The metaverse has become more mainstream due to popular culture references like Ready Player One. The COVID-19 pandemic has also encouraged more screen time for individuals, as many turn to virtual reality to escape the isolation. The progress is moving quite rapidly for developing the advanced metaverse products, thanks to big companies like Microsoft and Facebookinvesting billions into the industry. But while these investments may be suitable for metaverse startups, they actually are making the technology more expensive to purchase for the consumer, leading to issues with accessibility to the technology and limiting the diversity of those able to participate in the metaverse.
Background: Big Investments Create Hype
Earlier in January, Microsoft bought the gaming platform Activation Blizzard for $68.7 billion.The platform boasts around 400 million users, expanding Microsoft’s reach. Already experts are speculating what sorts of products Microsoft may develop. This is not the first big company to join the metaverse bandwagon. The metaverse hype originally began in October of 2021, when Facebook changed its name to Meta.Since then, other companies have been venturing into metaverse markets, including Disney, Samsung, and even Walmart. Walmart’s activity began in late 2021, as the superstore chain began filing patents with virtual goods, similar to NFTs. It seems all these companies realize that there are untapped markets within this virtual space that they can exploit.
Big-name companies like these bring in a lot of media hype, as people want to understand and predict what sort of products will go on the market. But as the interest in metaverse products (like virtual reality headsets) go up, the price is often driven up too.
Analysis: Pricy Technology
The metaverse is a trending topic, and because of that, its technology has become quite expensive. Apple’s predicted virtual reality headset is supposed to cost around $2,000, severely limiting the number of people who can easily afford it. Facebook’s new Quest headset, while cheaper at $299 and $399, is still creating a cost barrier for some individuals. This type of barrier can significantly limit the individuals who are able to participate in the metaverse, which could have bigger implications for the entire industry, including those currently building it.
Outlook: Cost Limits Diversity
Because not everyone can afford to use metaverse products, the elite who are able to use them will homogenize the user demographic. This can cause some severe issues with creating an inclusive virtual environment, or promoting diversity within the metaverse. Many of the metaverse worlds and games are already being designed by the “gamer” demographic, which is overwhelmingly white and male. Because of this, there have already been instances of exclusion and sexual harassment by users.
The cost of this type of technology should be taken into consideration when looking at ways to promote diversity within this virtual space. As the metaverse becomes more prominent, it’s important to have it built off the thoughts and work of people everywhere.
Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/.