The evolution of the internet has brought us new and exciting technologies and often introduced vaguely understood concepts whose meaning varied based on who you asked. Web 2.0, deep web, blockchain, and lately NFTs all come to mind. To an educated and experienced mind, none of these terms present any real quandaries, but to laymen, they were sources of great confusion and speculation. However, none match the mysteriousness of the metaverse that even the experts can’t fully grasp yet.
While most people associate metaverses with Facebook’s 2021 rebrand, it’s actually the former that’s firmly inspired the latter and set a new course for the largest social media company in the world. If metaverses can alter the future of a business titan that is Facebook (now Meta), imagine what they’ve got in store for the future of marketing as a whole.
This article will explore the depths of the metaverse and attempt to make it seem less alien than it really is. By the end of this read, you will have a much better understanding of metaverses, their history, and any implications regarding the future of marketing.
Simply put, a metaverse is an immersive, digital environment, where people can own digital assets, trade them, store them, and create new assets for others to enjoy. To simplify it even further, it’s an entirely digital world for you to pack up and move to.
While “metaverse” has only recently picked up steam on Google Trends and similar analytic tools, the concept itself has been around for much longer. Neal Stephenson was the first to coin the term in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, which envisions the internet as a singular virtual world that people can access using virtual and augmented reality headsets.
Metaverse really is less alien than most media outlets make them out to be except for a daring few (shoutout to Forbes’ own Cathy Hackl and her weekly round-up of all things metaverse). The online multimedia platform called Second Life is the closest the internet’s come to a fully functioning metaverse, all the way back in 2003. In Second Life, the player was represented by their avatar, i.e., a 3D digital representation of the player that you could customize to your liking. The player had individual agency in a self-contained world where their avatar could go to concerts, shop for clothes, go to parties, and attend college classes. It was, as the name suggests, a sort of second life for players to live through their avatars.
We’ve also seen something akin to metaverses in gaming as well. Massively multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft (2004) spawned entire communities of people who would log on to engage and interact with one another. They would explore the world together, go on quests, form guilds, trade, and even marry one another in the game. They were (and still are) very much dedicated to their avatars and the digital assets their avatars own in-game.
Other planetary hits such as Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite were soon to follow, creating loyal and committed player bases that transformed digital worlds to their liking by expressing their creativity and emphasizing individuality and diversity.
In short, that’s what a metaverse is — a digital space for people to interact with and live out the lives of their avatars in as much detail as they want to. The question is, can we have it without gaming?
Seeing as how certain metaverses, or metaverse lookalikes, have already risen to great heights in the past, it begs the question of why the concept remained dormant for so long. Only recently, in the past year or two, has the term come up again, sparking massive interest and inspiring thousands of Google searches.
The obvious culprit for the fairly sudden resurgence of the concept is Facebook. The company’s Meta rebrand left many people wondering about the nature and purpose of such a major change, generating renewed interest in metaverses and their implications. Mark Zuckerberg’s decision raised more than a few eyebrows and restarted the conversation about “a sum of all digital worlds,” as metaverse specialists like to call it.
However, Facebook’s reface to Meta is only a symptom of the underlying developments in tech. As we’ve previously pointed out, the metaverse is a digital environment, where people can own digital assets and trade them. From this, we can deduce that metaverses require three crucial elements:
Just like in Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the advancement of virtual and augmented reality gear was pivotal to the materialization of metaverses. You can’t have immersive digital worlds without high-tech VR/AR implementations. For a metaverse to be truly successful, it needs to do away with the boundaries between digital and physical. Any small hitch that takes you out of your immersion would diminish the player’s experience of the metaverse and make it less desirable.
The adoption of VR has indeed been slow and not without its drawbacks. Now that it’s better developed than ever, with amazing hardware to boost, can we really say that the first condition for a successful metaverse has been met. Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014 now makes complete sense, and it becomes clear that the vision of Meta is anything but new. Metaverses are a direction that Facebook has been going in for a long time now, and the same can be said about other tech titans.
When it comes to digital ownership and asset trading, it should come as no surprise that it’s the blockchain that’s made transparent and secure trading possible. Prior to blockchain and all its advantages, there was no decentralized system people could rely on. Hence, it makes sense that most “metaverses” were actually video games with integrated trading systems that allowed players to obtain wealth and items. You could technically circumvent these integrations and opt for trading on third-party websites, but such activities came with a high risk of getting scammed since game developers never sanctioned trading outside in-game systems.
With blockchain, you can now rest assured that all transactions will be public, transparent, and immutable. There’s no way for you to get cheated out of your hard-earned valuables, making digital asset ownership a reality.
Out of the three conditions for a metaverse to exist, only avatars have been around for a long time. It’s a gaming feature that’s easy to implement in a metaverse, but just as relevant as having a VR headset in the first place.
It’s also worth pointing out that the coronavirus pandemic has put even more emphasis on doing everything online. Now more than ever, people are looking for alternatives to visiting favorite concerts and conferences from the safety of their own homes.
You might have noticed that we alternate between talking about a single metaverse as opposed to a multitude of metaverses. The reason for that is there’s still no consensus over how this digital environment will be implemented.
This is the problem of interoperability. Some, like Matthew Ball, a metaverse expert, and Mark Zuckerberg advocate for a single metaverse that will be a “sum of all digital worlds.” In other words, digital assets you own across different platforms, software, and services should be made available to your avatar in the metaverse. Their idea of the metaverse is the closest to Stephenson’s Snow Crash, as they describe a single digital world that exists parallel to all of the internet. Think of it as an interface for people to connect and experience the internet through their own eyes.
On the other hand, companies such as Microsoft have a more traditional view of what a metaverse should be. To them, a singular digital environment for everyone is highly impractical. It makes sense for people to interact within walled gardens, without access to one massive and overly complex metaverse. In reality, it means they don’t see the need for communities within World of Warcraft to intersect with those of Call of Duty, and perhaps they’re right. They could be very different people with varying interests and mindsets. If nothing else, Microsoft is completely on point about one thing — one all-encompassing metaverse is really impractical and raises many questions. How would you render digital assets from different games? How to solve legal issues pertaining to the intellectual property of these assets?
We could have some answers in the near future, but for now, interoperability remains an issue, and multiple metaverses seem more likely than a singular one.
Metaverse is too big of a venue to be disregarded by marketers. The early adopters of marketing within the metaverse are going to see the most impressive returns on their investments, and there are a couple of reasons for that.
As always, reaching a new audience is one of the major goals of most marketing strategies. The difference here is the kind of audience you’ll be reaching and how. What you’ll find in the metaverse are customers who are mostly immune to regular advertising approaches — millennials and Gen Z.
Millennials are, as of yet, an untapped audience that remembers the days of aggressive and intrusive advertising techniques that’s left them bitter and cynical about most advertising online. They’re also highly mindful of the importance of personal privacy and welcomed the abolition of third-party cookies with open arms.
Members of Gen Z are a different group altogether. They’re expected to be the majority of metaverse users. They don’t have as much money yet as millennials or Gen X do but are expected to surpass them by 2030.
Of all these groups, Gen Z is the most likely to spend its money on metaverses. They’re a generation of customers who spent excessive amounts of cash on Fortnite customizations and who welcome the opportunity for their avatar to stand out from the crowd. They are the most likely age group to purchase digital assets for the sake of having them.
Besides reaching new audiences, the metaverse will give you an opportunity to open new revenue streams. Remember, it’s basically a parallel internet that has all the potential of the regular web. You could try and replicate your usual marketing efforts in this new and uncharted land, or experiment and innovate. Whatever you decide, the potential for additional revenue streams is right there.
It’s also worth mentioning that consumer confidence in the metaverse is going to be much higher. With no centralized structure, both third-party data and first-party data are completely obsolete. That’s where zero-party data comes into the picture. The only data brands will have available is what users decide to share with them willingly. By extension, the metaverse inhabitants will harbor greater trust towards brands as they will know, with great certainty, that they have full control over their private data.
If all of this isn’t enough for you to realize the potential of marketing in the metaverse, here’s something to really sink your teeth in — marketing costs are going to be much lower than they are in the regular, oversaturated web. It’s free real estate (meme intended).
Now, there’s one more advantage, and we feel like we’ve saved the best for last. The metaverse is going to be the future battleground for cryptocurrencies. Which digital currency gets to dominate the metaverse depends on how many marketing agencies they recruit to advertise them. It’s going to be a free for all between crypto-minded businesses.
The greatest advertising minds are already trying to predict (and test) the best strategies to reach the immense metaverse audience. So far, they had the opportunity to experiment within contained and self-sustaining metaverses — video games. Here’s what they found.
As you’d expect, advertising your service as-is could prove to be an excellent method of showcasing what your business can do. In other words, doing in metaverse what you do in real life is the best ad there can be.
That’s what Deliveroo’s been testing in the game called Animal Crossing. The food delivery company hired virtual riders to go around the game world and had them do surprise deliveries of goods, but also promo codes players could activate for a real-life purchase. Within the first hour of the campaign, three million people engaged with the brand in-game.
Nonfungible tokens are the next evolution of blockchain and offer the ability to build collections that grow in value over time. NFTs can be anything from digital art to apparel and music. Humans are collectors by nature, and that’s precisely what NFTs and the multiverse are trying to capture.
Take a digital Derrick Rose layup NBA Top Shot card for example. It costs one million dollars and there’s only one in existence. Becoming the original owner of such an amazing collectible would put you above other collectors and even give your something to bargain with for other collectibles down the line.
There are few things better than a shared experience with other like-minded individuals, and with the advent of metaverses, you’ll be able to enjoy any experience of your choosing in the digital realm. Brands that build experiences gain 25% more brand loyalty, which comes as no surprise since experiential marketing is one of the most important drivers of customer engagement.
Massive interactive live events, live concert performances, and advergames are all powerful drivers of customer engagement.
The identity of your avatar is all that matters in the metaverse. The goods they own, the clothes they wear, and the role they have to play in the metaverse. About 92% of all people who engage in some sort of a metaverse, be it a video game or any other kind, say customization of their virtual avatars is of utmost importance. They are willing to pay real money to buy the digital currency that allows them to improve and change their avatar.
Because of this, the direct-to-avatar (D2A) economy is emerging. It allows companies to sell and retail their virtual products directly to avatars. Naturally, fashion brands are taking advantage of this opportunity. Balenciaga has partnered with Fortnite to design virtual outfits, accessories, and weapons that players can purchase for their avatars. Meanwhile, Gucci has sold a digital bag on Roblox for $4,000.
Native advertising has conquered the regular ad space, so there’s no reason to think it won’t achieve the same results in metaverses.
By nature, advertising is interruptive. While the five-second ad at the beginning of a YouTube video can stop people in their tracks, it can also get annoying. On the other hand, inserting yourself naturally into the platform allows you to engage with users without disrupting their playing experience.
Using native in-game advertising is one way of doing this. Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Volkswagen all have virtual billboards within video games like Football Manager and Hyper Scape. The in-game advertising platform Bidstack revealed that these ads enhanced gameplay realism for 95% of players and increased purchase intent by 12%.
It’s tough to predict which direction the metaverse is going to take. If we get to see a singular metaverse for all people to enjoy, then the biggest challenge this tech is facing is a lack of standardization. Different games and shared spaces use highly varied digital assets, and streamlining them in such a way that makes their rendering possible in the metaverse is going to require a high degree of cooperation between different companies.
In case such impressive interoperability does take place, expect there to be individual APIs that developers will expose to make their digital assets available in the metaverse. A brand that would like to sell its digital goods would then have to develop an API of its own to reach the audience within the metaverse.
Metaverses are, generally speaking, suffering from high unpredictability. The main cause of this unpredictability is that most successful experiments have been run in video game environments. There’s a good chance that people won’t find metaverses that attractive or interesting without gaming mechanics. The fact that metaverses resemble video games style-wise does not mean they offer the same amount of entertainment or substance. Purchasing a digital pair of sneakers for your avatar could be fun, but ultimately unfulfilling as there’s no tangible effect on your experience within the metaverse.
Q: What can you do on metaverse?
A: You can customize avatars, go to concerts, create scenes, games, and art, purchase real estate, and much more. Think of it as a digital representation of the real world.
Q: Is the metaverse real?
A: The metaverse is as real as the internet itself. For as long as you have a connection to the internet, you will be able to access this digital environment and all it has to offer.
Q: Does metaverse shut down when you leave?
A: Metaverse runs in real-time and is constantly live. Your leaving won’t change anything except remove your avatar from the multiverse.
Q: What is a user’s individual agency in the metaverse?
A: Individual agency means you have the freedom to go wherever you please within the multiverse, regardless of what other users are doing. You have complete control over your avatar and its actions.
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