The Metaverse is meant to be for everyone, right? There’s a lot of talk about an “open and interoperable” metaverse, and while this certainly sounds like the ultimate end goal we should all be striving for, it may be a little more difficult to achieve than many of us realize. As it stands, about 3 billion people lack access to the internet, and in Africa, only around 33% of the population have web access. If more than one-third of the world still cannot access the internet, and thus the digital economy, it stands to reason that an open and inclusive metaverse isn’t exactly forthcoming. And moreover, with the price of metaverse tech such as headsets and gloves, the average consumer simply can’t afford to buy in and participate. Let’s take a closer look at the current challenges the Metaverse faces and what will need to happen in order for it to become a reality.
A Deepening Digital Divide
It’s no secret that inequality as a whole is growing worldwide. In fact, Lance Roberts of Investing.com just declared that “there really is no middle class any longer.” This echoes the sentiments of famous French economist Thomas Piketty who more or less predicted the decline of the middle class in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century which released all the way back in August 2013. The COVID-19 Pandemic as well as the ongoing War in Ukraine has served to deepen the economic woes of people all over the world, plunging many into poverty and destitution. What’s more, many experts have said that a global recession in 2023 is “100% likely.”
Inequality is a divide, and if there’s a growing divide between rich and poor, it means that access to amenities such as food, housing, electricity and sanitation facilities is decreasing. Europe is facing an energy crisis , which therefore means that many nations in the rest of the world face a similar (and surely more troublesome) crisis. With Europe’s sudden and voracious demand for energy, countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh may find it nearly impossible to secure energy for a reasonable price (or even an unreasonable one). The end result is extended blackouts which could last for many hours or even days on end.
And without electricity, there’s no way for people to engage in more meaningful or higher order activities like doing work online or acquiring new skills via the internet. As it stands, the digital divide is set to grow, not diminish, and unless several major issues are addressed in the near future, I strongly doubt that the open and inclusive metaverse will come into being anytime soon.
Great Tech, But High Prices
There are many metaverse projects out there, but the vast majority are just carbon copies of Minecraft or VRChat if we’re honest. And while there are some noteworthy efforts, most of them can be accessed via a web browser, so while they may be easier to join and try out, it’s a little generous to call them “metaverses” since they’re not in VR. However, if you want to try out virtual reality and get involved in “The Metaverse,” you’ll need to have at least $400 if you want to buy the 128 GB version of the Meta Quest 2 . Obviously there are options like Google Cardboard which only cost around $15, but while this is an interesting project, it doesn’t really qualify as a VR headset and is more of a way for people who don’t have easy access to VR to get some idea of how it works.
The fact of the matter is that, even though VR tech is improving, it’s still well out of reach for most people. Moreover, with my Meta Quest 2, I’ve already bought several accessories and add-ons to make the headset more comfortable and improve my gaming experience (which is still not without its problems). In other words, if you want to have a decent experience that is somewhat comfortable, you’re going to have to pay for it. You could even opt for a more expensive headset like the Meta Quest Pro which has several advantages over the Quest 2, but you’ll need to fork out $1,500 for it, over three times the price of the base-level Quest 2.
And let’s not forget about all the awesome VR tech you can buy: haptic gloves, haptic vests, VR shoes and treadmills…all sounds good, yeah? Well it does sound good, but if you want, say, the latest G1 haptic gloves from HaptX , you can expect to pay at least $4,500 and up to $5,500. That’s a crazy amount of money! A haptic vest such as those offered by bHaptics is a lot more affordable, but again, you’ll need at least $300 to buy the cheapest one. What I’m trying to say is that, right now, if you want an immersive metaverse experience, you can expect to pay several thousands of dollars for the pleasure.
Out of Reach
The Metaverse sounds amazing, and its potential for humanity is enormous. But as long as headsets and the equipment necessary to truly immerse yourself within a virtual environment remain as expensive as they are, uptake may be a little bit lower than desirable. It’s great to see so many innovations and products coming out in this effort to build the Metaverse, but with economic woes increasing and the rising cost of living, one must ask whether this lofty ideal will ever truly come to fruition.
I have little doubt that the coming years will see many more impressive inventions and solutions, but just how effective and affordable those will be is beyond me. If we really want the Metaverse to become a thing, we’ll need to deal with a lot of serious issues first so that we can increase participation and make life better for people everywhere.
So do you think an open and inclusive metaverse will ever come to be? Or will it be something only a select few will ever be able to truly enjoy? Let us know your thoughts!