The Metaverse. It seems like everyone is talking about it; how it’s the next big thing, how it will change everything from the internet to social media, to working, to life itself! Sounds like an amazing and exciting prospect, right? So, you can understand why behemoths like Meta (formally known as Facebook), Nvidia and Qualcomm are plunging headlong into the potential of this unknown digital universe. But is it really going to live up to the hype and be the place everyone wants to spend their days? I’m no Luddite – far from it – but I wanted to give the whole thing a bit of a reality check, to look at where things are at right now with what is quickly becoming a bit of a battleground for some, an opportunity for others, and a jump on the bandwagon for a few more.
I wanted to explore the hype surrounding all things Metaverse while asking one big question: is it ready? Is it in a good place, specifically in terms of a brand experience? Should brands out there be scrambling to get involved, throwing down big bucks to have a presence, like some already are? Should it be seen as a new opportunity for marketers to be selling to their clients as the next big thing? Or is it just this year’s industry buzzword?
So, where is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse is any 3D virtual environment where users from anywhere in the world can socially immerse themselves. Right now, it consists of a number of disjointed social multiplayer games with various levels of functionality. Some of these environments or worlds are, to put it kindly, rather rudimentary, while others offer a more of a slick ‘gamer’ experience. Another thing to be aware of is these worlds tend to exist within either a centralised or decentralised platform. Decentralised platforms are built on a blockchain architecture such as Ethereum and are owned by their users, who can purchase NFTs such as land, art and other assets, whereas centralised platforms are governed by a central entity, controlling the parameters as to what users can do, buy or earn.
Decentralised platforms are built on a blockchain architecture such as Ethereum and are owned by their users, who can purchase NFTs such as land, art and other assets, whereas centralised platforms are governed by a central entity, controlling the parameters as to what users can do, buy or earn.
What’s out there already, and what’s on its way?
There are already several well-known standalone worlds of various styles and functionality that make up what’s known as the Metaverse, so let’s dig a little deeper into some of these virtual environments.
First off, there is Decentraland. Decentraland, which is seen as one of the most successful and one of the oldest platforms, is a decentralised virtual world built on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s a huge flat world that feels like a new housing estate where the roads have been put in on a grid system, all radiating out from a central plaza, but where no one has really built anything much just yet and in which everything feels a little experimental (put it this way, there’s no planning permission needed – the whackier, the better). Okay, granted, some pockets have started to take shape, and some major global brands have gotten involved recently, such as Morgan Stanley, Coca-Cola, Adidas and Samsung, taking the chance as early adopters within this new, virtual world.
Another hugely popular virtual world is The Sandbox, which like Dencentraland, is a decentralised platform, again built on the Ethereum blockchain. Fundamentally The Sandbox is a gaming platform where users can create and play anything that can be imagined, and it’s these games that make up this open-world experience. It is designed so that anyone, even with very little tech knowledge, can build a game within this virtual world. One of the great things about The Sandbox is the play-to-earn functionality, where the more you play, the more you earn. The Sandbox has also attracted quite the following, having partnered with over 165 brands and artists, including Smurfs, Snoop Dogg, DeadMau5, The Walking Dead, and even the Premier League football club, Manchester City.
Roblox is a gaming platform used by over 50 million people worldwide, and although similar to The Sandbox in terms of a platform that allows its users to build and play games, it isn’t a decentralised platform, meaning it isn’t owned by its users. Roblox tends to be focused on a younger audience but has still attracted some of the world’s biggest brands. Nike, Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Vans have all jumped into this world to have a presence as early adopters.
Then there’s Meta and its much-talked-about platform. Currently known as Horizon Worlds, the Beta version is open to ‘creators’ in the US, Canada, France, Spain and the UK via the Oculus Quest 2, as a virtual reality experience if you happen to own one of these headsets. One can only surmise that this version will be one of many, many iterations of Meta’s virtual world experience, what with the amount of time and money being invested (this year, Meta has spent USD 10 billion alone) and the grand vision they have for its future.
And yet another virtual world platform that is very well known to younger gamers is Fortnite — the wildly popular online video game where players fight to be the last one standing. Like Roblox, Fortnite is not decentralised and so not built on a blockchain platform. But, unlike Roblox, it has been designed as a one-world Battle Royale. In a bid to branch out of this, though, its creator, Epic Games, has moved out of just hosting these huge battle sequences and into out-of-this-world, live music experiences with some of the biggest stars in the ‘in-real-life’ music world, such as Travis Scott and Ariana Grande. These ‘live concerts’ (they are actually prerecorded, with high levels of animated overlays) look visually amazing where there really is no limit to the creativity that can be expressed by these world-class acts.
No doubt there are going to be many, many new players in the Metaverse universe as the concept and potential open up. One known example of an up-and-coming Metaverse is from Yuga Labs — the company behind Bored Ape Yacht Club, one of the biggest and most famous creators of NFT art — and their Metaverse venture Otherside. Yuga Labs have already sold 55,000 Otherdeeds, which, like other Ethereum-based blockchain platforms like Decentraland, are virtual plots of land, with the sale raking in $320 million US! Not bad for a new kid on the block(chain).
By Adrian Goldthorp
Creative Director at George P. Johnson