersive Virtual Reality world could be the new World Wide Web, The Metaverse realised.

There are plenty of VR products on the market currently, covering sectors such as training & education with Engage and Rumii where people can communication and work in one virtual space. There are medical environments such as the Oxford Medical Simulation where healthcare professionals can learn how to provide patient management with no risk to patients. And finally, collaboration tools such as Meeting Room and Glue. These products are all pointing the right direction, but the issue lies in the fact that they are all separate environments. When there’s one world where we can plug in and go anywhere then the Metaverse will certainly be realised and really impact not only our social lives but how we work and interact with each other, imagine also the reduction in our global footprint and impact on the environment, as we’ve already seen with the current lockdown with pollution drastically reduced.

So, this new one fully hyper immersive Virtual Reality world is some time off, but who will be at the forefront of this new Web. Will it be a gaming platform such as Epic Games, or one of the big corporates such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon or Facebook. We will have to wait and see, but this current crisis will certainly change the working world, prepare to join the next revolution of communication, the ‘New Normal’.

  • *Paul Tassi: Forbes
  • **Fornite 2020
  • ***Ready Player One
  • Image credit: Josh Riemer

[Get in touch]

Gary Jobe
Head of Technology and Innovation, ekino.