This action is an outright bet on the metaverse

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A virtual cycling experience called Zwift is gaining popularity among professional cyclists and this columnist.

Courtesy of Zwift

I admit I was skeptical about Facebook, sorry,


Meta-platforms

vision of the metaverse, with virtual meetings, virtual concerts and virtual worlds in the Ready Player One style.

But I had a revelation recently while cycling home on my road bike. Yes at home. My rear wheel was removed and my bike was attached to a smart trainer made by a company called Wahoo. I was looking at theMacBook screen in front of my bike, driving through a country called Watopia in a cycling app called Zwift. It was then that I realized that I had been experiencing the Metaverse for months without really realizing it.

My colleague Alex Eule, another VR skeptic, wrote about Zwift a few years ago as an example of VR that was actually making a difference in his life. Zwift and the experience have come a long way since then.

On the one hand, the company has achieved unicorn status, having raised more than $ 600 million in venture capital. Zwift now has nearly four million registered users in some 200 countries. They pay $ 15 a month to travel over 200 miles of digital highways, some copies of real places like Paris and Tokyo, and others imaginary, with routes through volcanoes and under oceans.

While not Meta (ticker: FB) and Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse, wearing a helmet, Zwift is a holistic experience, with dating, communication features, and virtual currency. You need a road bike, a smart trainer, and a laptop or tablet with a decent internet connection.

Zwift founder and CEO Eric Min sees room to expand his nascent alternative world and plans to raise more capital to make it happen. One of Min’s ideas is to provide developers with access to the same tools that Zwift uses to build their virtual environments. It’s Zwift meets


Roblox

(RBLX), which is expected to generate $ 2.7 billion in sales this year, by creating tools for its users to create games and virtual worlds.

If anyone doubts the reality of this virtual world, Min says Zwift cycling is under consideration as a potential Olympic sport. He hopes to make his debut at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles. Min says, “It’s not just for training and social riding.”

One point to remember here is that the Metaverse isn’t something Zuckerberg envisioned as he weaved his way through the pandemic by hydrofoil – the idea has been around for decades. In January 2008, a junior


IBM

The Marketing Manager (IBM) created a game called “IBM and the Metaverse”, which explains how to use virtual worlds for work, learning and play. IBM even owns some metaverse-related intellectual property, such as a 2010 patent for a method of “promoting products in a virtual world”, although CEO Arvind Krishna says the company has no plans to go big in it. the metaverse.

The old IBM deck contains footage of Second Life, a general-purpose virtual world that has been around for almost two decades. While you probably gave up on Second Life years ago, the business lives on. Its parent company Linden Lab was sold last year to a group of investors for an undisclosed (but arguably small) amount.

Linden executive chairman Brad Oberwager, who led the buyout, remains very excited about virtual worlds. He notes that 73 million Second Life accounts have been created since the service’s inception in 2003, although most of them have died out. (I’m pretty sure I’ve had one once.) Average monthly users range from 650,000 to 900,000, depending on the company.

It’s no good that Second Life never matched the hype surrounding the company years ago – and that’s one reason to remain skeptical of all the latest metaverse buzzes.

For now, investors are still scrambling to find and buy Metaverse stocks. There are a few obvious ones including Roblox play games and


Unity software

(U) and chipmakers, like


Nvidia

(NVDA) and


Qualcomm

(QCOM), but they are hardly pure metaverse pieces.

It helps explain why investors have gone mad


Matterport

(MTTR), a Sunnyvale, Calif., Company that manufactures cameras and software used to take virtual and 3D images.

Matterport, which has roughly doubled since its IPO via a SPAC merger in July, primarily targets the commercial and residential real estate market, where Matterport’s software is used to produce virtual tours of offices and homes. Originally reliant on proprietary cameras, Matterport now offers smartphone apps that allow you to create digital copies of real locations using a


Apple

or Android smartphone.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives has recommended Matterport stock, although he concedes the stock looks expensive on short-term measures – it trades at over 40 times estimated sales in 2022. Like Ives concedes, this is a stock of highly speculative stories.

But CEO RJ Pittman, who joined Matterport in 2018 after a five-year tenure as product manager at


eBay

(EBAY), tells a fascinating story. Pittman says the company’s secret is turning buildings into data, producing digital copies of physical locations. It is, he says, “the datafication of the real world”. The company now has digital copies of more than six million spaces.

Last week, the company unveiled a partnership with Amazon Web Services to make it easier to create “digital twins” of real-world sites. Like Zwift, it’s another emerging link between the real and virtual worlds.

I wouldn’t bet the rent on this one, but if you’ve got a few extra bucks to spend, Matterport is an interesting speculation about the future of the Metaverse.

Write to Eric J. Savitz at [email protected]

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