6 minutes read
“The Metaverse.” We’re inundated by this new buzzword. It’s the topic of conversation at dinner parties, on Zoom sessions, and among the baristas at your local coffee shop, but let’s face it, if you are still struggling to define exactly what it is, you’re not alone. You’ve loosely brushed across it in different ways. Maybe your daughter has attended a Roblox concert over the pandemic. Perhaps your buddy from school is gobbling up his favorite player’s NFT on Top Shot. Or it’s possible your co-worker’s making passive income off of NFTs on OpenSea. Even your neighbor is buying real estate, not in some beach town but rather on Decentraland. At the very least, you probably watched the Superbowl this year and couldn’t help but feel like the game itself took a backseat to the spate of Crypto ads featuring every high-profile name in Hollywood and a $13 million QR code.
Facebook’s recent rebrand to “Meta,” its acquisition of Oculus, and its push to corner that market may lead you to assume that Facebook is the metaverse and the metaverse is Facebook. That would be false. Although Meta is a big player in the quickly unfolding landscape, the metaverse itself is its very own unique domain. It’s the Wild West.
So what exactly is the metaverse? Wired magazine recently described it as including “virtual reality—characterized by persistent virtual worlds that continue to exist even when you’re not playing—as well as augmented reality that combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds.”
If you’re like me, that broad definition leaves you just as confused as you were at the get-go. So let’s start with the basics. Understanding the metaverse begins with grasping Web 3.0 and that requires a brief history lesson. In the first phase of the World Wide Web, pages were static and didn’t allow for participation. You were a consumer of different websites, but it was ultimately a passive experience. You could check out a website, but you couldn’t do much when you landed there but gawp at it and perhaps scroll down if you were lucky. In Web 2.0, which started around the time Mark Zuckerberg became a household name, we began to interact with the internet more fully and became an active participant in it. That included everything from social media to e-commerce and all the interactive services that followed in its wake. Web 3.0 promises something entirely new, a fully immersive digital experience and the metaverse will be a key component of it.
As of now, there is no unified metaverse. Debate still wages on whether there ever actually will be or should be. The audience is instead scattered among several ecosystems. The largest of them is Decentraland, which is user owned and democratized, followed by Sandbox, which allows investors to sell, buy, and trade virtual plots of lands. Next, we have HyperVerse, a cosmos, offering up millions of different universes. Facebook and Microsoft are also key players in the emerging space, with Meta owning Horizon Worlds and Microsoft overseeing AltSpaceVR.
You can access these worlds in a variety of forms, but usually it’s through Extended Reality, which includes everything from AR to VR, or even from you own computer. If it all sounds like a Wild West, that’s because it is one, but it’s one that’s quickly taking shape. There are already over a billion mobile AR users, and they’re trying to carve out space and discover what their other likeness will look like, wear, and explore in the metaverse.
It’s utopian when you come to think of it. The chance to shop until you drop, engage with your favorite celebrities, and explore the far corners of the earth now exists from the comfort of your home. And major brands that have seen the opportunity are seizing it, most notably retail brands like Nike and Gucci, who have set up shops in Roblox. Forever 21 has gone further, giving users their own ready-to-be-customized glass store and offering up the chance to expand and customize it. Through the process, the users compete with each other to discover who will come out on top and be selected as the “top shop.” In so gamifying the experience, Forever21 has built out Forever 21 Shop City, which includes four themed districts that allow users to role play, meet up with friends, discover hidden rare items, and cultivate their own community. Winnie Park, CEO of Forever 21, recently outlined in March the immense value its metaverse storefront provides to the iconic retailer and how well it aligns with Forever 21’s mission to “encourage self-expression through virtual and physical fashion” while allowing the brand to tap into “a new demographic.”
Not to be outdone, J.P. Morgan is transporting banking to the metaverse, becoming the first leading bank to launch in Web 3.0 this year. Onyx Lounge, its flagship home in Decentraland, provides institutions and businesses with an opportunity to enter the metaverse. Located in Metaiuku, a virtual version of Tokyo’s Harajuku shopping district, users can watch experts firsthand expound on the crypto market. They can also interact with the massive portrait of Jamie Dimon or the large tiger that roams the lounge’s first floor.
In a similar move to J.P. Morgan, brokerage firm, Fidelity Investments also recognizes the opportunity for the metaverse to expose its company to younger prospective clients. It’s launched Fidelity Stack in Decentraland, a multistory building that features everything from a dance floor to a rooftop garden. This base allows the firm to teach users the basics of ETF investing in a hip and inviting environment.
So why should you care? What does this mean for your brand? The metaverse is not just a flash in the pan. It’s a tangible new playing field that flagship brands need to begin to grapple with. The time is now to start identifying which platform you’re betting on. Will you be buying land there, designing clothes, or setting up a shop? It’s okay not to know where to start and it’s okay to fail, but you’re going to have to try. You’re going to have to partner with your clients and embark on this journey together. You can expect to stumble at first, as there is no magic bullet in the metaverse yet. Just as in Web 1.0, some will thrive, and others will fall painfully short, but those who refuse to understand or enter it will undoubtedly find themselves in the latter category. The metaverse is still a new concept, but now is the time to dive in and explore. So buy an Oculus for your office and encourage your employees to play around in VR and fail fast so that you ensure that you have a seat at the table before all the seats have been taken.
Starfish is a branding and creative communications agency that ignites powerful customer connections through the discipline of brand experience.
Starfish CEO | Global Marketing Executive | Brand Strategist