As hype for the metaverse went into overdrive in 2022, the European Commission (EC) didn’t spend long jockeying for position, outlining a plan of attack for the segment in which it pledged to ensure that “no private player” has everything the power. in the new virtual world.
This comment brought my mind back to a blog I wrote in 2017, when the same European regulator made another big statement about market dominance, promising to tackle “contractual clauses and unfair business practices” between platforms and companies.
Now, while the platforms aren’t named, it was clear that mainstream operating systems, app stores, and search engines would be targeted. And by that description, there are really only two companies that, even today, fall into the dominant category.
In my blog, I raised the question of whether Apple and Google were unfair gatekeepers of the internet, given that they did, and still do, all the keys and set the terms of access to businesses and smaller businesses.
With the metaverse emerging as what some consider (though there are just as many skeptics) the next evolution of the internet, is history about to repeat itself?
And despite the EC’s prompt resolution, will there be dominant players in this virtual world setting the terms, demanding that everyone else play ball or fail?
Meta leaves its mark
In the statement, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, said that the metaverse must incorporate European values from the start, virtual worlds had to be developed based on interoperable standards and no one player should have all the power, adding that the EC would not. tolerate private monopolies. “Innovators and technologies should be allowed to thrive unhindered,” Breton added.
Breton’s and the EC’s view is one that would garner broad support. A playing field where companies work together and build an ecosystem that is not dominated by one or two players is surely better for the end user and the competition in general.
However, great power is already far ahead. While the concept of the metaverse has been around for years, it was really Facebook’s decision to change its name to Meta Platforms in late 2021 that put the concept on everyone’s lips.
Leo Gebbie, principal analyst for connected devices at CCS Insight, said Mobile World Live (MWL) “The competition for metaverse dominance is already underway,” and Meta signaled his intention to act as a thought leader when he changed his name.
Gebbie further noted a formidable position Meta has already built in virtual reality with its Quest headset, as well as its portfolio of game development studios.
“Along with the heavy investment in augmented reality and the general platform for spatial computing, it will take some time for other companies to catch up,” he added.
So, with a solid foundation and a name that is heavily branded, a dominant player in the metaverse has already established itself.
Also speaking MWLMichael Inouye, senior analyst at ABI Research, has a somewhat different take on Gebbie.
In the consumer segment of the metaverse, he argues that the competitive space is relatively fragmented, and while the metaverse conversations began relatively recently, the creation of future and long-term visions are based on pre-existing market trends.
For example, he notes that Meta’s work on the Quest platform may have been seen as generic augmented reality, but can now be extended to the metaverse conversation. For game players, such as Epic Games or Roblox, the same is true.
“Each of these companies is entering the space at different stages or from different points of view; add to that the lack of true standardization in the metaverse and it creates a more fragmented market,” he said.
Inouye also acknowledged the work being done in the EU, noting that there are dominant players in the social media and mobile worlds, and efforts are underway to “address some of these competitive imbalances.”
Despite that, he expects some bigger players to emerge in the metaverse, though as a segment “it’s too broad to fully replicate what we see in the mobile app ecosystem.”
Metaverse or metaverse?
Another prominent part of the EC’s extensive metaverse attack plan called out the fact that not one, “but many metaverses” are being developed. Breton explained that multiple metaverses were coming to the fore, including entertainment, work, artistic creativity, simulations of real life, health uses, among others.
This again opens up an interesting debate around competition and dominance. Gebbie questioned the idea of ”metaverses”, highlighting the fact that the pure definition of the metaverse is a single entity rather than multiple, just as “we have a single internet rather than multiple internets”.
However, he accepts that the reality from the “utopian vision” of an open landscape of interconnected virtual worlds is likely to be very different.
“The divergent interests of competing players seem to lead to divisions and competing approaches, possibly resulting in a segmented experience like we see in today’s computing landscape where platforms and operating systems battle for success.”
Returning to the idea of the metaverse parallel to the internet, Inouye returns to the term I used almost six years ago: guards.
He insists that the overall aim of the EC is to avoid this type of domain “which controls the entire flow of information, content and users”.
“In today’s Internet, if everyone had to log into Meta or Amazon first just to surf the web, communicate, trade, work, then we wouldn’t have failed to create an accessible and open metaverse.”
Probe in progress
With many tech powerhouses yet to establish their metaverse strategy, the idea of guessing who might end up being the dominant force is far from over.
However, it would be remiss not to mention that despite recent bad finances and scared investors, Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg is still pushing ahead with the work, pledging to invest around $19 billion in the segment this year alone.
And perhaps a sign of things to come, Meta is already facing accusations of trying to buy the domain of the metaverse, with US regulator the Federal Trade Commission investigating its acquisition of a VR app developer.
Maybe I don’t have to wait six years to write about the next unfair goalie.
The editorial opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the GSMA, its members or associate members.
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