The metaverse isn’t just gaming worlds
When we talk about the metaverse we generally use gaming as a reference point
These amazing standalone universes are just the starting point. In essence, the metaverse is the successor to the mobile internet era that has been developing and dominating since the iPhone 3G in 2008. It will encompass not just gameplay, but all forms of entertainment, fashion, health and fitness - even work. And, crucially, it will be interoperable, enabling us to move content and, in effect ourselves, seamlessly between digital environments.
Gaming platforms such as Roblox are some of the best examples of the metaverse to-date in that they’re microcosms of it, or mini-metaverses. They are an ecosystem made up of thousands of 3D worlds that you can move your character or avatar between, many of which are user-generated. They use various hardware and software as entry points (and for computational power) and have cross-play between them. Payments and communications infrastructure, advertising and in-app purchases are all integrated.
Why aren’t they true metaverses? Because they are still proprietary platforms. We often talk about ‘walled gardens' in the media:tech space - game environments today are like countries with hard borders. A Roblox avatar can’t cross into the Fortnite universe, and vice versa. Much less be used in other areas of life.
Health and fitness
A TD Ameritrade survey last year found that 59% of Americans didn’t plan to renew their gym memberships post-Covid. Whether this actually transpires, the pandemic massively accelerated the trend of fitness towards the metaverse.
Peloton was a clear winner, with a total revenue of $1.8 billion in 2020; double its 2019 income. Yet even Peloton is now scrambling to create its own fitness video game to match Playpulse and Zwift, which have popular and collaborative digital fitness platforms. Groups of friends can avatar-up and race through digital environments such as a very life-like New York City. Zwift even put together a frankly mind-boggling digital Tour De France in 2020, with webcam feeds from 90 riders combined with a digital Tour route complete with an avatar for each rider - which was broadcast live on mainstream French TV.
Yep, the metaverse won’t just alter how we play, socialise and sweat. It will fundamentally change how we work. Mark Zuckerberg recently posited a world in which we all wear VR headsets throughout the working day (I won’t be one of them, thanks all the same Mark). While that specific scenario may be an undesirable leap, XR technologies such as AR and VR have the potential to improve our communication with colleagues and revolutionise our workflow. Zoom fatigue will be far less likely to set in when you can be transported to a meeting with colleagues (or their realistic avatars) in the foothills of the Andes. Traders will be able to pull up dozens of sources of information instantly without the need for multiple sources of hardware and screens.
There are already numerous amazing examples of metaverse concerts. In April 2020, I had a front row seat with my former team at Spotify who helped promote and deliver the now infamous Travis Scott x Fortnite event. Across its 3-day run, the event attracted 12.3m attendees, and literally changed the game in its execution. This model has become widespread, with Lil Nas X’s Roblox concert garnering 33m views six months later. Ariana Grande too has joined the Fortnite gig list for her Rift Tour event this month.
Throughout the pandemic we’ve become accustomed to watching previously in-person events as live streams. But there’s often little to no true immersion in watching a simple event broadcast. Billie Eilish’s Where Do We Go? livestream, utilising XR technology complete with giant spider, was a good example of the direction of travel.
Most of us are more accustomed to watching sports events on stream rather than in-person, but even this model will need enhancement to suit the needs of consumers who are increasingly used to metaverse-style immersion. Back in 2010 Sky Sports launched its 3D TV offering. The idea was brilliant, but the tech simply wasn’t yet up to scratch. Oculus has recently announced its partnership with the NBA allowing subscribers to watch games as though they are next to Jay-Z courtside. The acid test for the technology will be how soon it can recreate these experiences without additional unwieldy hardware.
Art & Fashion (and NFTs)
Some of the most meaningful forays into the metaverse have been made by artists and fashion brands, particularly where they have experimented with blockchain technology to certify that the digital artwork or item is unique (creating a non-fungible token or ‘NFT’). Louis Vuitton is even about to launch a mobile game to celebrate its 200th anniversary, with various undisclosed NFTs available.
Yet even I, longtime collector of trainers, wasn’t ready to take the plunge when RTFKT Studios released a collection of 600 pairs of NFT sneakers, netting a cool $3.1m. Despite the fact they could be “tried on” in Snap and actually come with a pair of physical sneakers, for me the real value of such digital assets will be found in their utility rather than just their scarcity.
Which is ironic, in a way, because we don’t apply the same logic to other forms of art. It’s nice to look at, maybe even makes us feel some emotion, hopefully acts as a store of value. But we can’t use it. Which is why artists are perfectly placed to be early metaverse adopters. Damien Hirst, for example, recently released a collection of 10,000 NFT artworks with physical counterparts mooted to be worth a combined $20m.
Starting with gamified platforms and experiences, I don’t think it’s much of a jump to predict a marketplace for metaverse apparel that will become a massive business in its own right. Is it even worth seeing Ariana Grande if your avatar can’t look good doing it? Would you rather cycle through a virtual New York City on a generic bike wearing a hi-vis vest, or clad in Off-White on a carbon-frame Bianchi? It’s here that the significance of NFTs, for me, kicks in. If we’re readily buying digital cosmetics that millions of others can own for $15, it stands to reason that we’ll snap up limited releases or, deep breath, genuinely one-of-a-kind items that we can flex in our corner of the metaverse.
When is the metaverse not the metaverse? When it’s a series of unconnected, standalone digital experiences (or mini-metaverses). That’s where we are now. Not yet an interoperable digital-physical hybrid universe, but thousands of individual experiences that generally each require a separate account, avatar, payment or hardware as the price of entry.
The true metaverse we’re working towards has far less friction, with realistic avatars transcending each experience seamlessly thanks to powerful connections, servers and in-built payments etc. The functionality will arrive to allow us to buy, wear and sell NFT cosmetics not just in one digital property, but across the vastness of the metaverse.
Advertising’s role in the metaverse
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the metaverse holds for us as players, workers, athletes and consumers, much less talked about the role of advertising within it.
From my perspective, the key to making advertising successful and meaningful in the metaverse; it has to be immersive. Not following on from the early days of the internet (the million dollar homepage) or the ‘interruption economy’ associated with mobile gaming (full-page banners and interstitials) but using or enhancing the digital environment. The road ahead is an exciting one. Today we can serve ads directly into gameplay environments, bringing real world brands onto virtual billboards. The next stop on the journey will be virtual product placement, where fashion, consumer, technology and services brands will be able to appear as skins or in the hands of a player’s avatar. Beyond that, we’ll start seeing a proliferation of non-gaming environments that open up to brands too, meaning the promise of the metaverse being far more than gaming worlds becomes a virtual reality.
By Alex Faust, VP EMEA, Admix
(Main image credit: With permission from Ready Player Me)
(Image credit: Zwift presskit)
(Image credit: Louis Vuitton presskit)