The news about the Metaverse could hardly be more different - sometimes the Facebook founder loses 71 billion euros because his investment in the supposedly next step of the Internet causes his company's stock price to drop, sometimes the EU organizes a first party in the Metaverse, to which but then only six avatars appear. And at the same time, the calls for a company or even the entire country to raise their profile here are hardly missing in any economic policy speech.
This is also the case in Hamburg, and some agencies have set out to tailor their offerings to the Metaverse – such as Demodern. The company, which also runs a branch in Cologne, is located in the old piano factory in the Schanze, and applications are being programmed in the greater area. Kristian Kerkhoff and Alexander El-Meligi, the two managing directors, talk about their view of the Metaverse and the Hamburg location: "It's just developing here."
WELT AM SONNTAG: Your company creates applications for the Metaverse, among other things. How many times in conversation do you have to emphasize that you're not part of Mark Zuckerberg's realm?
Kristian Kerkhoff: You mean because many think he invented the Metaverse or runs it alone? That actually happens every now and then. But of course that's not true.
WELT AM SONNTAG: But?
Kerkhoff: Meta, meaning Zuckerberg, tries to define his version of the Metaverse and start as early as possible to create an infrastructure that makes it easier for others to join later. And he makes software that allows individuals or companies to create individual virtual rooms for themselves. The whole thing is of course linked to the Meta accounts and also to the sale of VR glasses, so his future business model is behind it. That was definitely a smart move.
WELT AM SONNTAG: And where do you find yourself in that?
Alexander El-Meligi: In fact, the Metaverse is much more, for us it is an umbrella term for many different experiences that are also device-independent. The Metaverse can be experienced with a headset, but this can also be done via a web platform or on a mobile device. Everywhere different things are possible in a new way, whether in education, collaborating in a shared space or for industry making their machines tangible.
Kerkhoff: It is crucial to understand that the metaverse is persistent. Time moves on here, things that I change in common rooms stay that way. I go out and I go back in, and things have completely changed in the meantime because others have continued in it.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Then let's talk about education. This is already being advertised a lot.
Kerkhoff: Because it makes it so clear what is possible. It was recently reported that the first metaverse spaces were started in Japan to inform or educate children and young people through an experience. The next generations learn here through shared experiences, for example when they move about in history lessons themselves in past times and perhaps take part in a session of the Roman Senate. And not alone, but with the others who are also in the room.
You can tap your schoolmates and only exchange with them. And that's how it will be in the lectures at the universities, you sit together in a room and can share it with everyone or just a few and change it further.
WELT AM SONNTAG: And that is the main difference to applications that we already know today? Some things don't seem really new.
El-Meligi: For us, the Metaverse is an evolution of the Internet from a 2D medium that I read on a website to a 3D spatial representation and experience. How this is designed, whether as a classic laptop/desktop application or as an augmented reality application via VR glasses, is open for the time being. We are currently doing a lot of educational work with our customers and are looking together for the right solution in each case. This is a journey we are all just beginning on.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Anyone who has been living in this digital world for a little longer remembers “Second Life” – but as a second world, that was only a brief hype. Why should it be different this time?
El-Meligi: Sure, a lot of people still have that in their heads. But that won't happen again because we've evolved on many different levels. Above all, we are technologically advanced, devices have long been communicating with each other through the 5G networks. Second Life was more of a closed platform that worked like a game, but the Metaverse is open to interfaces and other systems.
In addition, the users are culturally advanced. Due to the Corona period, many people have gotten used to doing their jobs digitally. And it is becoming increasingly clear that this opens up completely new possibilities, for example for where you live. The physical proximity to the company is becoming less important and this is where the metaverse can play an important role by opening up new common spaces. Many companies will no longer find skilled workers if they do not offer this. And that helps companies in other ways too.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Namely?
Kerkhoff: In the future we will have to pay a lot more money for energy than we have known from the past decades. Travel is also becoming more expensive. To escape these costs, we are changing the way people communicate. In Germany we have many world market leaders, especially in mechanical engineering, who cannot just send their new developments around the world to present them. They will invite their customers to the Metaverse and be able to provide insights that would otherwise not be possible. For all these reasons - and a few more - Second Live was certainly a good test balloon back then, but it can no longer be compared to the world today.
WELT AM SONNTAG: But aren't the reservations in Germany still great?
Kerkhoff: That can at least be deduced from the fact that the willingness to invest is much greater in the USA or in Asia, for example. Sony has just invested in Epic Games, a computer games company. She is planning her own Metaverse platform as a counterpoint to Zuckerberg. In Germany, this is only now developing.
WELT AM SONNTAG: As with the users, the idea that there are products that they only want to own in this virtual world?
El-Meligi: It's been around in the gaming sector for a long time, people buy swords or vehicles or whatever. But the metaverse is more than that, it basically doesn't reflect individual rooms, but the world. Concert experiences are just as possible here as club visits or workshops and much more.
A big vision of many companies is that they can digitize their products, because Generation Z or Alpha no longer differentiate between physical and digital products. This is a great opportunity for companies to sell their products digitally as a digital asset. Then the avatar wears the special sneakers because of me and it is only one option to actually have them delivered to your home.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Investments are already being made in works of art or videos that are only available online.
Kerkhoff: The idea of these NFTs and Web3 is that ownership on the Internet can be decentralized to the users. And an NFT is then nothing more than the title deed for these individual objects. This requires a kind of technical legitimation. And that is what blockchain technology can guarantee. Only then does it make sense that I buy my digital shoes in these digital shops. In order for me to have the feeling that a product belongs to me, I need a technology that assures me of this. But even that is only part of the Metaverse.
WELT AM SONNTAG: How much do you have to be a nerd in the end to be able to use all of this at all? That is also a question for the cohesion of a society.
Kerkhoff: It's true, at the moment you have to be nerdy for some things. But you used to have to do that if you wanted to create a blog, for example. Today that is no longer a question, there are platforms that do it with one click. Having no barriers will be important for the development of the Metaverse, and we hear that again and again in our customer discussions. That's why we also rely on web technology, because the web is always open, accessible and accessible via any device. As a user, you don't have to program anything and you don't even need an app.
El-Meligi: On cohesion: For example, we developed a metaverse concept for a company, so the question was: What do our avatars actually look like? And: Do we actually have to integrate wheelchairs for avatars? They wanted to show a certain diversity. Are there women and men at all, or is gender defined by something else, perhaps by clothing? There are still many unanswered questions overall, but that will always be the case – the Metaverse is an ongoing dynamic process.
WELT AM SONNTAG: What else is important for companies, what is the biggest challenge at the moment?
El-Meligi: Although many companies have digitized their internal processes, they need digital twins of their products for the Metaverse, i.e. 3D data and not just photos. If a machine builder wants to explain their development or help repair it, then that machine in the Metaverse has to work just like it does in real life. Only then does the transmission work, and that also applies to applications in medicine, for example.
Kerkhoff: And then the feedback must also be organized. If a tire bursts on a vehicle on the road under certain conditions, the digital twin must also receive this information in order to improve production. It depends on these interfaces, which are high investments at the beginning. But it can also save you a lot of money afterwards. It is important to start investing in this infrastructure now.
WELT AM SONNTAG: Doesn't that sound a bit threatening?
El-Meligi: There are very different feelings among the generations. Incidentally, that's why a lot of companies come to us and say we have to tackle the topic of metaverse now because we realize that otherwise we won't be relevant to our target group anymore. And others see them hiring thousands of people worldwide every year. They are looking for a process to make the onboarding of these new employees much more efficient and target group-oriented. This is how you become an exciting employer. It's like an evolution step that's kicking off now that's new to everyone but has absolutely a lot of benefits.