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December 8, 2022updated 20 Dec 2022 10:14am

Metaverse? More like meh-taverse. Brits don’t care about virtual worlds.

UK consumers are uninterested and uneducated when it comes to the metaverse. This could present a problem for businesses.

By Ryan Morrison

British people largely don’t care about the metaverse, with just 37% of those responding to a global survey saying they would take part in the virtual ecosystem. This could lead to UK companies missing out on the “metaverse revolution”, according to the report’s authors.

The survey found that while there is little interest in the metaverse in the UK there is also a lack of understanding (Photo: skipper_sr/Shutterstock)
The survey found that while there is little interest in the metaverse in the UK there is also a lack of understanding (Photo by skipper_sr/Shutterstock)

The survey of more than 6,000 people in the UK, USA, France, Canada, the UAE and China, commissioned by law firm Gowling WLG, revealed stark differences in consumer attitudes when it comes to the metaverse, a predicted immersive digital environment that some say is the future of the internet.

Experts predict the metaverse will change the way we work and socialise once it is fully online, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg betting the company on the metaverse. Some countries are already placing large bets on the virtual worlds including China and the UAE.

The report suggests that business leaders could capitalise on the fact metaverse platforms allow users from around the world to engage in an immersive environment, describing these as ‘asynchronous events’. The authors suggest this could help improve employee engagement and company culture, even for businesses with large cohorts of remote workers.

Despite not being keen on the idea of the metaverse generally, a fifth of UK employees said they’d consider engaging with co-workers in the metaverse in the future and 23% worldwide said they’d use it for more immersive events including conferences and concerts. “The potential to engage a wider audience and remove geographical barriers can foster innovation and encourage exploration,” the report declared.

The global metaverse divide

Work is needed to encourage both engagement and understanding, particularly in the UK where one in ten have no interest at all and 20% don’t expect it to become mainstream at any point, the research says.

In contrast twice as many consumers in China would take part in the metaverse compared to UK citizens and globally, three-quarters of respondents had an understanding of the metaverse. In the UK only 2% of respondents had a “complete understanding” and 40% had no understanding.

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Entitled Immaterial World, the report compared attitudes from consumers living across major markets, finding those in Eastern countries more open to escaping the real world than people in the West, with four in five Chinese consumers open to a metaverse experience compared to 37% in the UK. United Arab Emirates consumers were also keen on the technology, with 43% excited about the prospect of spending their days away from the real world compared to 8% in the UK.

Some of the Western reticence could be down to a lack of understanding, according to the data in the report, with those countries showing the lowest level of knowledge about the virtual future being proposed also the least likely to want to embrace the technology. In the UK about 41% of consumers claimed they have no understanding whatsoever of the metaverse, compared to just 6% of consumers surveyed in the UAE.

“Cities like Dubai have already launched a metaverse strategy,” says Alexandre Brazeau, partner at Gowling WLG. “Individuals in Dubai can interact with the Government via metaverse platforms and, as a city, they’re aiming to create over 40,000 new metaverse-related jobs by 2030.”

The western consumers also have a greater hesitancy due to the potential security risk, with concerns around identity theft, privacy, safety and fraud all raised in the research, with authors warning that “the UK government must implement plans to support organisations navigating this new technology.” 

Davey Brennan, partner and co-chair of global tech at Gowling WLG, said heavy regulation in the UK could explain consumers’ hesitancy for the virtual realm. He said that “compared to other markets, the UK regulatory regime is the gold standard, offering investors confidence when it comes to their investment decisions. However, the UK’s regime can often be seen as a regulatory maze that is difficult to navigate – especially where blockchain technology is being used to, for example, effect payments, represent digital ownership or transfer assets using NFTs in the metaverse.” 

Security and training key to business metaverse strategies

He said that doesn’t mean businesses in the UK should put off developing a metaverse strategy as half of the consumers are undecided and open to being won over with the right campaign.

As employees shift into a metaverse future, much like when companies moved online, staff will need extensive training, the report warns, with guidance and security information about the risks unique to a virtual environment.

Brennan said that when fully realised the metaverse will apply to businesses in every sector from consumer-driven industries such as retail and events to automotive, real estate, energy, construction and beyond.

Matt Littler, CEO of ARK Immersive, a virtual and immersive content production company, said a lack of interest in the metaverse is likely to be down to the concept being too broad. “It’s like asking what is the internet? The internet is what you decide you want it to be. It can be as niche or as broad as you desire,” Littler says.

The problem, he believes, is that the metaverse doesn’t really exist yet as to truly exist it needs to be thousands of “metaverse worlds” linked via the internet and the lack of interest also comes from “the countless artists’ impressions of what it may look like. I expect there to be more spaces; more interaction with objects; and multiple extra layers.”

He compared it to social media, which never started as a tool for marketing but has turned into an essential service for marketers. He said until brands start to see a return on investment from a metaverse platform consumers won’t see its potential or importance.

“My expertise is in VR, which has changed exponentially in seven-eight years,” Littler says. “I think the Metaverse promises to be exactly the same. Completely unrecognisable. It’s not going to be what we’re promised, it’s going to be what we make of it,.”

He adds: “The best way to think of it is that, if we showed Tim Berners-Lee the internet from when he invented it, he’d be amazed at how much it’s changed, and I’m confident the Metaverse will be the same. And I can assure you that people won’t be underwhelmed by its future.”

Read more: How will digital identity work in the metaverse?

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