The avatar looks a lot like Fabian Rücker. Brown hair, square glasses, three-day beard. The avatar Rücker does the same movements as the real Rücker, pointing his fingers at the screen, nodding, tilting his head. However, unlike the real thirtysomething, the avatar has no legs. The Metaverse isn’t very good with legs yet, says Rücker. The sensors in the data glasses he’s wearing on his nose in real life right now can record everything and translate it into digital data, except for his legs. They’re just too low, the sensors can’t see them.
If you want to talk to Rücker, you can do so not only face to face, over the phone or with the usual video call providers Zoom or Teams, but also in the Metaverse, more precisely: in Horizon Workrooms, the software tool virtualization line for Facebook’s conference rooms, which is now officially called Meta. “If everyone wore glasses, it would feel like we were really in the same room,” says Rücker. It’s much better than the usual dimly lit video calls, where you keep interrupting or being eerily quiet. If Rücker was successful, the conferences would still take place in the Metaverse. Then the future of work would reside in the 3D Internet.
This is what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dreams of. Probably the biggest Metaverse fan in the world has now renamed his entire group to Meta. This Tuesday, he invites the world to the big Meta Connect conference, where he wants to explain why the Metaverse is more than a bubble about to burst. According to Zuckerberg, the Metaverse is the next big thing, an evolution of the Internet that will revolutionize the way we live and work. It’s supposed to be a kind of three-dimensional internet that integrates with the real world. Each user then roams the metaverse with special glasses on their nose and represented by an avatar and operates the websites, which will then no longer be boring sites, but their own interconnected worlds, by voice command or by waving their hand.
It still doesn’t work at all or only partially. And many attempts to portray the Metaverse as a big deal are mostly met with malevolence, because of the general lack of legs and because avatars and virtual worlds look alike more to mediocre comics. But consultancy McKinsey sees the potential for up to five trillion euros in “value creation” in the metaverse by 2030. Many companies have already invested, not just Facebook and other tech companies and of video games, but also Nike, Walmart, the dating company App Tinder, the German eyewear chain Mr. Spex, where you can try on glasses virtually, or Ikea, where you can already equip your own rooms with virtual Billy shelves . And so there are employment opportunities.
Job opportunities not only for employees of large companies, but also for brand and communication consultants, for programmers, designers and other freelancers like Rücker. He’s not one to promote the Metaverse itself, not just because of the leg or because a lot of people get seasick when they wear data glasses like that and feel like their brains go on a roller coaster. “We are still at the very beginning of development,” says Rücker. “But in my opinion, this is a technology of the absolute future. If you take care of it early, you will find a green meadow that you can shape.” This is true even if some of the metaverse turns out to be hype. After all, there have to be people who explain everything that is wrong.
More than a quarter of freelancers expect new job prospects in the metaverse
Nearly 50% of all freelancers in the tech industry in Germany, Austria and Switzerland want to further their education for the future of the Metaverse, according to a survey by Freelancermap, a freelancer placement platform. More than a quarter expect new job prospects in the Metaverse. “At the moment, the term metaverse still seems very abstract, it is mainly used for marketing”, explains Thomas Maas, boss of Freelancermap. “But big business has already spent so many billions that there’s no turning back.” However, the company Freelancermap is not yet investing in the metaverse, for example in virtual 3D rooms for job interviews, it is still too early for this and the niche is too small. “But now is the right time for independents to position themselves as early movers.” Maas says it remains to be seen what specific jobs will result from early hardware and software developer jobs, for example in computer security. “If you know it before companies know themselves, they have to spend a lot of money on freelance fees, especially since there’s a shortage of skilled workers.”
Rücker is someone who values business. The 30-something is a nerd specializing in “virtual reality” (VR) and “augmented reality” (AR). When the first data glasses hit the market, he immediately bought one and formed groups with like-minded people on the internet who are experimenting with virtual reality and augmented reality. Since 2016, he has been researching and doing his doctorate on the subject at the “Fraunhofer Institute for Graphic Data Processing”. Last year, he went freelance as a Metaverse consultant. Since then, he has shown industrial clients, for example, how the planning of factories could be improved if they could be visualized in augmented or virtual reality before the factories existed. Or he gives workshops to employees in companies that are starting to deal with the subject but have not yet developed much of their own expertise. “There are still huge technical challenges for which we are not even beginning to have a solution,” he says. “But over time this technique will become more common and the term metaverse will seem less tasteless to us.”
Germans are more reserved than Americans, says Rücker
Rücker enjoys the role of technological explainer and future advisor, the “pioneering work”, he says. And at least now most business people have heard of the term metaverse. “In Germany we are very conservative,” says Rücker. “Of course there are technology enthusiasts, but most are very skeptical.” In the US, the Oculus Quest Data Glasses were one of the most popular Christmas gifts last year. It is true that glasses are more on the wish list of video game fans than people who see them as business opportunities. But the more people have one, the more normal it would be to use it at work too. “Everything adapts much more slowly in Germany,” says Rücker. One of the first objections he almost always hears in workshops: no one wants to spend so much time in the Metaverse with their cartoon-like avatars. Rücker always retorts the same thing: many people look at a two-dimensional screen twelve hours a day, even if theoretically nobody wants it. It would be better to integrate virtual elements into reality.
Nevertheless, he finds that a lot has happened in the past year and that curiosity is growing, not least because German business leaders have also noticed Mark Zuckerberg’s optimism – and after all, he often sniffed out major developments on the Internet. “A lot of people don’t want to lose contact,” observed Rücker. It brings freelance jobs. “Big companies are easier to get their foot in the door than small ones because they have bigger budgets to try out innovations.” To book a freelancer like him, you just have to cross a relatively low threshold. He has been sold out for months and, on the LinkedIn social network, he regularly receives requests from companies who would like to hire him permanently.
By the way, if you want to talk to Rücker, you don’t have to meet him in a boring virtual conference room. You can also play mini golf with him in virtual reality. Through the data glasses it looks like you actually have a golf club in your hand. “It’s really real,” says Rücker. “And it’s so cliché that the most important stores in golf are closed.”