Editorial: How Global Supply Chain Disruptions Are Going to Impact Social VR Platforms and the Building of the Metaverse

It’s not just apples that are unavailable lately—it’s just about everything!

You probably have noticed it when you were shopping, either online or in a bricks-and-mortar store: some items are completely unavailable, and when they are available, they are more expensive. What’s going on?

The global coronavirus pandemic has hit manufacturing supply chains hard, and experts are saying it could take as long as two years for the mess to sort itself out. The New York Times reports (here’s an archived version if you get stopped by a paywall):

The challenges…are a testament to the breadth and persistence of the chaos roiling the global economy, as manufacturers and the shipping industry contend with an unrelenting pandemic.

Delays, product shortages and rising costs continue to bedevil businesses large and small. And consumers are confronted with an experience once rare in modern times: no stock available, and no idea when it will come in.

In the face of an enduring shortage of computer chips, Toyota announced this month that it would slash its global production of cars by 40 percent. Factories around the world are limiting operations — despite powerful demand for their wares — because they cannot buy metal parts, plastics and raw materials. Construction companies are paying more for paint, lumber and hardware, while waiting weeks and sometimes months to receive what they need…

The Great Supply Chain Disruption is a central element of the extraordinary uncertainty that continues to frame economic prospects worldwide. If the shortages persist well into next year, that could advance rising prices on a range of commodities. 

Consumers are getting a painful lesson in the intricate interconnectedness of markets, where shortages and delays in some products have made it impossible to manufacture others, causing cascading failures in the global supply chain:

A giant ship that became lodged in the Suez Canal this year, halting traffic on a vital waterway linking Europe to Asia for a week, added to the mayhem on the seas. So did a series of temporary coronavirus-related closures of key ports in China.

The world has gained a painful lesson in how interconnected economies are across vast distances, with delay and shortages in any one place rippling out nearly everywhere.

A shipping container that cannot be unloaded in Los Angeles because too many dockworkers are in quarantine is a container that cannot be loaded with soybeans in Iowa, leaving buyers in Indonesia waiting, and potentially triggering a shortage of animal feed in Southeast Asia.

(I’d encourage you to go over and read the entire NYT article; it’s a great read.)

So, what does the Great Supply Chain Disruption mean for the metaverse? Well, it’s been getting harder and harder for some companies to reliably source computer chips and other components for devices such as VR and AR headsets. It’s also been difficult to get CPUs and GPUs for higher-end gaming computers needed to power PCVR; the rising demand for these chips by cryptocurrency miners around the world has only exacerbated the shortage, and driven up prices.

I know that I have been dismayed at the relative lack of products as I seek to replace my now four-and-a-half year old desktop computer. And the worst part is this: nobody can predict when this situation will improve, and it might even get worse before it gets better! If I were you, I’d be doing my Christmas shopping NOW, and drawing up a Plan B should the gifts you want to buy are unavailable.

Steel yourself that we will be continuing to go through a period of uncertainty and unpredictability when it comes to metaverse products, both hardware and software. Expect timelines for the development of many social VR platforms to be impacted (even if it’s something as simple as being unable to obtain computer equipment for the developers to properly test things).

Kickstarter has a page of advice on how to handle the disruptions. Here’s a summary:

  1. If you haven’t launched yet, build shipping delays into your plans.
  2. If your campaign is live or you’re currently working to fulfill your project, over-communicate.
  3. If you’re a backer [of a Kickstarter project], extend your support.

Be patient! We will get through this. Remember: it’s not a struggle, it’s a wiggle 😉

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