We said it a few months ago, and we’ll say it again: despite the expectation it’s generating in the marketing world, the metaverse isn’t here yet, and may never come into existence. However, it’s not so much about whether it is real or not. The real question is: will there be something big enough where it is valuable for my brand to position itself? The answer (although it depends on one’s understanding of the metaverse) is yes.
What is the metaverse?
There are many definitions, but I’ll tell you mine. The metaverse is the successor to the internet: a virtual environment in which users interact with each other, with brands, and with different content —exactly as they do now— and which simulates an experience that you can empathise with as if it were real.
To do this (and here there seems to be a consensus) we will need an immersive connection system (because a mouse, console controller, TV, or mobile screen are not) with which to connect and start doing whatever we want: work, shop, flirt, invest…
As we mentioned back in December, the technologies that could make this a reality already exist and have been perfected for many years: IoT, Mixed Reality, and electronic transactions….. From Second Life to Nintendo’s Virtual Boy. From Habbo to Pokemon Go. We’ve been moving forward for decades now.
But the idea of the metaverse implies that different content, experience, or product providers that already have their own universes -apps, games, virtual stores…- are connected to a larger one that allows, without changing platform, to leave your home in a role-playing game and connect to a videoconference, or order food at a virtual restaurant. Which of course is the web. The main challenge, the critical point for this metaverse to exist is control: who controls, designs, and operates “the paths” between one universe and another. Although it seems that standards are beginning to be generated, a first step for it to become a reality.
Do we want to be present in the metaverse?
Is the technology ready? I think so. Do people want to be there? Well, the truth is, they already are. Or almost. Let me explain: right now there are a multitude of digital universes —not interconnected with each other— in which we all spend our days: 4.5 billion people in the world use the internet, but (and this seems to me even more relevant) more than 3 billion of us play video games.
Last year, I wrote an article on how, in the coming years, many users will stop making a lot of purchasing decisions. “Alexa”, a subscription system or whatever kind of tool will do the majority of the shopping for them. The purchasing process will be fun, or it won’t be. There won’t be a fear of making the wrong decision, but instead a panic of getting bored while making it.
All of this brings us to think that people will take their leisure and part of their purchasing decisions to the metaverse (or, at least, the ones they enjoy making). This is already happening with video game items , for example.
Control of the metaverse
The main difference between the internet, the current set of non-immersive universes (iOS, Android, the web), and the future immersive metaverse, is how users’ perceive the time spent on them. Generally, even if we spend a lot of time on the internet during the day, we usually consume content at full speed (attention economy and all that). However, at night we tend to consume content more slowly (movies, video games, video calls…)
Booking.com, Amazon, the home screen of Netflix, or Google itself. Everything is designed to capture your attention quickly and for a short time: a context in which, in order to provide value to an audience that “pays little attention”, casual and cheap content is crucial.
Therein lies the paradigm shift. As opposed to the model of free content generated by users themselves (with the incredible merit that this has) on which Google and Facebook have built their empires, the metaverse will be a virtual environment in which we have to “put on our glasses”, and in which users are looking for specific content, not feed content.
More than a decade ago, I reflected on the interconnected system that is the internet and who would win the battle between platforms (we can now call them universes), access and content. A few years later, I thought that platforms were the ones winning the game of the “fast paced internet”. Now, I see that perhaps in the metaverse —which will necessarily imply a slower consumption— the keys are held by those who own the content.
But that content will no longer be fast-paced: it can take decades to generate and its production is much more expensive.. This is precisely why Microsoft bought Activision — a company that many people outside the gaming world wouldn’t know much about, but which owns franchises played by hundreds of millions of people— by approximately $69 billion. To put it in context, that’s almost three times what Facebook paid for Whatsapp, and 20% more than the valuation of the Santander Group; further proof that the video games sector receives way less mainstream media coverage than it should by volume (the familiar “bigger than the music and film industry combined”), but that’s another story.
If so, then Disney, Sony, Netflix, Microsoft or even Youtube are much more likely to be closer to controlling a part of the metaverse than Meta or Apple since the entrance to the metaverse, will be —already is— leisure: the time we spend consuming content slowly.
Any one of these players could control the metaverse in the future if they moved first and started building a 3D environment, and then disconnected their content (which everyone loves) from the internet, similar to GTA V players watching in-game movies.
For example, what if the “germ” of the metaverse was a virtual universe led by HBO in which we had to log in in order to watch Euphoria? What if, after watching the series with our avatar, we took the opportunity to order food at the virtual McDonalds (which, I insist, has to be a fun experience, or it won’t be). What would be more complicated is for McDonalds to “pull the metaverse” on its own. Another option – a complex one – is for leading consumer brands to join forces to create a universe of their own that eventually connects to an eventual metaverse, which would be nothing more than a large shopping and entertainment centre. )
The metaverse and the creator economy
Earlier I spoke about GTA V, the most successful audiovisual product in history, with more than 6 billion dollars generated, which has become a virtual universe in itself: you can earn money, go to the cinema, make friends, buy clothes or play tennis or golf. A game that was originally about “shooting and stealing”, but which today has almost 2.5 million monthly players who carry out tasks that have nothing to do with the original game, according to the rules —it is by invitation only— of the role master, a role often played by famous creators on Youtube or Twitch, who build their own stories for their followers.
Another thought: What if it were possible for this eventual metaverse, built on slow-consuming content, to be outside of the big franchises? What if sets of “middle-class” creators (who are not star Youtubers, TikTokers or Twichers, but could make a living from the users who fund their creations on Patreon, Qultu or Ko-fi) came together to bring their content to a universe they wanted to support or create? Would that be enough, or would a middle ground be more feasible? Can Meta partner with them to accelerate the arrival of users and then brands?
How can your brand take advantage of the metaverse now?
At this point, you may be wondering: so if I’m not an entertainment or content company, does it even make sense to enter the metaverse? There are two ways that brands and companies can explore to start getting results now:
- If your company is B2B, you don’t (probably) have any of the problems I’ve cited in this article. You have a captive audience of employees or suppliers who will spend time with you. It’s certain that thanks to virtual environments you will be able to improve sales, research, onboarding or training processes.
- If your company is B2C, the most important thing is to be clear about your objective: are you looking to build a PR action, or are you looking to generate an experience or content that can be of value to your consumers? If you want to learn more, explore the options that some of the companies that already have virtual universes offer to brands or advertisers.
Whatever your objective is, the most important thing is to never lose sight of the user: it’s not about replicating your services or your value proposition in virtual environments if it is more convenient for the user to access them in another way. At the end of the day, the metaverse is not about innovation for the sake of it, but about offering users a differentiating and, above all, a fun experience.