What is the metaverse?
The metaverse has become a bit of a catch-all phrase for anything involving some kind of digital world experience, whether it is in virtual reality with a VR headset or simply on your computer or an augmented reality experience. We have Facebook’s name change to Meta to thank for the sudden upsurge in interest in this. Microsoft also showed its cards with a Microsoft Mesh announcement and there are plenty of other big players already working on projects in this space.
Most commonly at the moment the metaverse projects that are most talked about, come from the world of gaming, where decentralisation and land sales have been part and parcel of the go-to-market strategy of companies such as Decentraland, and The Sandbox, to name only a few. Some have been purposely built on blockchain and are decentralised from the get-go and others are on a transition roadmap from our currently centralised servers to a blockchain-enabled decentralised platform.
Typically you will find some kind of digital economy, where a currency plays a role to buy experiences or assets in the virtual space or game. Players and users show up with avatars, whether they are a digital representation of you in a picture, a cartoon, or something completely fictional that really is your choice. In some of the worlds, you can use non-fungible tokens (NFT’s), which are often digital images, as your avatar, as art, or as currency. The value of the NFT is what value it represents which can be scarcity, exclusivity or something more concrete like a subscription or membership.
Not any one company owns the metaverse, but multiple companies contribute to multiple interpretations of the same thing. The whole philosophy is to improve on how the internet of today is used into something better more decentralised and where creation and ownership have a contributory factor. How this will evolve exactly is anyone’s guess, right now it is as conceptual for most people as terms such as the internet or cyberspace.
Why pay attention to the metaverse?
According to investors and research organisation Grayscale, the metaverse is supposed to represent a $1 Trillion opportunity if you bring together all the technology providers, creators, designers, technology infrastructure, user, in-game or in-world transactions etc. The fact that some of the current day tech giants are talking about having projects in this space, would give a good indication that this technology evolution won’t go away any time soon.
For us in the gamification design space, it is the ultimate coming together of game technology for many other uses such as virtual online economies, games, learning environments etc. I personally believe that thanks to gaming becoming a mainstream industry, and the associated technology becoming more user-friendly and more wide-spread that this is a natural flow and evolution. As a gamification and serious games designer, I have for a long time promoted the idea of good narrative and virtual spaces to create more engaging experiences, whether these are for learning, employee engagement or customer engagement.
In fact, in the early 2000’s I had an office in 2nd Life on a planet called Dublinia. My office was in a business centre and provided digital meeting rooms. The pub next door enabled live digitally streamed gigs and an opportunity to hang out with fellow digital beings. So some of what is on offer today is not entirely new in my view, although some generations may not recall or even have heard of 2nd Life.
Back to the point, why pay attention to this?
Well when a whole bunch of investors are throwing money into this space, you usually have a bunch of brands dipping their toes in too. I don’t know if the pandemic trained us most adequately to create a perfect opportunity for this concept to flourish. Most of us have spent more time online than in previous years and we have often yearned for something more engaging than a Zoom, Teams or Google Meet call. The fact that everybody can use these online systems, opened up an appetite for better graphics, engagement and entertainment. We also en masse sought out games as ways to entertain ourselves throughout the pandemic.
The money in the metaverse is being spent on developing technology on one hand both hardware, software, and all the tools required for people to be able to interact digitally like you would in real life. The next place where a lot of money goes is the building of economies which can be anything from a game with in-game purchases or the sale of land, the building of the online real estate, and then the subsequent leasing this out for economic activity such as shops or events or work environments.
Shopping and fashion
Some brands are establishing online shopping experiences in the current virtual worlds from simply being able to order, all the way to actually having digital twins of real-life products. It seems like the obvious use case to have online shopping extend to being done in a digital shopping mall and for brands to want to create their own stores. We have been used to online shopping for some time, so no surprise that brand experiences would take off. According to Venturebeat, 70% of digital shop visitors were actually willing to buy.
Both Nike and adidas are making plays on avatars wearing their goods or providing the opportunity to own a digital shoe as an NFT. Collector’s items are ideally placed to have great and expensive appeal as a status symbol. What is new for most non-gamers, is that digital clothing is actually a thing and something gamers over the years have spent big money on. If you think of your digital avatar as an extension of your real-life self then you would want your digital representation to look as good, if not better than you in real life. Or in some cases, you may use your digital avatar as a way of expressing yourself creatively and shape your avatar to be another creature, have amazing accessories or art.
The fashion industry as a whole has been creative in the metaverse, even having parallel experiences in real life and in the digital space for example for New York fashion week. (The catwalks do remind me of people basically programming their avatar in 2nd Life so they could earn Linden dollars to spend on kit for their avatar, oh yes this was already possible in 2008.)
Events have been virtual for some time. I hope at this stage everyone has experienced an event in a 3D or 360-degree reality environment or even an augmented reality environment. What I mean is someplace where you show up with your avatar or as a first-person navigating around the environment. For a number of years, we have been promoting Moot UP and Learnbrite as such a solution for events such as conferences but also for team meetings and the like.
If at this stage you still think Zoom, Teams and Google Meets are the pinnacle of online experiences then please think again. Get some of these more innovation-focused companies to give you a demo. I know in the last number of months I have done a few conferences that were hybrid in format. Where it still falls down for some of the solutions is sound or the requirement to download something on your laptop or inside your firewall. That is what the metaverse is promising to overcome.
In any case, we have bands doing events in-game environments such as Fortnite or in Decentraland to name one game like metaverse contender that has also attracted some big brands to do showcases with them. The thing is you can design the environment your way and create an experience that is a vast improvement from where our traditional tools left off, even if online meeting software is a recent enough growth area.
Team building and learning events can equally be moved to this online space. Whether you opt for an online escape room, a treasure hunt, or something more classroom-like, that choice is up to you. Teachers and school classes have been active on Roblox and Minecraft and the .edu variety of some of these spaces leave a lot of scope for the adult varieties to catch on.
So here is my challenge to you, if you have absolutely no idea what a metaverse could look like, then find a child playing with Minecraft or Roblox to show you around. Ask them what you can do in terms of learning, interacting, building, drawing etc. When you have seen this, then move on and explore the more adult versions or game worlds. Looking at it through the eyes of a child who is trying to explore the world in general, will open yours.
The business opportunity
So the business opportunity in the metaverse is quite varied. There are obvious opportunities for the following:
- Game designers
- Graphic designer
- Linked devices
- Online stores
- Online education
- Investors (both in digital assets as well as the companies in the metaverse)
- Creators of all kinds of online content
Many professions often aligned to creative domains will find a new outlet or a repurposed variety of their old output.
When we look at most businesses that have some interconnection online with other businesses, you will find that there is an opportunity for you to go online in a metaverse. How far you want to take it depends really on your appetite for trying something new. But my view is that it would be a mistake to no explore it at the very least.
What are we doing in this space?
We are working on our metaverse for work, amalgamating a lot of the employee engagement experiences we have worked with over the years and building them out into a platform for companies to access. Our initial steps towards the metaverse will be a software as a service called My G-Nation with digital office space and employee experiences built-in. As we build forward it will become more 3D and decentralised, for that we need to gain investment and traction. So if the metaverse for work sounds like something you and your team would like to get in on, both from an investment or showing you our version for your team, then talk to us.