If you’re confused about the impending metaverse and what it all means, you’re not alone. According to Bloomberg, the metaverse is set to become a rich stratification of “social, persistent, shared, and virtual 3D worlds” and a “convergence of the physical and digital realms in the next evolution of the Internet.”
Meanwhile, crypto evangelists tout it as a manifestation of Web3, a somewhat nebulous term that envisions a brave new virtual frontier where the infallible blockchain enables both decentralized finance and thriving token-based economies.
As a concept, Metaverse should not be confused with Meta, the newly created and much-derided brand of Facebook’s umbrella company. That said, its new name says a lot about the ambitions of the social media giant.
By planting such an overt flag, Zuckerberg and his minions are jostling to become both the primary gateway to the burgeoning metaverse and a generic brand. And yet, if the futurists’ predictions come true, Meta will be just one of countless new platforms in the metaverse.
The estimated market potential is US$800 billion by 2024. Currently, major gaming platforms like Roblox, Activision Blizzard, and Electronic Arts are best positioned to grab the lion’s share, leaving US$200 billion. american dollars in crumbs. This includes sales of hardware interfaces, such as Meta’s new Oculus Quest 2 headset, but also new competing models from Apple and Google.
Ticketing for “virtual live” experiences is expected to be just as massive. Imagine concerts, sporting events and movie premieres, witnessed remotely by millions of people and their digital avatars. Indeed, in Horizon Worlds, Meta’s new “metaversal lair”, you can build your own cartoon look-alike, customize a 3D world and, yes, settle in for movie night.
The implication is that instead of investing in ‘bricks and mortar’, brands now need to think about ‘chunks and such’. Namely, how much real estate should they locate in this nascent digital realm?
Some big brands have already bought with great fanfare. Gucci has just teamed up with Roblox to create “Gucci Gardens,” a virtual experiential event where consumers can stroll through glittering fashion exhibits and dress up their own avatar. Coca-Cola recently partnered with avatar maker Tafi to design virtual clothing for non-fungible tokenized (NFT) collectibles.
Similarly, Nike announced a major investment in the metaverse by acquiring NFT studio RTFKT, whose main claim to fame was selling 600 pairs of virtual sneakers (alongside real ones) and earning $3.1 million in six minutes. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Louis Vuitton have both created online games designed to “educate” younger, tech-savvy audiences about the heritage of their respective brands.
Brands keen to enter the metaverse should learn from these early forays and weigh their own investment accordingly. Specifically, they need to ask themselves, is this the right time (or the right time) for their brand? After all, the metaverse is still in beta mode. True immersion is currently limited to those with the hardware required to access it, and realistically that remains a tiny percentage of consumers.
With that in mind, are people really going to invest time in glitchy, heavily branded 3D environments just to interact with virtual products? Maybe… but more likely, not yet. So far, with a few notable exceptions, most metaverse ventures by brands have been gimmicky, clunky, and expensive.
And just like previous augmented reality runs, their effectiveness depends on the device model and/or its respective updates, data cap or cellular coverage – it’s cool when it works; it’s frustrating when it doesn’t. In this sense, the large-scale adoption of the metaverse depends on expanding the accessibility of the average consumer and addressing uneven performance like latency.
There are also troubling philosophical questions that arise from our deep dive into unregulated man-made constructions. Do brands have a duty of care in pursuing a future that will only serve to further detach people from physical reality?
If more and more of us spent most of our pampered waking hours in tailor-made virtual utopias, then how much would we care about climate change, environmental degradation, a land war in Eastern Europe or exponential inequalities?
Plus, if something like bitcoin mining and the deleterious impact it’s had on global emissions has already failed to move us, then what happens when we can literally plug in and close everything else. Because make no mistake, that’s what metaverse ultimately means.
Experts like to proclaim that it will become an “egalitarian nirvana” that will allow everyone to become the best version of themselves. And yet, is there anything particularly self-realized about living in pretty but soulless digital worlds?
More worrying is the realization that these 3D brand environments will inevitably be powered by savvy artificial intelligence that knows everything about you as a consumer – your preferences, your politics, your peccadilloes and even your personal health.
On the positive side, wondrous spaces will emerge from the metaverse, ranging from the exciting, spellbinding, educational, and erotic. And it’s easy to imagine how meticulously modeled 3D structures will enjoy virtuous application in real-world vocations such as architecture, advanced medicine, and even art.
In this sense, the metaverse has the potential for great good. But as Ian Bogost of The Atlantic argues in a recent article, it has an equal chance of becoming a “consumer black hole”. Given the social media precedent, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.
Either way, the metaverse is coming – and now is the time for brands to get ready to jump into this whole new virtual world.
Read next: Why Big Companies Are Supporting the Metaverse in a Major Way