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Metaverse - The Future of Commerce or a Bus Ride to Nowhere?

July 18, 2022 | Nick Holland

In 1995, the magician duo of Penn and Teller designed a game compilation for the Sega console. Though never released, it became infamous for the banality of its games, specifically “Desert Bus”, where the player has to drive a bus from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada, in real-time at a maximum speed of 45 mph (72 km/h). The feat requires eight hours of continuous play to complete. The entire “game” is an endurance test – there is little scenery aside from an occasional rock or bus stop sign, and there is no traffic. In a sick twist, the bus veeres slightly to the right, meaning that the player must constantly interact to keep the bus. It is, in short, an excruciating digital replica of a physical world experience that no one would want.

SCD Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors gameplay screenshot.gif

I have some concerns about the Metaverse becoming something like “Desert Bus”. Previous proto-metaverse spaces such as Second Life provided a sandbox for innovation and yet, no one really innovated. More recently, retailers such as WalMart have demonstrated concepts for [Metaverse shopping](https://hypebeast.com/2022/1/walmart-2017-mutual-mobile-metaverse-shopping-video-resurfaces "HYPEBEAST | Twitter Reacts to Walmart's "Metaverse" Shopping Video from 2017") which could also have been a part of the Penn and Teller gaming compilation for its sheer lack of imagination. So, what will the fusion of the real world and virtual world provide us that is not replicating the mundane in a digital format? Where is the value add for the metaverse? And why would we want to go there?

Money20/20 Unpacks The Metaverse

At Money20/20 Europe last month we unpacked the potential for the Metaverse in the financial services realm with two dedicated sessions. The first, “What do we need to build and enable the economy of the Metaverse?,” tackled the state of the Metaverse today and what needs to be done to make it mainstream. Panelists from Lazard Financial Advisory, Checkout.com, Nexo, Trust Stamp, and Copper were in agreement that the Metaverse is in its infancy, quipping that the physical presence of thousands of fintech professionals in person at the show was a testament to how nascent the Metaverse is as a means of interaction with other humans.

One area that panelists considered key to address early on for Metaverse adoption was interoperability. Jess Houlgrave from Checkout.com stated;

“I think what's really key about the Metaverse is the idea that this should be something that is open. And that can be built by anybody, that isn't going to be a digital world owned by single institutions, but that it can be something that we co-create and co-curate together.”

Antoni Trenchen of Nexo noted however that this utopian future is far from today’s fragmented reality…

“It doesn't make sense if we have a thousand fractional little metaverses and nothing that unites them, and you can’t move across it and you can’t move your NFTs, and tokens, etcetera.”

Dmitry Tokarev of Copper provided a more fundamental area to address… that we have yet to find the Metaverse “killer app”...

“We believe that there is a use case for some mythical millennial or Gen Z person that's basically going to be doing all of those things (in the metaverse). Like we're not going to do it, but they're going to do it. I don't think it exists. I think we're talking about something which doesn't have a product market fit yet.”

The second session; “Where can fintech companies do something substantially different in the metaverse?”, delved deeper into where the value proposition (and monetization) for the metaverse resides. Optimism was high for the economic benefits of the Metaverse, with statistics quotes stating that the Metaverse would be worth $800 billion by 2024 (Bloomberg), and that we would be spending as much as one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026 (Gartner).

Panelists were asked to elaborate on how companies will be able to make money in the Metaverse. Zoe Wei of Binance singled out the potential for fees in the conversion of fiat to crypto, and vice versa, as well as acting as a trusted third party between the physical and digital domains. Steve Suarez of HSBC and Jelena Zec of Citi Ventures focused more on the ability to purchase and securely store digital assets…

“Our external customers are already spending money in the metaverse, they're buying digital assets.”, said Suarez. “They're looking for places to park those assets, how to display those assets. So there's a lot of opportunities for that.”

However, panelists agreed that gamification (not gaming), if done right, was considered to be a key means for businesses to enter the Metaverse.

“The metaverse could create incremental revenue for those companies that they cannot reach.” said Wei. “For example, when people say, okay, what's the use of fan token and in the future? And we will say, actually, this token is using the Metaverse to help you engage more of your fans into that. From a business sense, you are actually expanding your customer base with the metaverse experience.”

Joy Ride, not Bus Ride

There is precedent in terms of the connective power of the internet and how e-commerce has been globally transformative for how the Metaverse may evolve. There is however also precedent in the unimaginative recent past to see what the Metaverse could be like – dreary, predictable, and potentially even unsafe. Banks in Second Life were shut down due to fraud scams† and Facebook’s Meta’s track record thus far of protecting minors, minorities, and even democracy has been spotty at best. What is to prevent the Metaverse from becoming similarly contaminated?

For the time being, the Metaverse is a golden opportunity for exploring incredible new places and experiences. However, mediocrity, lack of imagination and poor oversight will clearly hinder adoption, particularly for financial transactions where trust is paramount. Whether we explore it by Ferrari or Greyhound is entirely up to us.


https://www.technologyreview.com/2008/01/10/270541/second-life-closes-banks/

About the Author

Nick Holland

Global Head of Research

Money20/20