blog 2022 5 min read

The Metaverse: Five takeaways from SXSW’s exploration of a new global paradigm

The Metaverse: Five takeaways from SXSW’s exploration of a new global paradigm

A year ago the term ‘metaverse’ was a niche idea that was spoken of almost exclusively in tech communities. In 2022, it has gone mainstream, defined by Goldman Sachs as an $8 trillion opportunity.

At this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, disguise’s Chief Experience Officer Alex Wills joined a panel exploring what the metaverse stands to offer the world, and how we can shape it for everyone’s benefit in the years to come. Joining him were panel chair and panel organiser Pico Velasquez, Founder and CEO of VIIRA; Vince Kadlubek, Founder and Director of arts production company Meow Wolf; and Evan Helda, a specialist in spatial computing at Amazon Web Services.

We’ve highlighted five key takeaways from their discussion:


1. The next stage in the evolution of storytelling

Vince Kadlubek spoke early on about the metaverse’s role as the next step in our evolutionary trail as storytellers. We’ve moved from cave paintings to spoken language, to books, radio, film, television and, most recently, video games. For Vince, the metaverse is the next iteration: an ‘always on’ platform that offers users a new way to experience stories.

Spatial narratives will form a big part of the metaverse. These are stories that users can engage with more experientially - moving amongst them, encountering them as they explore the digital world around them. In many ways, these stories will be experienced in the same way that we experience our real lives - they won’t be told to us; we will instead discover them for ourselves.


2. The potential to redesign our understanding of existing concepts

Founder and CEO of VIIRA Pico Velasquez believes the early forms of the metaverse that we’re seeing at the moment are too hung up on creating ‘digital doubles’ of the real world. As brands try to get their heads around the ways they might profit from the metaverse, they are missing the real opportunity: to reinvent the wheel in a limitless realm. This means that we’re seeing digital replicas of real world shops. As businesses grow more familiar with the potential the metaverse offers, the panel hopes that brands will hone in on their essence and find exciting and completely new ways to offer value to their customers.


3. How the metaverse will interact with reality

When asked if the metaverse is already here, Meow Wolf’s Vince Kadlubek makes an interesting point. According to Kadlubek, “it is and has been, ever since man first started adding to the natural world. The fact that we sit inside of buildings and touch man-made objects places us inside the earliest forms of the metaverse. So it’s inevitable that the metaverse, as we’ll come to understand it, will take place not just within entirely digital realms, but also in connection with our everyday lives and the world around us.”

Augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (xR) represents our developing contact points between these two worlds, and will have a significant role to play in connecting users to the metaverse in years to come. One challenge companies will be keen to solve is how to design augmented reality metaverse experiences that can adapt to the user’s specific spatial needs. With the metaverse offering a more accessible tech experience to older and younger users alike, AR and xR tech will play a key role in helping users to engage in meaningful ways.

4. Protecting our world while creating new universes

One concern for Vince was the impact that technologies around the metaverse will have on our real-world environment. The energy required to create and host new spaces can be vast, and there are already very valid criticisms around the environmental costs of blockchain-based commodities like NFTs.

Pico believes that the pressure to innovate ethically is already here, and growing. As businesses create new technologies, many are simultaneously refining their processes to minimise their impact on the environment.

disguise’s Alex Wills also highlighted the benefits virtual spaces offer by reducing the need to travel. From online meetings that replicate meaningful interactions previously only possible in person, to live concerts that can connect hundreds of thousands of fans in the comfort of their own homes, we need to look at how the metaverse can play a role itself.


5. Designing the metaverse we deserve

Throughout the conversation, one theme remained constant: the metaverse is a world of endless opportunity. We shouldn’t let the way it looks or functions be determined by one or two major companies. In fact, we’re already seeing the limited vision some companies have for what should be a limitless world. These include virtual shops that resemble their brick-and-mortar counterparts or meetings in digital boardrooms between cartoon figures.

The metaverse is the 3Dification of the internet, and we need to demand more of it. That means choosing to innovate, and working with those who have a vision to match. The challenge is finding the ethical and open companies, and those with the ambition to create a world that is accessible to all.

Putting ourselves in the metaverse

From the creation of new virtual spaces that transcend anything yet imagined to the reinvention of the world around us through xR, the future is filled with exciting new possibilities. The metaverse is the next big step in the evolution of storytelling - so let’s make sure we give it stories unlike any we’ve seen before.


Watch the full recording of the session

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