Why immersive worlds shouldn’t be virtual versions of real life

Meta's Asher Rapkin on the future of the metaverse and its creative potential — from good commerce to good art.

Why immersive worlds shouldn’t be virtual versions of real life
The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab
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Metaverse is a term still finding its definition. Meta’s chief product officer, Chris Cox, has said it’s the next generation of the internet where it gets “less flat.” Asher Rapkin, director, global business marketing, emerging platforms at Meta, expands on that. Moving through mixed reality, augmented reality and into fully immersive virtual reality, people can have both similar and different experiences with different levels of fidelity. The potential is limitless. So how do we get more people and brands playing and doing business in the space?

Matt Carmichael: How is the development of the metaverse like the early days of the internet?

Asher Rapkin: The early days of the internet were defined by a sense of excitement and wonder. There was always a feeling that you were welcomed, could build and were able to contribute. I remember the excitement of creating my own first website. It was an “X Files” fan site. I don’t know that I’ve ever admitted that publicly but let’s go ahead and do that.

Carmichael: My first website was about Lou Reed.

Rapkin: The metaverse offers a similar experience and opportunity to build no matter who you are, where you are and what you want to talk about. What is different is the maturity of the technology at the backend. If anything, we have the potential for more inclusiveness than less by virtue of the maturity of the technology.

Carmichael: How does Meta define the metaverse?

Rapkin: We often talk about it as essentially a container that can hold more 3D experiences, in which you can choose the level of fidelity. It can be full immersion through virtual reality, a mixture through mixed reality, or some layer of content augmented on the physical world through AR. We're developing for all three, but I think we will ultimately have to look and see where consumers land. Those are definitions that we use today, but I fully acknowledge that those will evolve over time.

Carmichael: How is building a community different in the metaverse for individuals and for brands?

Rapkin: I would argue that when we think about community building or marketing or any other element of the broader business/social landscape, nothing is different in the metaverse. What I do think is different is that the dynamic is evolved because you can choose the level of fidelity in which you're engaging with someone.

Carmichael: So far, the audience of VR headset users is pretty small, especially outside gaming. How do you create more use cases to get people involved? Is it a little bit chicken-and-egg?

Rapkin: We’ve said very clearly that this is the future of our company and something that we believe in. So, part of that does sit on our shoulders to demonstrate that it's not just about gaming and entertainment. It is about shortening the distance between individuals when they're physically apart.

Carmichael: What are the different challenges for onboarding brands into this space?

Rapkin: To create a good commercial experience in the metaverse, whether we're talking about augmented or virtual reality, we need to first understand what people's expectations of that space are. The advertising industry could probably ramrod advertising and commercial products into the metaverse, but that does a disservice to everybody, from creatives to consumers to brands. A better way to do this is to subscribe to the theory that good commerce follows good art.

Carmichael: What do you mean by that?

Rapkin: We’re going to need to understand what artistic expression is in this space. The industry doesn’t know what that looks like yet. The most important thing for a brand to do is become fundamentally literate in what is necessary to build for augmented reality.

Carmichael: What are you already seeing in terms of how people create their identities and develop their avatar personas on the platforms?

Rapkin: I am just as curious about this as anybody else. If there’s anything that I have learned in tech for the decade-plus I’ve worked in it, it’s that you have to watch people and understand how they behave before you make grand assumptions about what they're ultimately going to do.

Carmichael: So where do you see us netting out in the near-term future?

Rapkin: In between augmented and virtual reality is mixed reality, which I think is a fascinating place that we don't spend a lot of time on, but I believe has a tremendous amount of creative potential. This idea of re-rendering the world around us to create something fundamentally distinct from both the physical and the virtual world is one of the areas of the metaverse that’s the least understood but offers some of the most creative potential.

The author(s)
  • Matt Carmichael What the Future editor and head of the Ipsos Trends & Foresight Lab