Why “metaverse” will be more than a buzzword

The term metaversa was coined by American writer Neal Stephenson in his 1993 science fiction hit Snow Crash. But what was a long-distance fiction 30 years ago is now approaching reality. In Facebook’s most recent earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company’s vision to unify communities, creators and commerce through virtual reality: “Our overall goal in all of these initiatives is to help bring the metaverse “.

So what is the metaverse? It is best explained as a collection of 3D worlds that you explore as an avatar. Stephenson’s original vision represented a 3D digital realm in which users interacted in a shared online environment. Located in the wake of a catastrophic global economic shock, the metaverse a Snow Crash emerged as the successor to the Internet. Subcultures emerged alongside new social hierarchies, with users expressing their status through the emergence of their digital avatars.

Today, virtual worlds are being formed along these lines, populated and already generating serious money. House names like Roblox i Fortnite they are the most established spaces; however, there are many more emerging ones, such as Decentraland, Highlands, Sandbox, and will be released soon Victoria VR.

These metaverses are reaching their peak at a time when reality feels dystopian, with a global pandemic, climate change and economic uncertainty plaguing our daily lives. The pandemic, in particular, caused many of us to escape reality to online worlds such as now Roblox i Fortnite. But these spaces have proven to be a place where human creativity can flourish in the midst of the crisis.

In fact, we are currently experiencing an explosion of platforms parallel to the dotcom boom. While many of these fledgling digital worlds will become what Ask Jeeves was for Google, it predicts that a few will match, or even surpass, the scale and reach of the tech giant.

As the metaverse brings a new dimension to the Internet, brands and companies will need to consider their current and future role within it. Some brands are already paving the way and establishing a new genre of marketing in the process: direct to avatar (D2A). Gucci has sold a virtual bag for more than the real thing Roblox; Nike dropped the virtual Jordans Fortnite; Coca-Cola launched a portable avatar device Decentraland, and Sotheby’s has an art gallery that your avatar can walk around in their spare time.

Blockchain technology and the emergence of digital property through NFT or non-fungible tokens are supercharging D2A. NFTs are already making waves in art and games. More than $ 191 million was processed in the blockchain game “play to win” Axie Infinity in the first 30 days of this year. This type of growth makes it difficult to ignore NFTs. In the process, blockchain and crypto are beginning to feel less and less like “outside technology”. There are still great barriers to overcome: the UX of cryptography is one, and the other the impactful environmental impact of mining. I think technology will find a way. The story usually coincides.

From the trip to the promenade

Detractors see the metavers as a pandemic fashion, wrapping it in the current NFT bubble or reducing it to Zuck’s dystopian corporate landscape. Missing the biggest change in behavior is happening between Gen Alpha. When you look at how they play, it’s clear that the metaverse is more than a buzzword.

For Gen Alpha, the game is social life. While millennials travel non-stop, Alphas and Zoomers are increasingly strolling through virtual spaces with their friends. Why spend the night looking at Instagram when you can walk around a virtual Harajuku with your classmates? If this sounds ridiculous to you, ask any 13-year-old what they think.

Large corporations and technology companies are beginning to bet on this future. Sony invested $ 200 million in Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, in the company’s recent $ 1 billion round of financing. Boson Protocol decentralized encryption platform paid $ 700,000 for a virtual real estate plot in Decentraland to build a mall. Facebook pours its piggy bank into a new VR tool and proto-metaverse in the workplace, Horizon.

These companies invest large amounts because they see the younger generations doing the same thing: 87% of Generation Z and 83% of millennials play video games and participate in digital spaces on smartphones, game consoles and computers, at least weekly, if not daily. More than that, more than 65% of Gen Zers have spent money on game items. In schools, chatting about V-Bucks and Robux fill the hallways from the first bell to the last.

Marketing in the metaverse

Where people go, brands will follow. But whether on the metaverse, on a crowded street, or on a commercial break, the rules for companies that want to stand out remain the same.

Creativity is the defining competitive advantage. And in the metaverse, the possibilities for creativity are vast. Because? Because marketing expectations have not yet been defined and the laws of physics do not apply. In short, anything is possible.

Thus, while the first wave of metavers creativity has followed a consistent approach: importing real-world products into virtual spaces, brands should start thinking more creatively about “virtually prime” products and services.

For example, a brand that makes real-world energy drinks could manifest itself as a supplier of rocket packages to the metaverse. Or an IRL carmaker could provide teleportation to the virtual world. It may sound fantastic, but keep in mind that the next generation might discover your brand first in virtual space; so how do you want to be perceived and what positive values ​​can be transferred to the real world?

By thinking “virtually first,” you can see how these spaces become very experimental, creative, and valuable. The products you can design are not tied to physics or marketing convention; they can be anything and are now directly “owners” via blockchain. Interestingly, this offers an opportunity for struggling brands to reinvent themselves in the metaverse; just look at the cryptographic casino that Atari has incorporated Decentraland.

I think the metaverse is here to stay. This means that brands and marketers now have the opportunity to create products that exist in multiple realities. Winners will understand that the metaverse is not a copy of our world, and therefore we should not simply stick our products, experiences, and brands to it.

Like a Snow Crash, we are emerging from economic uncertainty, witnessing the emergence of a new digital frontier. But instead of dystopia, I think the metaverse is a place where creativity and curiosity can flourish like never before.

Nick Pringle is CEO of the digital agency R / GA London.

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