Nov 29, 2022 - Technology

What are all those "chief metaverse officers" actually doing?

Illustration of a hand reaching out of a portal into the metaverse holding a magnifying glass.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The "chief metaverse officers" hired at big companies around the world in recent months are spending their days crafting big-picture strategy and evangelizing for the underlying technology, even as the metaverse itself — meaning shared, interconnected virtual worlds — remains a fragmented dream.

Why it matters: Proponents say the metaverse — essentially the internet made immersive, thanks in part to virtual and augmented reality — is the next big thing in connectivity and commerce.

  • Many Fortune 500 companies are at least metaverse-curious, for fear of missing out on what might be the next big tech opportunity.

Backstory: Some companies launched or amped up their metaverse efforts after Facebook rebranded itself as Meta late last year and announced a full-bore effort to realize the metaverse.

  • A year later, however, Meta is struggling to make that happen while also keeping investors happy.

What's happening: The metaverse execs who spoke with Axios for this story generally said they're doing a combination of research, strategy and working with colleagues and clients to figure out how to approach the metaverse and related technologies, such as web3.

  • "I spent a year researching, learning, and now educating and bringing the team along because I see the metaverse and web3 technology as not only having fascinating consumer-facing applications, but also as an important part of creating value inside of organizations as tools that can impact all of our working functions," says Sebastian Brauer, head of metaverse and web3 at furniture retailer Crate & Barrel.
  • Over at talent agency CAA, chief metaverse officer Joanna Popper is helping clients understand and capitalize on the space while seeking investment opportunities: "[We] very much see this as a moment to be aligning, testing, learning, experimenting and growing with the industry, but also making bets that are going to pay out over time."
  • Edwina Fitzmaurice, chief customer success officer at consulting firm EY, has been working on the recently launched EY metaverse lab — a "sandbox" where clients can "build out worlds and experiences" before they're ready for the public, she says.

Yes, but: The "metaverse" has become entangled with related but distinct emerging technologies, such as cryptocurrency. And as the crypto market tumbles, it could get harder for metaverse evangelists to convince skeptics — both internally and externally.

The other side: Popper argues that the strongest companies of the current web era — your Googles and Facebooks — arose from the ashes of the dot-com bust.

  • "So many of the companies that are synonymous with how we think about technology companies today ... were built coming out of that winter," she says, referring to the early 2000s.

Of note: Fitzmaurice's team is working with disabled, blind and neurodiverse people to better understand how metaverse spaces can be made accessible from the beginning.

  • "We're experimenting and looking at the metaverse worlds from all these angles because we believe that the metaverse should be there for everybody," she says.

💬 Alex's thought bubble: Games like Roblox and Minecraft are the closest thing we have to a fully-formed metaverse, and that'll probably stay true for a while — most consumers don't see the point in shared virtual worlds just yet.

What's next: That said, expect major companies to start rolling out more metaverse initiatives as the underlying tech (like VR headsets) keeps developing.

  • Today's metaverse experiences are like the tip of an iceberg, Brauer says: "What most companies are building now is underwater, and you can't really see them."
  • "But technology has evolved to a place where now we're able to unlock all these experiences. And I think that's coming rather soon."
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