MP spoke with Ben Conway, co-founder and COO of VNTANA, about the pros and cons of the Metaverse. VNTANA is a SaaS platform that simplifies 3D asset management and distribution via a fully automated 3D optimization and content management platform. Conway has delivered “world’s-first” mixed reality experiences for brands like Microsoft, Intel, Adidas, & Nike across the globe and has worked in the mixed reality space for over nine years. As COO, he oversees all operations and sales for VNTANA’s software platform, focusing on retail & apparel clients like VF Corp, Diesel, & Hugo Boss.
What barriers prevent businesses from entering the Metaverse, and why?
One of the biggest barriers for brands today is having 3D models (or digital twins) of their products to put into the metaverse.
Fashion brands are generating thousands of 3D models a year, but the file sizes of their 3D models are enormous (i.e., hundreds of megabytes if not gigabytes), and they often aren’t in the right file format.
Many technological advancements are still required for the Metaverse to be indeed useful and take the shape that many people envision. Still, the best thing brands can do to get ready is to start designing in 3D using real-time ready digital materials.
They also need to start incorporating platforms into their infrastructure that allow them to optimize and distribute these assets at scale.
What roles will businesses and consumers play in the Metaverse, and how will such roles redefine how businesses operate?
I believe that businesses and consumers will play very similar roles as they do today.
I don’t believe that the Metaverse will alter how businesses operate immediately. The reality is that it will gradually roll out new technologies and platforms, and businesses will adapt accordingly.
There will be new channels for consumers to access products and services, but it will take years.
I don’t think we’re in a place today to know exactly how that will play out.
How will professionals benefit from digital overlays that project atop real-world objects, and how will such benefits likely evolve?
Enterprises are already benefiting from AR technology that allows for digital overlays atop real-world objects. Especially workers in manufacturing and repair, where remote technicians can call out parts and next steps to someone physically on-site.
Improved computer vision is essential to this technology.
If a system can recognize an object or material, for instance, a digital overlay can provide useful data for making faster and better decisions.
Initially, I think we’ll see data being provided on request. Eventually, we’ll see computer vision and/or more advanced sensors that can proactively identify issues and call them out via a digital overlay.
How is the Metaverse likely to transform commerce as we know it, what issues could potentially arise, and why?
We’re eventually going to see more seamless buying experiences.
Digital wallets will get more secure and useful, and I think we’ll eventually bypass the concept of a shopping cart in certain situations. It will allow for more organic discovery of products and services and an expedited checkout experience that doesn’t remove you from whatever you’re currently engaged in. Potential issues are going to be verifying legitimate businesses and securing digital wallets.
Also, a big barrier will continue to be content generation – it will take brands and the workforce a while to upskill their 3D design capabilities.
How will age-restricted content be handled in the Metaverse, and why?
There’s an opportunity to do a much better job here than we currently can on the internet.
A safe Metaverse will allow parents to create profiles for their children tied to their age and will move with them as they move around the Metaverse. So rather than needing to create a new profile for each site or platform they access, their age and the associated restrictions will carry with them.
How will the metaverse impact society and economies in real life and blur the lines between the real and the digital worlds?
How can companies think about metanomics to orchestrate successful digital strategies in the future, find new roles, new ways to interact with stakeholders, and new products and services on which their future business will be built?
How will the Metaverse enable businesses to develop their brands through experiences, and could this be a double-edged sword?
The last two and a half years gave us some great insight into this because the pandemic forced brands to rethink how they engaged with their customers.
Experiential marketing and events were at all-time highs before the pandemic.
Brands were seeing real returns by offering experiences to consumers to differentiate themselves and build brand loyalty.
The pandemic shut all those down overnights, so brands had to find new ways to connect with their customers.
This will be a big advantage as brands enter the Metaverse more because they’ve already had some practice thinking in a wholly digital way. The Metaverse will allow brands to deliver some very engaging and immersive experiences that haven’t been possible previously. It will allow for deeper connections than current technology has allowed.
That being said, I think we’re still going to need to see a balanced approach. Many seem to be campaigning for an all-or-nothing approach, which I don’t think will work. Physical experiences will continue to be critical to a brand’s strategy alongside whatever else they do in the Metaverse.
How will the Metaverse expose businesses and consumers to new types of fraud, and what steps can be taken to prevent such nefarious acts?
We’re already seeing a lot of this happen. Especially with all things “Web3” and crypto. People have been scammed out of billions of dollars, and I think we’ll see a lot more.
One of the first things that need to happen is that businesses and consumers must realize that what they think of as the “Metaverse” isn’t here yet. There is so much hype right now, but we are still in the infancy of the Metaverse.
I might even say that we’re prenatal.
People should be skeptical of fantastic claims today because they are probably untrue.
The same things that protect businesses and consumers today must exist in the Metaverse. We’ll need secure certificates to know a business is legitimate and also need a way to verify users.
In my view, full anonymity will be an issue for safe commerce, so I think we’ll need ways to verify that a person is who they say they are. I’m sure we’ll see platforms develop to help secure the commerce layer of the internet, but they don’t exist today.
People must be very guarded when buying or selling something in the Metaverse.
How can the Metaverse adversely affect our mental health, and what can we do to protect ourselves?
The Metaverse can affect our mental and physical health similarly that current technologies adversely affect our health.
Just as it’s unhealthy to spend too much time looking at your phone or computer screen, it won’t be good for your health to spend too much time in the Metaverse.
In the same way, we can scroll infinitely on a social media app or mindlessly browse the internet.
We can immerse ourselves in a virtual world that is almost boundless, which can be amazing but also harmful if we don’t put boundaries in place.
One key differentiator here is that the Metaverse has the potential to be much more social with real-time interactions with other humans than what our current technology supports.
If used correctly, this will allow for more and new connections with others that may positively affect mental health.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
There is a lot of promising technology on the horizon that will fundamentally change how we work and transact, but it’s not quite here yet.
One of the best things the technology industry can do is provide realistic timelines and expectations for brands and consumers.
We are in an overhype cycle, leading to disappointment and future skepticism.
As I mentioned above, there are major steps that brands can take today to prepare.
Adding 3D capabilities, while getting easier every day, is still a big task.
Focusing on building an end-to-end workflow for 3D development to deployment will allow brands to quickly access the Metaverse and all of the amazing new experiences it will bring.
Responses provided by Ben Conway, Co-Founder and COO of VNTANA.