The Metaverse, and what it means for the future of research

In our latest blog, Joe Stanley (senior research executive) shares his thoughts on the growth of the metaverse and the implications for research methods.

Metaverse. One of the most-used buzzwords since the end of October 2021, when Mark Zuckerberg announced the rebranding of Facebook to ‘Meta’. Since then, a multitude of high-profile brands from Nike to Microsoft, Gucci, and even John Lewis have ‘joined the metaverse’ – but what does it even mean? And what impact can we expect it to have on the future of online research?

Metaverse: In a nutshell

In short, the ‘metaverse’ is a virtual world where people can create an avatar and come together to work, play, socialise, exercise and so much more, using virtual reality. Mark Zuckerberg’s long-term vision with ‘Meta’ is to encourage people to use their virtual reality technology to ‘co-exist’ in this online world.

We’ll be able to present at work no matter where you want to live without a commute, go to a concert with a friend instantaneously, teleport as a hologram into your parents’ living room to catch up with them.”  – Mark Zuckerberg, Meta CEO

Sound slightly futuristic? Well, these spaces already exist. Think about the gaming worlds kids and teens live in on an almost daily basis.  Much-loved video games such as Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite are already metaverses, and are currently leading the way in this space. Back in April 2020, for example, Fortnite even held an in-game music concert where a giant Travis Scott avatar performed his hits to the 12.8M people who attended with their avatars.

But even while gaming is ahead of the curve, and many dismiss the metaverse as something for youth audiences, the virtual world has crept into mainstream everyday lives more than we may realise. Attended a pub quiz or ‘virtual work drinks’ on Zoom over the past 2 years? Recreated yourself as an emoji avatar on iMessage or WhatsApp? Joined a live online fitness class? None of these are too far away from Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse vision.

In fact, a December 2021 Harris Poll survey found that those aged 25-40 were more likely than the slightly younger Gen Zs to agree that “the metaverse is the next big thing and will become a part of everyday life”. It might just be that older consumers are just as likely – if not more likely – to feel the benefits of the metaverse.

Metaverse gaming

The Virtual World: Benefits and Concerns

Amid the rising conversation around the metaverse, customer service platform Tidio conducted an in-depth study into how consumers expect it to impact on our everyday lives. The study found that the main reasons people would ‘join’ the metaverse were Work Possibilities (52%), Live Entertainment / Experiences (48%) and Education (40%) – highlighting the appeal for younger adults in particular.

It’s the perceived benefits of this virtual world, though, that should stand out most to the research world. The biggest benefit for consumers would be “overcoming obstacles (like disabilities) that prevent us from doing something in real life” (39%) – meaning greater accessibility to experiences. While the limitless nature of a metaverse meant that “enhancing creativity and imagination” (37%) and “the opportunity for self-expression” (27%) were also high up on the list.

However, despite the industry buzz, there’s a warning from consumers with 77% saying that the metaverse could prove harmful due to “issues with addiction, privacy and mental health”. Some people are wary of dedicating proportionally even more of their lives to the online world.

VR work

The impact for online research

As more people move into the virtual world, familiarity with technology increases, and fewer barriers exist for participating in online research methodologies. At the same time, consumers’ digital skills continue to improve, allowing for better quality online research with more creativity and self-expression. Imagine a virtual research space where participants can use avatars to express their feelings, get creative in virtual rooms, or use virtual reality to step into a concept. Well, you don’t need to imagine, it is happening right now. The possibilities are as endless in market research as they are in the gaming world!

That said, researchers have to be mindful that we don’t “replace” the real world with the virtual alternative unless there are clear benefits in doing so. Researchers need to encourage respondents to step away from screens sometimes, and particularly if the subject is a purely physical “off screen” product, service or experience.

More methodological options are available than ever before, but remember to consider which mix of methods is most fit-for-purpose before jumping into the Metaverse.