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New (virtual) worlds, new opportunities

28 October 2022

This article first appeared in Warc, written by Simon Levitt, Global Creative Technology Director.

The metaverse utopia.

A photoreal, online, virtual world that is rich enough to replace our humdrum daily lives. This is the vision painted in science fiction across books and films – see Ready Player One (start with the book) and others for details.

We’re not close to that and, with the dystopian real world of Ready Player One in mind, I am glad. However, it is undeniable that our digital world and our digital selves are increasingly intertwined with our day-to-day lives. We are now spending on average 6.9 hours online a day, compared with 3.2 hours in 2016.

It is not only about being online but where we are online. According to Deloitte's 2022 digital trends survey Gen Z and Millennial gamers spend an average of 11 hours per week playing. Where we spend our online time is changing and so is the future of the internet. It is in three dimensions – whether it is through gaming, augmented reality or open world simulations. The days of thinking of the internet as a flat two-dimensional space will soon be over and the world of Web2 will feel as distant as MySpace.

The metaverse is here and people are using it. Brands are in it – Nike, Samsung, Gucci and Coca-Cola to name but a few. Brands are it – Fortnite, Roblox, Meta. It is used as a catch-all for AR, VR, gaming, open world platforms, and anything with real-time 3D. It is different from the sci-fi vision above; it’s a series of prototypes, mini-metaverses for people to experiment, create and curate new experiences.

The way to see the metaverse now is as a series of different countries and cities that you engage with, play and view in different ways. Crucially these countries and cities are without the transportation, roads and infrastructure that allow you to navigate from one place to the other. They are isolated worlds which you can explore on a gaming platform such as PlayStation, through your browser and your mobile phone. These are massively multiplayer games such as Fortnite, open world platforms like Sandbox or apps that can layer new worlds onto ours using augmented reality. These countries and cities can be created from scratch; increasingly, however, tools are being made for creators that allow these mini-metaverses to be built comparatively quickly and easily.

The opportunities for marketers are varied. Brands can become part of a bigger story by joining juggernaut metaverse games like Fortnite or they can weave their own narrative such as Puma’s Black Station ‘3D spatial playground’.

Agencies are gaining talent and skills to help brands do this. They are now employing people from gaming backgrounds and upskilling teams to use the tools which will help them create these new environments and characters.

There are now suites of tools for creators, well known ones include Unreal Engine and Unity. These are real-time software engines that allow you to create games and worlds in three dimensions. Using these tools you can create applications, games and mini-metaverses for use on a games console, mobile device and VR headset. To make the experiences created by these software engines even more easily accessible there are new techniques which make them available to users through their browser using the internet, with no application downloading needed.

There are already existing platforms where creators can craft their own digital spaces and take advantage of these tools. Monaverse, for example, is an art-led metaverse where creators can build their worlds. Each space is unique – designed and built by an artist. You can enter these worlds and explore them on your browser then share them for other people to join with you and explore. These worlds are one of one and have an ownership model built on blockchain technology. Monaverse and other mini-metaverses give creators a template (in this case provided in Unity) allowing for easier design and deployment. Spatial.io takes a similar approach encouraging you to use its in-built templates, or for you to upload your own – to run events and experiences within its metaverse ecosystem.

Increasingly we see a blurring of the physical and digital realms. Allowing even more room for brands to play, combining what they are doing in the real world with the metaverse. Fashion brands are leading the way in this, PacSun has branded clothes in Roblox where users can customize their avatars with fashion accessories. These lines will be blurred even further as our physical world is built upon using augmented reality. AR apps, games and experience could well be the link between a metaverse and the real world.

There is some interoperability between these realities now. Ready Player Me lets you create your own avatar from a series of different physical traits and clothes – hair, beards, hats etc. More simply, you can upload a photo of yourself, and it will generate an avatar for you. This can then be used by any metaverse that has Ready Player Me integrated. With this ‘passport to the metaverse’ you will always be you. Well… your virtual you.

Whether augmenting the real world, creating an online metaverse or blending the two, a new generation of skills is needed for agencies to become metaverse-ready. With Web3 and the use of blockchain, we will see a transformation of ownership models; brands can be part of this. Authenticity and rarity will be easily proved, making new digital collectables, avatars, skins, art and other objects highly desirable. For many, these collectables will have more meaning to audiences in the virtual world. 5G will then allow these mini worlds, with their highly collectable assets, to be accessed from anywhere.

Brands and their agencies need to think about their use case – how they want their audience to interact with them and how they can add value to an existing community or if they are creating a new one. There are absolutely opportunities to become visible to a significant audience with the right partners in the metaverse – for example, Fortnite’s approximately 80 million active users per month. With this approach, the brand needs to tie into an existing property, gaming, or open-world platform with a significant scale.

There are other approaches though, where the brand can retain more control over how it wants to be represented in a virtual world. Brands should think about success in the metaverse not solely about profit, scale and the number of people they reach but about building community, positioning themselves as an innovator, a forward-thinking brand that wants to onboard a younger market and early adopters.

By 2026 Gartner predicts that 25% of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse. This is for all ages. We can assume that the behaviour and buying habits of Gen Z will transform purchasing habits. We will be moving from digital-first to metaverse-first. The name will slowly disappear and it will become the internet in its new form. Social, gamified, complex environments in three dimensions.

Simon Levitt

Global Creative Technology Director

Simon is our Global Creative Technology Director who consistently drives forward ground-breaking digital projects that are changing the nature of consumer experiences across the globe. Simon pushes the boundaries in immersive experiences that are personalised, connected and measurable.