Originally published on New Digital Age.
The Metaverse is pissing me off already
Never has so much bullshit been spewed about so little. And for us in adland, that’s saying a lot.
As hype cycles get shorter, the metaverse has quickly moved from a vague concept on the fringes of the internet to a vague concept that everyone in adland is talking about without saying much at all. Now I’m having to write a piece on the mEtAVeRsE. Well done everyone.
When was the last time you 3D printed anything, or put on your VR headset to enjoy a brand experience, you may have used AR for the novelty factor, perhaps playing Pokemon GO or using Snapchat or Insta filters, but have any of the big trends that we’ve all wasted hours of our short, short lives reading and writing about actually happened? Have we as people in adland actually done anything to affect the bottom line for our clients using one of these ‘earth-shattering’ technologies? Me neither. Regardless, on we go to the next shiny thing, the Metaverse.
There is no set definition of the metaverse and it is interpreted in many ways. Wikipedia tries its best with “A metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. In futurism and science fiction, it is often described as a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets.”
My attempt would be: the metaverse is a virtual world where people can socialise, work, shop and play. It’s an alternate space in which capitalism, narcissism and technology combine to provide a horrific jetstream of bullshit into your face. It’s worse than Instagram.
The key question that nobody can answer is this: How does a universal, virtual world improve on the current internet experience? My answer: It doesn’t. It’s pushing capitalism, not creativity and that’s my annoyance with this vision of the metaverse, it’s a commercial dream, not a creative one.
It’s being pushed by Zuckerberg, Crypto Bros and the Gaming Giants, which of course means it’s going to be full of ads, misinformation and casual gamers. Look at Meta’s metaverse announcement video and tell me you want to live, work and play there. We have the brilliance of human creativity to play with and we serve up virtual work meetings or shopping. It’s depressing, unimaginative and predictable.
I don’t want to shit on the metaverse completely, it’s being heavily invested in and there is a chance that it offers a tiny improvement on the internet in some spaces, with gaming being the most obvious.
Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft are the most successful metaverses and they have created a new type of communal entertainment in vast swathes of Millenial and Gen-Z minds, Roblox birthday parties are a thing. The idea of the metaverse is not new to Gen-Z or any native gamer who’s experienced in-game currency, avatars and worlds, but do they or you want to work and play in a neverending virtual world. I doubt it. Where is the improvement over the internet as it stands?
Why now? Why has the hype machine gone into full-on bullshit mode? I think the answer lies in behaviour change, technology advancements and generational willingness. As well as adland wanting something shiny and new to try to sell to clients.
Two years ago, you were blissfully unaware of the Microsoft Teams ringtone, you’d never held a Zoom birthday party, FaceTimed your Doctor or had a virtual catch-up. The pandemic has forced us to become digitally comfortable, which has accelerated the readiness for the next level of interactivity.
Metaverses are also readily accessible, you can enter Roblox using your web browser, play Animal Crossing on your Nintendo Switch, use a VR headset like the Oculus to enter Meta’s Horizon Worlds or use your iPhone for AR-based metaverses like Pokemon GO. It’s very easy to enter a metaverse.
Gen-Z is used to playing in web-based worlds like Roblox and are already ‘living’ digitally, the metaverse isn’t a new concept and younger generations are embracing the monetization opportunities that come with these types of economies. If you extrapolate that behaviour to an adult economy you can see the potential a singular Metaverse could have. Layer on top the potential of cryptocurrencies and blockchain and you can see why the market opportunity for the metaverse is predicted to be $800bn by 2024. Gen-Z loves being entrepreneurial, and these platforms allow them to be creative and make money. As Gen-Z ages out of Roblox into other metaverse platforms, there is a real opportunity for metaverses like Decentraland and others to own this audience and their money accordingly.
But how do brands play a part?
Aside from gaming, there are a couple of other categories that pair up well with the Metaverse, most notably Fashion and Music. The current opportunity for fashion brands is in skins, which are customisable add-ons or clothing that allows you to change the appearance of your avatar.
The market for skins is reported to be $40Bn a year, which is why brands like Vans, Nike, Ralph Lauren, Balenciaga, Gucci and UNIQLO have jumped into the Metaverse already. This is a unique, authentic and lucrative way to ‘fish where the fish are’.
The other easily identifiable opportunity is in music, in 2018-2019, Travis Scott, an American Rapper and Singer played 55 concerts to 807,000 fans generating $60m in revenue, in 2020, he played 5, 10-minute concerts in Fortnite to 27.7m fans and generated $20m in revenue, guess what he’s planning more of this year?
But we’re not working for mega-brands, and we can’t all rap like Travis Scott, so what should the majority of brands that are not at the top of their category or have global appeal do?
Broadly, I would say it’s not worth thinking about the metaverse in its current form, it’s bullshit because no one can actually explain why it’s better. During a 90 minute keynote, the only real ideas Meta presented were a virtual version of your house made up of crappy 3D rendered objects, attending virtual meetings (so you can’t even turn off your camera if you’re feeling Zoom fatigue) and having a virtual workspace instead of a physical one (never mind how clunky and awkward a virtual desktop is compared to a real one).
So much development on the metaverse is focusing on recreating worse versions of things we already have in the real world. This metaverse pitch is just another avenue for selling people the same crap.
Instead, you should look into the building blocks of the next version of the internet, Web 3.0.
Tech companies are going to keep pushing the metaverse, and eventually we’ll all have to deal with it. But in the meantime invest the time to understand Blockchains, Cryptocurrencies, DAOs, NFTs, Digital Wallets, Fandoms, Tokens, VR and AR, and then look at the core changes and challenges from Web 2.0 to 3.0. That’s the real opportunity, using these emerging technologies to offer value and entertainment to your audience in new and interesting ways.
There is a space for your brand to play in, you just have to get past the meaningless marketing bullshit to find it.
Written by Zoheb Raza.
Originally published in The Drum. Last week, Donald Trump announce...