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Why gaming is brands’ portal to the metaverse

February 10, 2022

Gaming has had the ultimate glow-up. Once a pastime associated with teenage boys, it’s now so ubiquitous that the term ‘gamer’ is almost defunct; such is the sheer number and diversity of people who enjoy gaming. As we increasingly split our time almost equally between the virtual and the physical worlds, it’s safe to say that gaming - whether snatched moments or immersive sessions - has played a huge part in this fundamental shift in our existence.

Many of us recognize that the metaverse represents the next phase of this shift. Rather than being an extension of our lives, it’s a version that runs in parallel, or even that meshes digital and physical so seamlessly that they enrich and compliment one another. And it’s powered by gaming’s culture, technology and talent. For brands, this makes gaming the de facto portal into the metaverse.

A history of virtual spaces

Gaming and virtual spaces have been intertwined since the beginning. The first open-world video game was Taito’s Western Gun (1975), while the Commodore 64’s Habitat (1987) is often credited as the first online virtual world. Habitat users, represented by avatars, could see and speak to other users via an online service operated by the precursor to AOL (yep, it’s that long ago).

The tenets developed in Habitat more than a generation ago can be seen on platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite or games such as Rust, as well as nascent Web3 platforms including Sandbox, Decentraland and Somnium Space. I’ll leave the debate on which is a game and which isn’t for another day, but each is a social, gamified, persistent online space which offers limitless creative possibilities for brands to get in front of their engaged users in meaningful ways.

The technology behind the metaverse

The metaverse needs a vast array of technologies to meet its potential, many of which were developed for or have ideal use cases in gaming. Think powerful data centers, VoIP, payments infrastructures, CPUs, IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), graphics cards, extended reality (XR), and cloud storage.

Gaming hardware including consoles, PCs and smartphones are the portals into metaverse for the vast majority of consumers. With three billion daily gamers worldwide, this already represents a sizable chunk of the planet. These devices will increasingly be paired with XR technology to increase immersion; whether this is a much leaner version of today’s virtual reality (VR) headsets or a pair of sunglasses which overlays virtual content on top of the real world to provide information and entertainment (think Pokemon Go writ large).

Gaming software, too, is driving the metaverse forwards. Game development engines such as Unity and Unreal are used to create almost any virtual item you can imagine, while advanced streaming software ensures that they can be experienced in real-time.

Virtual talent

To create a branded virtual world such as Nikeland, a metaverse activation like State Farm’s NFT treasure hunt, or an NFT game like Louis Vuitton’s, takes talent. Designers, developers, 3D artists, programmers… their day jobs, more than likely, involve making games. Brands looking to jump into the metaverse will need to secure a huge amount of in-house resources or partner with a community of creators such as The Land Vault to tap into ready-made expertise.

Brand integrations

As the free-to-play model pioneered by mobile games becomes common on console and PC too, players’ receptiveness to brands in their games has increased markedly. In fact, when brand integrations are done well, they can even add significant value for players. Fortnite is perhaps one of the best examples of this across both its battle royale and creative modes. Brands and IPs such as Marvel, The NFL, and Star Wars have integrated immersive points of interest into the battle royale map or sold branded virtual goods, while Chipotle built its own branded experience in Fortnite’s creative hub. Other platforms aren’t far behind, with activations such as Roblox’s collaboration with Gucci on virtual avatar accessories just one of dozens of exciting metaverse partnerships.

As the metaverse shifts to decentralised Web3 technology, brands will need to use every ounce of creativity to make their campaigns a success, as adidas has done with its NFT collaborations and Adiverse experience in The Sandbox. Traditional advertising simply won’t work in the Web3 metaverse, which is why Admix is pioneering tools for creators to bring brands into the metaverse on their own terms.

Digital economies

Even before branded avatar skins and NFTs, gamers were already familiar with microtransactions and the concept of digital ownership. Again, as the free-to-play model becomes the norm, this familiarity has shifted from mobile to all platforms, for example in the shape of skins for free games like Call of Duty: Warzone.

This represents a boon in the metaverse. Roblox’s average bookings per daily active user would suggest each daily user is spending more than $5 a month on the platform. In the Web3 metaverse, platforms like Axie Infinity are creating complex digital economies using cryptocurrency and NFTs. By introducing verifiable digital scarcity for virtual goods using NFTs, or even integrating cryptocurrency as a method of paying for digital services, the scope for brands to build on gaming’s track record of digital economies in the wider metaverse is enormous.

NFTs as IPs (and vice versa)

While announcements of video games introducing blockchain technology or NFTs haven’t always been well-received by those games’ communities, there is no chance that we’ll leave beloved gaming IP behind in Web2. The power of nostalgia and inter-generational IP, like Nintendo’s, dictates that popular stories and characters will be adapted, giving brands a huge opportunity to tailor them to Web3 and win over vast, engaged fanbases.

On the flipside, in my last Open Mic piece I broke down how adidas became a member of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection and used this as a starting point for a bunch of cool Web3 collaborations with metaverse content creators. The potential of NFT collections to be the next set of cult IPs, used in music and tv as well as video games, is clear. Watch out Spongebob, the Cryptomories are coming.

Interoperability as scale

One of the biggest challenges of the Web3 metaverse is making sure it doesn’t mirror today’s internet, which is dominated and ring fenced by a few giant tech platforms. Ideally, the metaverse will be interoperable, with seamless movement across properties. Whether this is the case remains to be seen - you certainly can’t use the same avatar on Fortnite and Roblox - but there are positive signs. Take Ready Player Me, which uses the aforementioned Unreal and Unity game engines to create cross-game avatars, which are already used by over a thousand games and virtual worlds. For brands, while it’s true that the guaranteed user numbers on Fortnite and Roblox are highly appealing, the most forward-thinking will consider whether offering branded NFT accessories for interoperable avatars might hold almost limitless potential.

We’re in the early stages of what will likely be a decade of platform-building to make the Web3 metaverse a virtual reality. Various industries and tech giants will claim to be the standard bearers of the one true metaverse, and brands’ gateway to it. But only gaming has the credentials: the heritage, the technology and the talent to build the metaverse people actually want, making it the de facto portal for brands that want to get metaverse marketing right.

By Samuel Huber, CEO and Co-Founder of Admix

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Admix
Gaming
Metaverse
NFTs
Brand Experience