Immersion is a necessity when it comes to the metaverse. As companies invest in metaverse experiences, they must understand that consumers will engage with their digital world in a different way — new sensations, new interactions, new perceptions.
In other words, it all needs to work on a fundamental level. Metaverse experiences that feel hollow, unnatural, overwhelming, cumbersome or boring will fail to capture a customer to a higher degree than those same qualities in present-day products. Today, an app that is difficult to use will cause a high degree of churn — those that remain might do so out of inertia. In the metaverse, however, that kind of experience can be a total dealbreaker.
High-quality experiences will be table stakes for leading brands in the metaverse. User experience testing can help organizations achieve that goal by understanding where points of friction occur, and why. But it’ll take a more thoughtful, continuous and fine-tuned approach to understand what delights and frustrates users in this fast-evolving medium.
Five criteria for better metaverse experiences
As you consider your posture in the metaverse, remember that your success hinges on the user’s experience with your brand — and that experience will change dramatically from what the user was previously accustomed to. Everything from in-store experiences to fully digital engagement will be shaped in some way by the metaverse as it blends our digital and physical realities.
Prioritize these five criteria in your metaverse development and testing efforts.
1. Foster social experiences that don’t cause headaches.
VR headsets from companies such as Meta, Sony, Samsung and HTC have been a trendy gaming and entertainment item for the past few years. These same headsets will become lighter and less cumbersome as metaverse experiences evolve, but there are still some early lessons we can take from VR headset adoption — namely, that there tends to be a point of abandonment. Many consumers buy a VR headset, enjoy the novelty experience, and then stop using it — an issue that many of the top brands are grappling with.
There are several reasons why this abandonment occurs. One reason is fatigue. Full digital immersion is a new experience for the vast majority of humans, even for those that can’t stand to be away from their phones for a few hours. Some users experience eye strain, headaches, dizziness and even nausea when they wear VR headsets, especially with prolonged exposure. While these issues can dissipate over time, and headsets might evolve to counteract these issues, they nonetheless make it difficult to sway some users. User experience testing to understand the various types of ailments and whom they affect can go a long way in future hardware and software development.
Another reason for abandonment is the lack of social experiences. While the metaverse has enormous potential for unlocking immersive social experiences, the early adoption trend has been slow, which means many users don’t have friends or family with similar equipment. Without a social component keeping them engaged, the thrill wears off, and consumers discontinue use. While increased adoption and more gaming options have helped counteract this problem, it’s an area that companies should continue to focus on, gauging the user experience along the way to make sure they can adapt to user expectations and desires.
2. Find the physical and virtual balance.
A metaverse product or app can function entirely as expected and intended, but still deliver an imperfect experience for the user — just like real-world products might function according to requirements but inadequately account for the user’s perspective. These challenges, however, are heightened in the metaverse, where physical and digital worlds must blend seamlessly.
Let’s consider the physical world. When wearing a virtual reality headset, there’s a level of both vulnerability and a lack of spatial awareness on the part of the user. This is how people end up punching their televisions or, worse, their roommates. Metaverse products that immerse the user must put sufficient, yet not wholly restricting safeguards in place so that a user can interact with their environments in a safe way. Or, in the case of in-store retail environments, consider the use of phones and other emerging devices in an AR capacity. Understanding a customer’s very specific location in the store can be helpful to deliver useful promotions, such as an advertising company delivering relevant promotions for two adjacent mall stores.
Virtual boundaries are equally important in an immersive setting, as they are much different than the flat, 2D experiences we tend to encounter today. While you can’t (yet) feel a person’s weight on you in the metaverse if they — let alone a dozen virtual people — stand on top of you, it will still be an uncomfortable experience. Large groups of people magnify that problem, and people prone to claustrophobia might struggle with these immersive experiences.
Even in the blending of physical and virtual worlds, there is some nuance to consider. Immersion will be key for some metaverse experiences; interruptions to those experiences might be necessary, or they might create friction. For example, interrupting a user wearing a headset during an immersive meditation won’t be ideal, but if there’s someone at the door, the interruption might be necessary.
3. Take an iterative approach.
Development organizations know the benefit of an iterative process. Regular iteration with usability testing for metaverse-related products is equally useful to understand how customers are perceiving and using products.
New software and hardware will continue to come out at a fast pace. Look no further than the developer notes that companies like Meta post, which share details of the latest builds — really showing the evolution of a product. These new builds often reflect user feedback on new features and releases, whether collected from usability testing or bug reports. Likewise, graphics and performance capabilities will continue to improve. Integrations with different devices and apps will also expand.
All of these affect the user experience, often in good ways, but sometimes in bad, unintended ways. A constant cadence of usability testing might feel like a big undertaking, but it’s fundamentally important to understand how all these changes are being perceived by the person who matters most: your user.
Companies must understand that the user’s perspective will ultimately define the norms of this new evolution in digital experiences. Users expect to see a check-out cart in the top-right of the browser, and a hamburger menu on the top-left to toggle through options — these standards are not yet strongly established in the metaverse, but users will be the ones that shape them, because you can’t dictate an intuitive experience to users.
4. Test with unique demographics.
Not all consumers come from the same places, have the same values or want the same things from their metaverse experiences. Issues like language support or accessibility are heightened in the metaverse, where real-time experiences, either social or promotional, are central to many brands’ strategies. Broaden usability testing efforts to include different demographics to identify valuable insights that help deliver more relevant experiences.
Consider too that some metaverse experiences will be shaped for a very specific audience. A company might develop a product or app for people on the autism spectrum, or for very affluent retail shoppers, or for a very specific age demographic and/or geography, such as recent college graduates in the northeast United States. In these circumstances, targeted UX studies aren’t just helpful — they’re absolutely essential. And by branching out of a specific geographic area or market, you can better understand how your product will scale in a real-world setting.
Localization testing, mixed in with some usability testing, can help you validate many aspects of the in-market experience, such as whether translations resonate and connectivity meets the user’s expectation. Localization comes with many nuances, and it’s an area where many businesses struggle today in a proven mobile landscape, let alone in the metaverse, where organizations might be even more prone to missteps at launch.
Back to accessibility for a moment. Organizations that prioritize inclusive design have a very real opportunity to deliver improved real-world experiences for persons with disabilities (PwDs). For example, a blind person might need a salesperson’s help in a retail store now, but a metaverse-enabled experience might allow them to use their phones or other AR-enabled devices to receive an audio prompt for directions to an item, and again to find it on the shelf. In these cases, accessible metaverse experiences can be a true business differentiator, but it requires thorough customer journey and usability testing with actual PwDs.
5. Manage devices and testers.
It’s one thing to put a product on the market where, ideally, customers flock to buy it. It’s another thing to find a representative group of target users and place a product or prototype in their hands to participate in testing, which presents a logistical challenge that many organizations can’t manage. Even if you get the device in the participants’ hands, it’s another challenge to set up a rig to capture both the screen displaying the metaverse experience and the tester’s bodily response to it.
Simply put, if you develop products intended to enhance metaverse experiences, you must put a plan in place to address these challenges from the beginning. Use a software testing partner, like Applause, to manage products and source real-world testers, or otherwise recruit and hire a team to handle the task internally. It’s worth the investment to learn how real people interact with real products in real locations and settings around the world — lab environments can’t recreate these.
Some built-in beta testing options and resources exist for metaverse apps and experiences, such as the Oculus Developer Center. These can be helpful to amateur and professional developers of metaverse experiences, but major pre-launch products will still require UX studies to gauge the human response.
Finding the time and resources
Sound like a lot of work? Well, it is. But you don’t have to do it alone.
For Applause, testing in the metaverse is just another day in the office. We source digital experts all around the world, whether you need seasoned testers or UX participants. You define the criteria (demographics, geography, devices and other needs) and we quickly provide vetted experts for the scale and scope of testing you require.
Applause’s experienced UX researchers analyze study results as part of a fully managed solution, enabling you to leverage curated user insights and expert recommendations as you foray into the metaverse, or any other digital platform. We can commission entire UX studies or simply help you scale internal efforts to help gain useful insights and improve customer loyalty.
Contact us today to tell us more about your digital quality and UX goals.