Metaverse, the final frontierJanuary 2022
Odds are that you’ve heard of the metaverse by now — it hit the mainstream radar after Mark Zuckerberg recently announced his plans to rebrand Facebook as Meta and detailed how he aims to build what he conceives as a new version of the internet.
And this next big thing is going to change life as we know it.
Unlocking the metaverse
Think of the metaverse as a space where the physical and digital worlds meet and merge to become a fully virtual reality. It’s essentially a next-generation version of our current internet, an immersive 3D experience that goes well beyond our current two-dimensional tech. Interoperability will play a key role and interconnected virtual worlds will allow people to seamlessly move from one experience to the next.
“Not just another advertising space, it’s projected to revolutionise the way we work, play, interact, communicate and shop.”
Currently more concept than an actual framework, this vision for the next iteration of the internet is still years away from being fully realised, despite all the buzz. Yet the trend towards the metaverse is clear. It has the potential to be more than just another advertising space and could revolutionise the way we work, play, interact, communicate and shop. And brands will have to get on board or risk being left out of the new digital world – and marketplace.
Father, Son and House of Gucci
The social gamer space has become one of the most popular ways for brands to experiment in the metaverse. One example is online game platform Roblox, which sees 43.2 million daily active users from 180 countries, creating massive opportunities for brands looking to meet consumers where they spend their time. The prospect of getting in front of over 40-plus million people is something that most companies would scramble to double down on.
Luxury brand Gucci has dived right in, recently offering a limited digital version of its “Gucci Dionysus Bag with Bee” in the Gucci Garden, its first experiential event on the platform. Four-hundred users snapped it up for 475 Robux (about $6) and it was quickly resold, with one seller walking away with 350,000 Robox (roughly $4,115).
“There’s money to be made in the metaverse, and brands might want to take note”.
That’s right. Over $4,000 for a digital bag, more than the $3,400 a physical one costs in real life. While the item has no value outside the virtual world, the sale is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s money to be made in the metaverse, and brands might want to take note.
The NFT boom
Non-fungible tokens are another way that companies can tap into the potential of the metaverse, bridging the gap between the virtual and real world. NFTs are items that are made and traded in the metaverse and include anything from avatar “skins” to digital art. Backed by blockchain technology that certifies their authenticity and uniqueness, NFTs can be traded over and over, potentially increasing in value every time they change hands.
Although some have voiced doubts about their long-term feasibility, scores of brands, including big names like Coca-Cola, Warner Bros. and Hyundai, have jumped on the NFT bandwagon. The move has proved highly profitable for some: Gucci’s recent sale of its “Proof of Sovereignty” digital art piece was auctioned off for close to a million dollars at Christie’s and Taco Bell’s collection of taco-themed NFTs had collectors asking for close to $200,000 on the resale market.
Dating platforms swipe right
Companies like Tinder and Bumble are also dipping their toes into the metaverse, flirting with ways for dating to thrive in the new virtual world. Taking the cue from gaming platforms like Roblox and Fortnite, where kids and teens deprived of in-person social interaction during the pandemic have gathered to celebrate socially distanced birthday parties and meetups, these big names in dating are looking to the metaverse to help people feel connected.
Dating app Tinder, for example, is exploring “how to blur the boundaries between offline and online worlds”, CEO Renate Nyborg said in an interview at the Reuters Next conference. Revamped experiences and perks include a new “Explore” feature and “Swipe Nights”, a choose-your-own-adventure interactive event. The app is also testing an in-app currency that can be used to pay for premium services. Other dating platforms are keeping up the pace, with Bumble looking into ways to apply blockchain and crypto to its services while delivering ways for members to own their own identity and experience on the app.
Of course, the idea is still to get people to eventually meet in person. But in a Covid and post-Covid world, dating virtually in the metaverse might be the next best thing.
Wave goodbye to zoom fatigue
But luxury brands, gaming platforms and dating are one thing. Designed for entertainment, not work, they occupy only a portion of the complete world that is the metaverse. Much like mobile devices have shaped today’s society, it’s easy to imagine some of the potential ways a metaverse with a full range of users and experiences could change the way we meet or cowork beyond mere monetisation.
“Nothing can replace the “water cooler conversations” of pre-Covid days – except the metaverse”.
Despite being de rigueur in today’s pandemic-stricken world, virtual communication tools like Zoom aren’t without their limitations. The non-verbal cues that make in-person meetings helpful are lost. Zoom fatigue is real. And nothing can replace the “water cooler conversations” of pre-Covid days – except the metaverse.
An immersive virtual world makes natural interactions possible; imagine meeting with people who look like digital versions of themselves, in a physical representation of your office, where you can more easily recognise social cues. In a metaverse, people could attend virtual reality work events like conferences and onboarding meetings. The “formality” of the Zoom call would be gone as employees meet and interact in a more organic, albeit completely virtual, workspace.
“This level of integration makes it easier for users to move from one platform to another as companies gradually evolve towards a fully interconnected metaverse”.
Interoperability plays a crucial role here as well, as evidenced by the recent partnerships between Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) with Microsoft’s Office 365, Sharepoint, OneDrive and Teams. This level of integration makes it easier for users to move from one platform to another as companies gradually evolve towards a fully interconnected metaverse.
Boldly go where no brands have gone before
While the extent to which the metaverse will change our daily lives is yet to be seen, every brand and company will need a long-term metaverse strategy. Similar to how social media profiles and websites work today, being part of the metaverse will be the way that brands reach and interact with consumers.
“There’s no better time for brands to do some early experimentation than now, when the metaverse is still in its nascent days”.
There’s no better time for brands to do some early experimentation than now, when the metaverse is still in its nascent days. Without making a massive initial investment, companies can start small by selling NFTs, dipping their toes into AR and VR experiences, or creating a virtual store or exhibition.
The metaverse is a chance for brands to embrace their own digital transformation. Forward-facing brands will quickly realise the potential of a fully immersive, 3D space, and early adopters can expect to reap rewards: if Roblox can reach some 40 million people a day and Gucci can sell a virtual handbag for more than a real one, the possibilities are truly endless. Brands shouldn’t be afraid to experiment in this new world and should boldly go where no (or few) brands have gone before – or be left behind.
Illustration: Anna Sarvira