Exploration of Virtual Space is about to get a huge boost
Nearly two decades ago, innovators at Linden Lab imagined millions of people arriving in a virtual place. Its name? Second Life.
No sooner had it peaked, however, than Second Life collapsed under the weight of its own lofty expectations.
But its legacy remains a point of light for those boldly going forward to a new manifest destiny: Virtual Space.
An immersive destiny awaits in cyberspace – for the future of work, play and everything in between.
What makes Virtual Space possible?
Virtual Space is a place of the future whose time has come. Made possible with the increasingly sophisticated technologies of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (XR) and artificial intelligence (AI), Virtual Space enables us to live and work in a simulated universe that looks and feels like our physical world but without the earthly restrictions of time and space.
The result: better work, collaboration, creativity and self-actualization through more immersive, more valuable and more virtually genuine experiences.
While gamesters, engineers, product designers and equipment maintenance experts have reveled in this freely immersive environment for years now, never has Virtual Space been more appealing to “the rest of us” than in today’s pandemic-induced reality.
(Wanna reduce the so-called “cognitive load fatigue” of staring at Brady Bunch-style, 2-D videoconferencing boxes all day? How about sharing a virtual table with colleagues a continent away for a meeting that actually feels real? In Virtual Space, that’s possible. On a videoconferencing platform? Not so much …) So while we’ll be eternally grateful for the seamless videoconferencing platforms like Zoom (and others) that gave us some semblance of much-needed social connection and WFH productivity during the COVID-19 crisis, these remote, technology-driven experiences have also served to magnify our
desire for new and better ways to connect for a (virtual) night on the couch with family and friends, or with co-workers around the watercooler. They’ve left us yearning to break free of the ennui of 2020’s “Zoom, doom and gloom” and into something far more profound, positive, three-dimensional and immersive. In short, many of us are ready to “rip a hole in real reality” and step into a virtual one.
The business rationale for Virtual Space
While there are just over 170 million users of VR worldwide today, that’s set to skyrocket as newer and more affordable gear begins to launch, like the recent rollout of an Oculus headset costing a few hundred dollars. IDC predicts 2020 revenues for VR head-mounted displays (HMDs) will grow by 30%. And estimates suggest over 20 million jobs worldwide will use AR and VR by 2030 to power collaboration, education and training, as well as enhanced customer experiences.
As a result, the business rationale for Virtual Space has never been more clear:
Technologies for our times
#WFH. Social distancing. Cocktails in the Zoom Room. All of these have accelerated the acceptance of technology-driven experiences (and motivated businesses to improve them), especially those that help us meaningfully interact in and transact with the outside world. Now, the once-fantastical potential of Virtual Space seems like a feasible, real-reality due for coming leaps in immersive, technological innovation.
Speed and impact of employee onboarding, training and collaboration
Collaboration, culture and the virtual water-cooler
It’s hard to replicate “water-cooler moments,” but already, startups focused on avatar-led enterprise collaboration like Spatial, Sococo and 3D ICC, as well as QubeVR (corporate training across distances) and Denmark’s aptly named MeetinVR, are helping to make Virtual Space hospitable for ad hoc encounters and unplanned social interactions.
Reduced cost (and carbon) of business travel
Why travel if you can “beam yourself in,” virtually? VR platforms are extending events from the physical world into Virtual Space. Microsoft’s AltspaceVR is helping companies host virtual conferences. Hub Culture is poised to launch its Emerald City. Lesser-known names include the open-source platform BRCvr, which took the 2020 Burning Man festival massively virtual. Commute times, needless coast-to-coast flights and CO2 emissions evaporate (as CFOs rejoice in millions of T&E dollars saved).
Accessibility for all
For those with a physical disability or who can’t speak or type, Virtual Space promises a new sense of mobility and engagement with experiences inaccessible in the physical world.
Jobs of the future will happen in (virtual) places of the future
Sentiment, social interactions and signals of interest in Virtual Space will underpin the creation of new jobs of the future. We see roles emerging like AR and VR Journey Builders, Immersion Counselors, Personal Memory Curators and Haptic Interface Developers, stemming from an entirely new class of jobs built on the frontiers of Virtual Space. (For more on this topic, see our reports “21 Jobs of the Future” and “21 More Jobs of the Future.”)