By: Dan Holland, SVP, Product Solutions, dentsu & Alexander May, Managing Partner, Strategy, dentsu
You’ve probably heard of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), non-fungible tokens (NFTs), decentralized finance (DeFi), blockchain and cryptocurrencies. However, what you may not know is where these technologies are leading. While these digital technologies don’t appear to be essential to your everyday life yet, they soon will be. Because these technologies all lead to the creation of immersive, always-on, virtual environments that seamlessly layer into our real world with billions of people interacting with it and each other, also known as ‘the metaverse’.
Last year, we discussed how the metaverse will be the massive disruptive force over the next ten years, affecting every person and business, and how brands that fail to lean in will face an existential threat. Since then, the idea of the metaverse has gained traction. In a recent interview with The Verge, Mark Zuckerberg laid out a clear vision for the next chapter of Facebook. Unsurprisingly, it’s centered in the metaverse. Zuckerberg stated, “I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”
Zuckerberg isn’t alone. Epic Games, makers of Fortnite, have very publicly stated a similar ambition in their latest round of funding, indicating that they are raising $1b “to support Epic’s long-term vision for the metaverse.”
The term “metaverse” first appeared in Neal Stephenson’s sci-fi novel Snow Crash in 1992 and has been famously built upon by other science fiction novelists such as Ernest Cline who depicted a version of the metaverse in his book, and subsequent 2018 movie adaption, Ready Player One.
The idea accelerated and gained traction during the recent periods of social distancing and lock-down, when people began meeting en masse (and even getting married) in video games.
A definition of the metaverse is difficult to pin down. It is considered the successor of the internet as we currently know it. It will be made up of persistent, shared spaces linked together into a universe that provide users with immersive experiences and a sense of presence. It is underpinned by interoperability, a fully functioning economy and open access to all. It is a profound new paradigm that will come to define not only the next ten years, but the next century.
Gaming: The Highway to the Metaverse
We cannot predict what the metaverse will evolve into, but many of us already have a first-hand experience with its early form. Popular open world gaming platforms such as Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft and Animal Crossing present several of the characteristics that will shape the evolution of the metaverse, to the extent that Ryan Gill, Crucible CEO and Co-Founder, stated that “if web developers are the architects of the internet as we know it (Web 2.0), then game developers are the architects of the metaverse (Web 3.0).”
Venture capitalist, Matthew Ball, whose work has influenced many in this space lays out the metaverse’s core attributes, which can help us recognize the extent gaming is foreshadowing its evolution.
According to Ball, the metaverse will be persistent and scalable. We have witnessed an evolution of gaming in this direction in recent years with Gaming-as-a-Service, Gaming-as-a-Platform and Play-to-Earn business models, where video game narratives are updated, extended and enhanced based on player demand and design. In some popular ‘open world’ games the concept of narrative is somewhat surpassed, as these titles present universes that simply exist and are there for players to explore at their own leisure. Games are now spaces that live across multiple platforms and are less restricted by the physical or computing limitations of the devices used to play them.
The metaverse will be synchronous and live. Pre-scheduled and self-contained events will happen in the metaverse but will be real-time collective experiences. Games present this duality as they exist as live, accessible narrative universes where some experiences, like broadcasted esports tournaments or in-game exclusive performances like Ariana Grande’s Fortnite concert, take a life of their own.
The metaverse, according to Ball, will be “without any cap to concurrent users, while also providing each user with an individual sense of ‘presence’.” Continued progression in areas such as cloud computing and A.I. will allow us to move beyond the limitations of a single server and towards a time when tens of thousands, if not millions, can interact concurrently in a shared experience.
The metaverse will be inclusive. Gaming is inherently anonymous, which lends itself to inclusivity: players are not limited by age, race, ability or gender. By definition, video games provide players with the opportunity to reinvent themselves, often creating multiple avatars that share a central commonality – often referred to as their Self Sovereign Identity (SSI) - and experience a level of agency that may be precluded to them in the ‘real’ world.
The metaverse will have a fully functioning economy and will span both the digital and physical worlds, private and public networks/experiences as well as open and closed platforms. This is already happening in gaming where publishers and streaming platforms have created popular digital currencies like Robux, V-Bucks and Twitch Bits. Brands that sell products and services in the physical world have now also entered the gaming economy, as they have started to offer integrated digital experiences like the Gucci Garden in Roblox and allow gamers to buy virtual products or receive them as perks in exchange for attention.
New economy, new commerce and job opportunities. Possibly, the most interesting aspects of the metaverse that Ball outlines are its “unprecedented interoperability of data, digital items/assets, content” and the fact that it will be populated by content and experiences “operated by an incredibly wide range of contributors, some of whom are independent individuals, while others might be informally organized groups or commercially-focused enterprises.” While there is still a lot of work underway to allow users to transfer a digital asset from one system to another leveraging NFTs and a blockchain technology backbone, gaming is already giving us an example of the creative, cultural and community-building potential the metaverse’s interoperability will hold: games like Nintendo’s Supersmash Brothers now allow players to mix characters from titles owned by different publishers. While Axie Infinity, built on the Ethereum blockchain, is allowing people around the world to get paid in crypto currencies to complete quests and battles, and then cash out in real world currencies.
How Can Brands Get a Head Start on their Journey towards the Metaverse?
Gaming provides a place to experiment and learn how your brand could show-up in a future metaverse state. However, gamers are quick to reject insincere interactions and brands that interrupt the gaming experience instead of integrating with it authentically. Partnering with experts who understand the gaming ecosystem and can provide the array of capabilities needed to create cultural relevance at different levels with the gaming audience is strongly recommended.
At dentsu, we were among the first to recognize the importance the metaverse will play in our future society and we believe the brands that are early in developing a metaverse roadmap will gain a significant advantage. Follow our thought leadership outlets for an upcoming series deep-diving in the different aspects of the metaverse you should consider.