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In a virtual-first, carbon-sensitive world, the Metaverse might just come of age

"Experiences have proven to help people concentrate better and retain more information..."

SPONSORED --The goggles throw a light, smoky haze across his eyes and reflect a distorted wide-angle view of a brilliantly lit boulevard that stretches off into an infinite blackness. This boulevard does not really exist; it is a computer-rendered view of an imaginary place… In the lingo, this place is known as the Metaverse.”

Neal Stephenson’s vision of the Metaverse – a term first coined in his 1992 book Snow Crash – is up there with William Gibson’s 1982 depiction of cyberspace, in terms of prescience and indeed influence on today’s world.

It took a handful of decades for the internet to become ubiquitous, after Gibson first came up with the concept in his short story Burning Chrome. It’s taken a little longer for the metaverse to emerge, but Stephenson’s vision of a shared, immersive virtual world is rapidly coming to life. It is being spurred on by the need to manage and engage distributed global workforces, sensitivity over the carbon emissions and travel costs for large events, and the stunning pace of development in emerging tech – many of today’s metaverses need no goggles either.

With Microsoft pledging this Spring to help companies optimise operations via an “industrial metaverse” that includes a range of mixed reality applications, Meta spending $10 billion on its more consumer-facing vision in 2021 alone (“laying the groundwork for what I expect to be a very exciting 2030s” as CEO Mark Zuckerberg has put it) and companies like DXC starting to widely deploy metaverse technologies across its 130,000+ workforce, the metaverse is rapidly moving from literary conceit, via amorphous industry buzzword, to useful deployment.

Nathalie Vancluysen, Head of Extended Reality, DXC Technology – an IT services company that serves nearly half of the Fortune 500 – thinks the metaverse provides a stimulating 3D environment where people can gather, discuss, share ideas, host guests and have fun in way that is far more engaging than traditional video conferencing technology. She leads a team that has built up an extensive service offering on top of metaverse software, including event playbooks, support staff, virtual world customisation and more.

DXC is eating its own dog food, deploying metaverse software from different partners including Meta and Microsoft. For DXC’s workforce collaboration and large-scale events, DXC is working with Virbela – a company that builds immersive 3D worlds for work, learning and virtual events. Virbela currently requires a small downloadable package, but plans to deliver an in-browser version in the near future together with DXC.

The Stack joined Vancluysen to chat in the DXC Virtual World – a private virtual campus that Vancluysen’s team built on the Virbela platform. We found it refreshingly straightforward to enter and navigate; communication within it can be by audio or chat. A transparent glass door slides down in one of an infinite number of virtual offices as we start speaking, confirming that our conversation is being held in private, as other avatars go about their business or play football outside in the metaverse.

DXC Technology's Nathalie Vancluysen

“In traditional video conferencing people often feel confined to their desks or the room where they are working. The metaverse however presents an exciting and potentially limitless 3D world where people have an increased sense of freedom - to move around, explore, take a break, play football, go for a walk, or have chance encounters."

Vancluysen adds that “such experiences have proven to help people concentrate better and retain more information. Virtual worlds can help us get out of our videoconferencing routine and open the door to greater collaboration and innovation.”

Speaking with The Stack, Vancluysen adds that the “random collisions” with people that happen in the virtual world cannot happen using traditional “scheduled” videoconferencing and often lead to important collaboration.

Walking the talk...

“DXC has run a number of successful metaverse events in the DXC Virtual World,” notes Vancluysen, pointing to a recent sales kickoff that brought together over 1,000 employees, partners and customers of the service provider. More than 50 exhibitors were invited to showcase their product offerings in a virtual expo hall, and the two-day event featured keynotes by executives on a digital stage, all followed by a virtual party. (Testing the software during our interview, your humble scribe decides to test out his avatar’s dance moves and briefly can’t find the stop button, whilst we try to continue an otherwise straight-faced audio conversation; it’s a nice icebreaker.)

A poll of DXC’s own staff suggests that 61% look forward to meetings and events in the DXC Virtual World and 88% would like DXC to invest more in the metaverse, she says, pointing out that according to a recent Virtira Consulting report, nearly half of professionals working remotely (49%), which translates to 32 million individuals, reported a high degree of exhaustion as a direct result of numerous daily video calls. The exhaustion or so-called “Zoom fatigue” stems from a combination of increased virtual meetings and the pressure to have webcams on for all of them.

DXC sees increasing numbers of companies turning to immersive technologies to transform the customer and employee experience as well as open up new opportunities for marketing, advertising and selling, in what it describes as a “huge opportunity to reshape the online environment and revitalize online collaboration.”

One of the company’s priorities, Vancluysen adds, is working with its customers and partners – as well as the World Economic Forum – to ensure that the algorithms, structures, frameworks, regulations, and policies are in place to address the distinct elements of safety, privacy, and security within the metaverse, as well as ensuring that its partners’ virtual world environments are inclusive as possible – some of that’s sober work, some of it is deeply entertaining. A research report from the Institute of Digital Fashion has suggested that people want more choices for diverse representation in online spaces, noting 60% feel there is a lack of inclusivity in virtual worlds and more than 40% describe their online clothing style as “surreal”. Want to rock up for work as a lizard in a green kimono? Well, why not? DXC believes that the ability to play and reinvent yourself is one of the most exciting aspects of the metaverse.

Vancluysen notes that the metaverse in many ways is a great potential leveler; an environment in which a person’s location, gender, physical attributes, or personal circumstances are less important than their ideas or the quality of their work: "Organizations can benefit from diverse new talent pools from previously underrepresented groups. Whether it's mothers nursing their infants, or people with physical or psychological challenges, no one needs to be excluded from the metaverse.” And with Bloomberg estimating that the metaverse could be an $800 billion market opportunity by 2024, the potential benefit for first movers is clear.

For more insights into making a virtual world work, please visit here.