The concept of the metaverse has sparked immense curiosity and debate among industry professionals, generating enthusiasm and skepticism in equal measure. At Cannes Next, part of the Marche du Film, a panel discussion featured European metaverse visionaries who highlighted the potential of this emerging technology to reshape the entertainment landscape.
Sophie Hvitved, futurist and senior advisor at the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, set the tone for the panel by emphasizing the importance of long-term thinking. He highlighted the tendency of various industries, including media and film, to focus on short-term returns instead of envisioning future possibilities. Hvitved urged the audience to look beyond the present and consider the transformative potential of generative AI, which has already demonstrated explosive change. He stressed the need to explore the metaverse with a serious and ambitious mindset, acknowledging its potential to revolutionize storytelling, communication and media interaction.
ZOAN CEO Mikka Rosendahl emphasized the continued interest and investment in the Metaverse by major brands. He acknowledged the initial hype surrounding the concept and its subsequent fallout, but stressed that the Metaverse is far from dead. Rosendahl highlighted the growing popularity of gamified experiences among younger generations and the growing demand for immersive entertainment. They discussed ZOAN’s work with global brands like Nike and Meta, indicating a clear interest in building Metaverse experiences and preparing for the future. Rosendahl also touched on virtual entertainment, historical modeling, and the creation of dynamic virtual worlds, demonstrating the diversity of opportunities within the Metaverse.
Julie Sislerova, who works in New Business Development at Brainz Immersive, presented the concept of mixed reality as the logical next step in immersive experiences. She touched on the power of virtual reality (VR) in transporting users to new worlds, but emphasized the potential for physical and digital elements to merge. Sislerova demonstrated a mixed-reality game called Trek Craft, which turns real-world surroundings into a virtual racetrack. The demonstration illustrated the possibilities of blending physical and digital objects, providing an immersive experience beyond the limits of VR headsets. He emphasized the importance of marrying the physical and digital worlds in the Metaverse, viewing it as an important development in storytelling and user engagement.
Ansi Koumulainen, project director at the Finnish innovation fund Sitra, noted key aspects of immersion and persistence within the metaverse. He explained that while traditional metaverse experiences involve diving into virtual worlds for short periods, the future lies in persistent worlds that continue to evolve even when users are not actively involved. Komulainen highlighted gaming as an example of persistent metaverse experiences, where users can immerse themselves in a continuous and dynamic environment. This perspective emphasized the potential for the metaverse to provide lasting, immersive experiences beyond isolated moments, contributing to a more democratic and inclusive form of entertainment.
As the panel discussion progressed, moderator AC Coppens drew attention to the imminent arrival of XR glasses, which are expected to catalyze the reach and quality of metaverse experiences. The panelists agreed that while the initial version of the XR glasses may not revolutionize it, they will undoubtedly raise the level of content and storytelling capabilities. Coppens and the participants emphasized the fact that the Metaverse is not a single company or technology, but a collaborative effort involving many stakeholders including artists, developers, policy makers, and users. He stressed the importance of fostering an open and inclusive ecosystem that encourages innovation, creativity and diverse perspectives.
Building on this idea, Hvitved proposed the concept of a “metaverse sandbox” where creators could experiment, collaborate and iterate on ideas. This sandbox environment will provide a space for artists, developers and users to create and shape the future of the Metaverse. Panelists expressed their optimism about the potential of such an approach, envisioning a metaverse that evolves organically based on collective input and experimentation.
Komulainen brought forth the need for ethical considerations and responsible design principles in the development of the Metaverse. They expressed concern about potential negative effects, such as addiction, privacy breaches, and inequality. The panellists agreed that a proactive approach is necessary to address these challenges and ensure that the Metaverse benefits society as a whole.
The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Metaverse was also discussed. Hvitved mentioned the transformative power of Generative AI in creating dynamic and personalized experiences for users. She said AI algorithms can analyze user data and preferences to generate content tailored to individual interests, allowing for a more immersive and engaging experience.
Rosendahl expanded on this idea by discussing the potential for AI-powered virtual characters or avatars within the metaverse. He described how AI algorithms could enable virtual characters to interact and respond intelligently to users, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. This level of interactivity will enhance storytelling and create deeper connections between users and virtual experiences.
Finally, the panelists also explored the economic aspects of the metaverse. He acknowledged the potential for new business models and revenue streams such as virtual real estate, digital goods and virtual events. However, he cautioned against a purely profit-driven approach, stressing the importance of maintaining a balance between commercial interests and the integrity of the metaverse experience.