3 shared principles to maximize the value of the metaverse

  • The metaverse promises to integrate the digital and physical worlds – enhancing and transforming our daily activities, jobs and spaces.
  • Delivering the necessary innovation at scale requires shared principles and infrastructure in a robust ecosystem.
  • The greatest potential and fastest innovation lies with AR – an open, interoperable ecosystem – and enterprise investment in high-value applications.

Splashy advertising campaigns and breathless headlines often portray the metaverse as a virtual panacea, home to an almost endless array of new worlds. Yet the promise of the metaverse is actually more powerful, not to mention more practical, than those dreamy, sci-fi scenarios.

The most important opportunity of the metaverse is not to create a new virtual world; it is finally to integrate our physical and the digital worlds.

While the concept is simple, the implications are transformative. The metaverse already brings digital information from 2D screens into 3D spaces, where it is much more intuitive; the difference between seeing a blueprint and stepping into a building. At the same time, it will help translate knowledge about the physical world into the language of computing. The result will be a two-way bridge of spatially aware information – improving how and where we work, enabling our applications to understand the physical world.

The Challenge: Accepting the right principles

However, this vision requires incredibly advanced technologies – not just powerful chips, but advanced optics, headsets, sensors, spatially aware software and cloud-based computing designed to visualize 3D data. To deliver the necessary innovation, we need common principles and infrastructure in a robust ecosystem.

The rise of the internet offers a good analogy. Decades of innovation produced extraordinary achievements, all rooted in open protocols and standards – but also pitfalls and controversy when shared principles were less clear. In the same way, there are currently a variety of models in the metaverse space. The ones we now embrace will determine what the metaverse becomes and how fast it evolves.

As we consider the way forward, three areas of action can accelerate innovation and maximize value for users, businesses and society at large:

  • Integrate the physical and the digital

Platforms for the metaverse typically either use augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). VR has come to life over the past decade in gaming, sports and entertainment, with fully virtual avatars and environments. On the other hand, AR is more suitable for work in the real world.

While there is room for both in the growing metaverse market, AR ultimately has the greatest potential. With AR, you can still interact with the objects, tools, environments and people around you – facilitating adoption, providing greater value to existing activities and accelerating the path to ROI. Furthermore, this paradigm feels more natural and intuitive, because human evolution has equipped us to interact this way.

  • Build an open, interoperable ecosystem

As these technologies and applications emerge, industry players must choose the best model to bring them to market: an open ecosystem or a walled garden.

Here, the internet shows the power of an open, interoperable ecosystem. Open standards enable developers, hardware manufacturers, MDMs, and other partners to work together—accelerating adoption, fueling innovation, and letting users decide the best idea. This model can also serve confidentiality and data privacy. While a walled garden may suit certain use cases, communities or business models, these will function best as ‘islands’ within the wider ecosystem.

  • Unleash businesses as first movers

Businesses are primed to pioneer these advances, just as they did for mainframe computers, cell phones, or cloud computing. AR is ideal for essential, high-value work in real-world scenarios. These deployments justify the required investment and unlock the greatest value – not only for companies and professionals, but for society through employment and inclusive growth.

We’re seeing advanced AR applications appear here first, from surgeons planning complex procedures, to factory technicians using remote expert assistance, to first responders training for emergency scenarios. These are some of the initial use cases that most clearly benefit from the integration of the digital and physical – but there are many more. Enterprises are leading the way because they understand the case for productivity, competitive advantage and value to their customers.

Experts believe the metaverse will represent the next major computing platform, transforming consumer experience and business models across industries.

Fashion brands are one example. For years, clothing companies have perfected the design, manufacturing, and distribution of clothing to anticipate consumer wants and needs in line with seasonal changes. But today, most of their revenue is surpassed by the $3 billion worth of sales of digital cosmetics in Fortnite, which have a cultural significance that extends far into the physical world.

This is one of the economic opportunities of the metaverse – the possibility to “activate” digital content, creating a framework of digital ownership for users. If it is replicated at scale and across sectors, then entire industries will be transformed by changes to their traditional value chains.

However, the promise depends on the advancement of several key technologies, including augmented, virtual and mixed reality (collectively known as XR), as well as blockchain, connected devices and artificial intelligence. How should these be governed in a way that promotes their economic benefits while protecting the safety, security and privacy of individuals?

The World Economic Forum brings together leading voices from the private sector, civil society, academia and government to address this exact question. Over the next year, it will curate a multi-stakeholder community focusing on metaverse governance and economic and social value creation.

It will recommend regulatory frameworks for good governance of the metaverse and study how innovation and value creation can be enhanced for the benefit of society. There will be updates published on the website of the World Economic Forum regularly.

Shared vision: Learning from the past, protecting the future

To develop and connect the metaverse, we need a common definition of what we are building, clear rules for how we are building it, and compelling incentives to do so.

We can apply lessons from the rise of the internet to maximize benefits while avoiding pitfalls. We need consensus in areas such as data privacy and security, responsible governance policies and licensing agreements, and a standards-based approach to an open and interoperable ecosystem. We also need to ensure that markets and business models are set up to match these principles and reward innovation.

The metaverse offers tremendous opportunities, but we must come together to decide how it can best serve our human potential.


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