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Why this D&AD Jury President thinks the 'hype storm' around the metaverse is about to die down

Unit9’s Rosh Singh won’t define the metaverse, nor does he feel he can

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

Rosh Singh spends a lot of time thinking about the future. As Managing Director of multidisciplinary production studio UNIT9, Singh is forever immersed in questions of how to keep clients at the bleeding edge of technological advancement — and as D&AD’s Gaming & Virtual Worlds Jury President for 2022, he is someone who relishes discussion on the shape of things to come. “One thing I love about being involved in a process like D&AD’s is watching other jury members change each other’s minds,” Singh tells me. “Last year’s judging sparked a lot of debate about what was truly unique, and in the end, we all came out inspired.”

His first Jury Presidency came in 2020, chairing the D&AD New Blood awards; a “completely different kettle of fish” than his current role, but “incredibly insightful for seeing the grassroots perspective on the challenges we face in the industry.” Last year, he served as the first ever Jury President of the Gaming category, and does so again this year with an expanded remit; awards will now be for Gaming and Virtual Worlds, with new subcriteria designed to welcome Web 3.0 and the metaverse. “Expanding it makes perfect sense,” says Singh, “especially given a lot of the conversation around the industry on the so-called ‘metaverse’ — however you define it.”

Singh, for his part, won’t define it; nor does he feel he can, even after working towards some semblance of the idea for the last decade. “It’s not down to any one individual or entity to define what the metaverse is,” he says. “It’ll be an evolution of the way humans and computers interact, as our virtual world becomes more social, and our real world interactions become more information-rich.” In essence, it doesn’t exist yet, but it will — and Singh thinks we may have seen the first green shoots of its full-scale emergence. “There were catalysts during the lockdown period, behavioural changes that really put the wind into the sails.”

“It’ll be an evolution of the way humans and computers interact, as our virtual world becomes more social, and our real world interactions become more information-rich.”

One such seminal moment was the flourishing of games like Roblox and Fortnite during lockdown, as millions of new adopters engaged with the possibilities of the fully-immersive virtual world for the first time. “Younger generations weren’t able to socialise in person, so gravitated to those kinds of platforms,” Singh tells me. “And so when Travis Scott’s partnership launched on Fortnite, to huge success, people really saw how impactful an activation can be on that terrain.” Since then, the level of interest in the coming metaverse has grown exponentially; even Singh has been astounded by the pace of it all. “We’ve seen it coming,” he says, “but I don’t think I was quite ready for how it would take over the world.”

Crucially, however, Singh thinks that the “hype storm” around the metaverse is about to die down, and to its long-term benefit, as clients start to treat it less like a fad and more like a future that they ought to start preparing for. “We’ve seen a few brands launch on platforms like Decentraland and Sandbox, and then stand back to realise: ‘Hey, maybe that wasn’t the best use of our resources.’ Now, clients are coming to us for help with strategic roadmapping, of how the metaverse could benefit their business long-term.”

And as the hype quietens, Singh thinks that it will not be the virtual, hyper-immersive gaming side of things that will come to define the metaverse, but augmented reality. “Don’t get me wrong, gaming platforms are hugely important, but I don’t think they have the scale to drive a cultural turning point.” Instead, Singh is looking towards what he terms the ‘post-smartphone culture’ — “What will replace our iPhone?” — and to his reading of the current shape of things, that replacement will come in some kind of head-mounted display which changes the way we engage with our information.

“We’ve seen a few brands launch on platforms like Decentraland and Sandbox, and then stand back to realise: ‘Hey, maybe that wasn’t the best use of our resources.’”

The technology might even exist already, according to Singh, with this year’s release of the Meta Quest Pro mixed reality headset. “People like to chinstroke with Meta, but I think they’ve released an absolute gamechanger,” Singh says. “The addition of full colour passthrough, giving it the capability to be used for VR and AR, is a huge stepping stone to a future that a lot of us can see looming.” Given its current cost of around one and a half thousand pounds, and its form-factor as a wraparound headset, Singh isn’t tipping it for wide scale adoption — what it is, instead, is a breakthrough device. “It won’t be the most popular choice, it’s not conducive to everyday use, but over the next year, we are going to see a lot of its technology getting applied across the industry and beyond.”

But even if the Meta Quest Pro is unlikely to displace the smartphone, Singh posits that a truly transformative piece of hardware could be around the corner. In fact, more notable than the Quest Pro’s release, was, to Singh, Apple’s continued quietness in this ever-expanding market. “For years, they’ve been very clear that their aspirations are deeply rooted in augmented reality,” he says. “They see that as the future.”

So where are they? “They have that trend about them where they’re never first to market, but when they enter it, they change the game,” Singh tells us, before adding that “the rumour mill around them is incredibly interesting right now.” And for Singh, the real excitement comes not in the specificity of the hardware or the form factor, but the cultural shifts that a truly ubiquitous and scalable device could bring about. “Without the App Store,” Singh notes, “Uber wouldn’t have a business model, AirBnB wouldn’t have a business model, Deliveroo wouldn’t have a business model. Those businesses threw us into a whole new world. I can see that happening again.” 

Written by Kieran Morris

D&AD Awards 2023 is now open for entries. Download the entry kit and submit your work here. Read more insights from jurors into their corners of the creative industries here.

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