Jump into a new digital world … a decentralised, dematerialised living space … why the “metaverse” is more than hype and games

December 17, 2021

The metaverse is a digital world. Hugely hyped, but also with incredible potential.

Think how we engaged with the internet from the edge, interacting with a connected world from the remoteness of our screens. Instead the metaverse enables us to jump into that world, a 3D digital space where we are immersed in a virtual reality with the help of VR and AR, interacting with real people, with human experiences, and connecting to our real world.

Digital engagement has evolved from text to image to video. And this is the next step. Instead of searching and bringing selected world’s to us, we can go out and explore, we interact with other environments and other people, we socialise and work.

Just like Second Life sought to achieve two decades ago, we build our own digital identities, in the form of an avatar – our digital self. We can project our own image, or of our choice, select desired fashion, hang out in places and with people we like, engage in experiences from music concerts to educational experiences. Maybe do what we never could or would in the real world.

Tech companies are key to shaping these new environments, although gaming companies have been key to drive the early applications. GenZ are the early adaptors, shaping how they live their lives, priorities and aspirations, influences and outlooks. Why go to a rock concert, watch a sports game, go shopping, when you can jump into any of those spaces, instantly, on demand?

Examples of “metaverse builders” include:

  • Meta … Facebook rebranded as Meta to “bring the metaverse to life” having acquired VR company Oculus in 2014. At its Connect 2021, it unveiled Horizon Home, your home base in the metaverse, and Quest, a collaborative workspace.
  • Microsoft … Mesh allows people in different locations to join collaborative holographic experiences with the tools of Teams. Users can join as a customized avatar of themselves and build immersive spaces to meet and collaborate.
  • Fortnite … gamers play games, but also interact with adjacent environments and events – music, sport, cafes, resorts.  It recently launched “Party Worlds”, 3D spaces designed solely for players to hang out and socialise with friends.
  • Roblex … another gaming platform with many fashion collaborations. Vans created an interactive store where users can customize sneakers and attend virtual concerts.
  • Decentraland … an example of a metaverse  environment beyond gaming – a plot of “real estate” similar to a New York townhouse recently sold for €2.1 million demonstrating the desirability of presence in a virtual world.
  • The Dematerialised … a digital marketplace where customers to purchase digital fashion assets as NFTs that they can currently port into selected games, including Sansar, VR Chat and Decentraland.

Brands that seek to engage with GenZ, immersed in their digital worlds of Fortnite or FIFA, are waking up to the need to go to these consumers, rather than hoping that they will come to them – to the old models of physical stores, malls and even internet platforms. Brands need to go to their new audiences, and engage in their new contexts.

Examples of “metaverse brands” include:

  • Gucci … the luxury fashion brand created Gucci Garden as a virtual representation of Gucci flagship stores, Gucci Museum in Florence, and more. Users explore current and past ranges, play games, buy virtual items, and exchange them for real.
  • Nike … a partnership with Roblex enabled it to create a free virtual playspace called Nikeland.  the Jordan brand created Jumpman Zone with Fortnite, and Nike also acquired RTFKT, a virtual sneaker brand.
  • H&M … 11 pieces from its vegan Co-Exist Story collection have been recreated in virtual form to be showcased on Animal Crossing. Gamers can also virtually download the clothes at the Able Sisters shop.
  • Ralph Lauren … browse and try on limited-edition digital clothing in virtual Polo Shops on Roblox – interact socially, enjoy ice skating, drink hot chocolate, roast marshmallows – plus there’s a treasure hunt game, with bonus items every week.
  • Dyson … the tech brand has created Demo VR, advanced virtual reality technology that enables customers to test out products, such as its hairdryer and Airwrap styler, in the comfort of their own home using an Oculus headset.
  • NFL … American football has embraced the virtual gaming world in a big way, creating Avatar-playing versions of real life franchises, enabling users to immerse themselves in games as spectators or players, and compete globally.
  • BTS … the Korean super band have joined the likes of Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, and many other musicians in launching new albums, and delivering concerts, primarily online. Fortnite is becoming the new rock stadium of the world.

Of course “metaverse” is probably the most overhyped word in technology and brands right now, but it has enormous potential too. Balenciago’s CEO Cédric Charbit recently told me “the useability of the metaverse for many brands is not yet practical, at least in financial returns, but that’s making gigantic steps every day, and its potential is obvious, awesome and real.”

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