How to overcome the diversity challenges of the metaverse
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues are vital to the Metaverse because these values are the very foundation of a good user experience.
- Addressing IED issues will be key to encouraging users to return and mainstream emerging technology.
- A well-designed metaverse platform enables users to have experiences beyond their own and to empathize with others.
At Davos 2022, the World Economic Forum announced a new initiative to build a fair, interoperable, and secure metaverse.
In support of this initiative, we examine the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) challenges that different metaverse platforms face as technology advances.
Diversity, equity and inclusion define the metaverse user experience
Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are crucial for metaverse platforms because these values are the foundation of a good user experience, which is essential to mainstream the technology.
A metaverse platform that lacks inclusiveness can give new users a bad first impression. For example, if the first thing female users encounter is sexual harassment or nasty comments about their gender, they may lose interest in coming back to the platform in the future.
Such a failure to engage certain groups of users will prevent the metaverse platform from creating the “network effect” needed to consistently attract mainstream users.
After all, we can see how the network effect – when the value of a product or service increases as the number of people using it increases – has played a vital role throughout the internet history.
User communities vary due to product design of metaverse platforms
Different metaverse platforms have different DEI user bases and challenges due to various factors: platform features and functionality, style, historical background, early adopter culture, etc.
Rec Room and VRChat, for example, have quite different cultures and user groups.
VRChat’s flexibility in avatar customization appeals to more tech-savvy, older users who are more eager to express themselves and more interested in social media.
Unlike VRChat, Rec Room’s style and activities appeal more to younger users who are more into games such as paintball and laser tag.
Meanwhile, web metaverse platform 3 Somnium appeals to people old enough to be interested in investments and collections due to its decentralized finance and non-fungible token features.
DEI Challenges for Centralized and Decentralized Metaverse Platforms
Whether a metaverse platform is centralized – where a single entity governs the network – or decentralized – where a platform is open source and users can largely control their own experiences – profoundly influences the composition of user communities, the platform culture and the DEI issues it faces.
The table below summarizes the strengths and challenges of centralized and decentralized metaverse platforms regarding DEI.
For centralized platforms, the composition of the user community is consciously managed by the partners’ holistic business strategies and long-term product roadmap.
The Roblox ad, for example, is an intriguing combination of different gameplay video clips, trying to appeal to gamers who are looking for adventurous and diverse gaming experiences.
On the other hand, looking in the advertisement of Meta’s Horizon Worlds, we can see Meta covering different social activities and USD avatars of different genders and races to build an image that its platform is for everyone, especially for content creators.
As a relatively new metaverse platform, Meta shows its ambition to embrace mainstream users and its determination to catch up with other platforms by explicitly inviting creators to join.
However, centralized metaverse platforms cause a lot of concern among users because the business model defines the algorithms and overall functionality of the platform.
People are afraid to see metaverse platforms act like some social media apps, which offer provocative but addictive content to increase the average time users spend on it to maximize ad revenue.
Such algorithms can be a hotbed of fake news, hate speech and racism. Jaron Lanier, the founder of the virtual reality field, argues that tech companies should explore new monetization models other than ads to remake the internet.
“We can’t have a society where if two people want to communicate, the only way to do that is if it’s funded by a third party who wants to manipulate them,” he says.
Are decentralized metaverse platforms the way to go?
Decentralized platforms seem to be the solution to the problematic internet culture we currently have – with the user community able to define how decentralized platforms grow, while the token system gives platform developers and users new ways to make profit.
For platforms like Decentraland, the Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) — which is formed by users — supports decision-making such as charging fees, allocating tokens to development efforts, and replacing members responsible for tasks such as contract security.
Yet, decentralized platforms are more likely to attract people who share the same values as DAO members and existing users.
From a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective, the crowdsourcing process is challenging to plan and execute a holistic, long-term DEI strategy to reach users from diverse backgrounds.
Also, the problem-solving process is relatively slow, so when things go wrong, it will take longer for decentralized platforms to work around.
Taking Luna’s collapse as an example, the proposal to save the Terra network from trouble took about seven days to gain community alignment. Compared to the decision speed of Web 2 companies, this process was not efficient enough for a crisis of such magnitude.
Empathy and freedom: what metaverse platforms can offer
A well-designed metaverse platform will allow users to live lives beyond their own and be more empathetic towards different people.
Users can change avatars to experience what it’s like to be another race, another gender, and even another species. They can interact with people who are not normally in their communities.
With all the experiences mentioned above, we can predict that our future generations will be more empathetic towards different groups – it is easier for them to feel the pain and joy of other groups.
Experts believe the Metaverse will represent the next major computing platform, transforming consumer experience and business models across industries.
Fashion brands are an example. Over the years, apparel companies have perfected the design, manufacture, and distribution of apparel to anticipate consumer wants and needs based on seasonal changes. But today, most of their revenue is exceeded by the $3 billion in digital cosmetic item sales in Fortnite, which have cultural significance that extends far into the physical world.
This is one of the economic opportunities of the metaverse – the ability to “assetize” digital content, creating a digital ownership framework for users. If replicated at scale and across sectors, entire industries will be reshaped by shifts in their traditional value chains.
However, the promise rests on the advancement of several key technologies, including augmented, virtual and mixed reality (collectively known as XR), as well as blockchain, connected devices and artificial intelligence. How should they be governed in a way that promotes their economic benefits while protecting the safety, security and privacy of individuals?
The World Economic Forum brings together leading voices from the private sector, civil society, academia and government to answer this exact question. Over the next year, he will organize a multi-stakeholder community focused on metaverse governance and economic and social value creation.
It will recommend regulatory frameworks for good governance of the metaverse and explore how innovation and value creation can be enhanced for the benefit of society. Updates will be regularly posted on the World Economic Forum website.
Additionally, a good metaverse platform will give future generations more freedom to be themselves. People who are fed up with how others treat them because of their identity can take a break from Metaverse platforms.
However, the underlying premise of all the merits above is that metaverse platforms are well-designed. Consideration of IED issues should be built in from day one.