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June 7, 2022

ABBA Voyage may change the definition of the metaverse – for the good

A digitally-altered residency concert by pop group Abba, featuring a live band together with life-size ‘ABBAtars’, is likely to go down in tech history as a mass market metaverse milestone – not least of all because it is likely to change popular understanding of what ‘the metaverse’ is, and how it can be experienced.

The digital concert, dubbed ABBA Voyage, premiered May 26, 2022, at ABBA Arena in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. ABBA Voyage is a milestone as challenges the popular assumption that all metaverse experiences require end-users to first invest in – and then wear – heavy and uncomfortable virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) headsets, enter into a virtual environment as an avatar, and interact with other avatars, whilst all the time sitting alone, in front of a PC. That definition is too limiting, and vendors shooting for this version of the metaverse along such strictly limited lines risk missing out on simpler, more mass market opportunities.

The human interface is key

Up until now, many in the technology industry have attempted to narrow the definition of metaverse experiences to those which require AR or VR headsets, incorporate blockchain and facilitate bitcoin exchanges and require users to be part of an online immersive experience, as an avatar themselves. To be sure, these technologies are all maturing nicely, and are set to create new work and play use cases. But let’s not forget the most intuitive and easily commercially monetizable interface of them all – the human one.

ABBA Voyage is a live show, for which concert-goers can buy tickets and attend in person, very much as they would any other show. The band accompanying the songs are also live; however, the ABBA band-member performances have been pre-recorded and rendered as digital, life-size avatars – or ‘ABBAtars’ – on stage.

The concert is about seeing, hearing, believing, and its real appeal is that – with a little suspended disbelief and a hefty dose of nostalgia – concert-attendees can successfully persuade themselves that they are enjoying a real-life concert of their favourite band, performing in the heyday of their 1970s-era youth and musical peak.

ABBA fans care about the experience

The actual name of the technologies powering the visual effects – whether mixed reality, virtual reality, holographic rendering or artificial intelligence, metaverse or early-metaverse – is neither here nor there, to the average ABBA fan. What’s important is the experience.

Showgoers have reported superior digital images and effects. Artificial intelligence and motion capture technology have created four young ABBAtars still able to work their magic on a crowd, and the emotional appeal of a set list of globally-loved hits is likely to seal the experience – a real one, in a digitally-altered context.