Is the metaverse here yet? Should we even care? Crowd DNA cuts through the hype and presents the things we actually need to know about...
22 March, 2023
So the rush for territory in the metaverse is well underway. As a brand or a business, it’s hard not to feel like it’s the place to be.
But it’s still unclear what the metaverse is. And what it isn’t. We wanted to explore this further. To ask whether now is the right time for brands to get involved; what we can predict about where it’s going next; and to examine the best uses of the metaverse (and what we can actually get our head around). A leap into the metaverse can be a good one, and here are key insights on the metaverse for whenever (or however) you land there.
In this feature we look at:
_ Is the metaverse actually here yet?
_Should we jump on the metaverse bandwagon?
_What’s the future of the metaverse?
_The metaverse in numbers
_Five things you can actually grasp about the metaverse
There is a lot of commentary about the metaverse world. Everyone is talking about it. The CEO of Disney, Bob Chapek, calls it “the next great storytelling frontier,” and there are thousands and thousands of articles written about its potential. It’s “the future of how we socialise, work and play,” says Mark Zuckerberg.
The idea of the metaverse began in Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash, where digital avatars escape to the metaverse far from a dystopian meatspace. Now, 30 years later, the term ‘metaverse’ is used to describe web3, the concept of a total convergence of our physical and digital life.
The metaverse today is best exemplified by digital platforms like Roblox, Sandbox, Decentraland, Minecraft and Fortnite. They successfully enable virtual experiences that are enhanced by connectivity, AR and VR. To the digital native generations, this virtual space is how they socialise and hang out. They can chat with friends, build houses, or spend virtual money on virtual yachts and virtual designer clothes.
But these early metaverse forays are actually just online experiences that have been around for ages, and lean on pre-existing in-game economies. It’s all been done before (albeit with less press attention). The metaverse could be so much more: it could be an interconnected digital system of endless immersive potential. A virtual experience across worlds, realities, gaming, digital economies, spaces, UGC platforms and hardware.
Time For Tech To Catch Up
We know there is an engaged user already there – the millions spending hours building and gaming and playing. But not yet the technologies that will help the metaverse live up to its promise of creating truly immersive experiences, such as sonic innovation, synchronised experiences, and affordable and intuitive tech.
Where our real and virtual self could do separate tasks at the same time – maybe even have two jobs, or perhaps two different hairstyles. Or where everyone, from developing regions to established economies, has the same access to utilities and chances. Or where IRL borders are no longer relevant and people from all countries can be part of one big online society and economy.
Only then can we imagine a world where an absolute merging of physical and digital life could happen. When that happens, it won’t just be the digital natives or over-excited brands banging on about how great it is. Until then, we have to conclude that the metaverse does not exist…yet.
As digital native generations grow up and enter the workforce, there’s potentially serious money to be made with the metaverse. Brands are already staking their claim and the growing energy around immersive digital experiences is fuelled by this heightened commercial interest. Even if the tech isn’t fully there yet, brands are buying into the promise to be part of it in the early days, and reap the benefits later.
The Right Time For Brands?
We can see this in how brands are activating on the metaverse right now. There’s a lot happening, but it’s all based around the same, already very tired, already over-done, commercial/PR initiatives. Whether that’s living like Paris Hilton in a branded Roblox island, watching a Selena Gomez avatar in an Animal Crossing Talk Show, or product placing Star Wars in Fortnite.
As of right now, the metaverse is a lot of overly-commercialised fast culture. It only features aspects of trends that change and develop at pace – like music, food, fashion, and so on. Brands risk being inauthentic and jumping on the fads of the moment. So, is it all just hype then? Or worse, something that we’ll be laughing about in ten years time? Is the metaverse today’s Google glasses?
Is It All Hype?
Already there is a clear discrepancy between the big societal shifts (slow culture) and what is currently being offered – essentially commerce, branded universes or games. So if brands can engage in that slow culture – the conversations about factors that evolve over much slower periods, such as to do with family and work, or even spirituality – then they can begin to co-create the metaverse as a place that people actually want to be. Initiatives fuelled by slow culture are needed if the metaverse is to have real impact in people’s lives.
Meanwhile, there is an expectation that digital natives will push the frontier even further. With Gen Z and Gen Alpha increasingly becoming locked into digital innovation, there is a future in this space and it’s led by them. Technological developments will also 100 percent open new routes.
The road ahead is unclear, but it’s this slow cultural energy that will really shape the metaverse of tomorrow. We need to start listening and stop crowbarring ourselves in. So, no, don’t jump on the bandwagon.
As of right now, the metaverse is a lot of overly-commercialised fast culture. Initiatives fuelled by slow culture are needed if the metaverse is to have real impact in people’s lives.
The metaverse is currently swamped by a lot of over-commercialised fast culture. To really understand the direction of the metaverse, we need to interrogate the real world – where real people with real problems live – by looking at slow culture.
To recap: fast culture is made up of areas of society that change at pace, like food trends; slow culture is formed by areas that evolve over much slower periods of time, like family and work. It’s within slow culture that the real clues can be found. The metaverse’s future doesn’t lie in gimmicky brand activations. It’s within slow culture that the real clues can be found.
Crowd DNA’s Signals Hub
Tracking cultural change and future opportunities with advanced NLP, AI and machine learning capabilities
At Crowd DNA, we work with nine cultural shifts that are at the foundation of societal change. We’ve devised these via our Crowd Signals hub, inspecting social data points to predict trends that ladder up to them. Two of those shifts are Responsible Progress and Wellbeing Recharge. By translating them into a digital future (see below), we can get a glimpse of the metaverse ahead…
Responsible Progress – Decentralised Fashion
There have been huge changes within the fashion industry over the past few years. Many of these have been as a result of its dark relationship with environmental waste, pollution and social injustice. Sustainable clothing is now available up and down the high street, and reusable or shared products are helping fight the war against fast fashion.
But how is sustainable fashion playing out in the metaverse? Forward thinking businesses – such as digital fashion house, The Fabricant – are building decentralised platforms that give consumers control over their own designs and output. So, instead of producing physical samples, people can research and develop their own ideas in the metaverse – reducing environmental strain on garment creation in the process. This also puts more power into the hands of consumers, challenging fashion’s hierarchical structure in the process.
The metaverse has enormous potential to research, design and test environmentally friendly methods of production. We’ll be able to try on clothing in virtual changing rooms, design our own digital samples and discover new community generated looks – all crucial in the attempt to slow down fashion. It could democratise the creative space once and for all.
Wellbeing Recharge – Optimised And Ownable Health
Global uncertainty has forced people to tune into their mental, physical and social health more than ever before. New systems of care are emerging in response. The emphasis being on systems that integrate data and individual preferences, designed to empower us to take charge and become more conscious of our own health.
Translated into the metaverse, digital healthcare has lots of possibilities. Virtual clinics are being set up to combat geographical barriers to healthcare. A specialist can be stationed anywhere in the world, but still be able to view a patient’s scans and tests done at local facilities. While this responds to healthcare’s accessibility, digital twins are paving the way for more holistic and user-centric treatment plans. Q Bio Gemini, for example, uses patient data to create simulations of anatomy. These twins can then be shared with medical professionals, giving them a live window into a patient’s health. People will also be able to see – and ‘own’ – their health status, as well as receive more personalised treatment plans. It seems that healthcare in the metaverse could empower people to take charge of their own wellbeing and measure it in the most complete sense.
As we can see, the metaverse is unlikely to remain as a playground for virtual yacht parties and celebrity avatars. The more we inspect slow culture, the more we can see what it will be. Not driven by consuming NFTs or eating digital burgers (or at least, not all the time).
To really understand the direction of the metaverse, we need to interrogate the real world – where real people with real problems live.
As with any developing platform, there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on in the metaverse – some of which we’ve tried to clear a way through in this debunking series. We can also look at the numbers – the good, the bad and the salutary – and what they tell us about how the metaverse is being met by businesses, brands, consumers and communities today. So here are the numbers that reveal the now, next, and not ever of the metaverse.
The metaverse is older than you think…
The word ‘metaverse’ was coined in the novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson in 1992. The metaverse was an online refuge from the dystopian meatspace.
…but it could come about quickly
The percentage of people who will spend one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, and/or entertainment by 2026 (Gartner, Inc).
Metaverse platforms are bringing in the big bucks
A luxury yacht with two helipads, several lounge areas, a jacuzzi and a DJ booth, sold as part of an exclusive luxury series developed for Sandbox (one of the largest gaming platforms).
On November 30 2021, metaverse investment company Republic Realm paid $4.3 million for land in The Sandbox metaverse to add to its 2,500 plots of digital land across 19 virtual worlds.
Nearly a hundred million people a day log onto Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite Creative platforms.
Tech business is getting a slice of the meta-pie
The US Securities And Exchange Commission reports that in the first six months of 2022, the word ‘metaverse’ appeared in regulatory filings more than 1,100 times. The previous year saw 260 mentions.
In October 2021, Facebook changed its name to Meta and it now loses more than $10 billion each year on its metaverse initiatives.
In January, Microsoft announced the largest acquisition in Big Tech history, paying $70 billion for gaming giant Activision Blizzard, which would “provide building blocks for the metaverse.”
Culture has exploded into the metaverse
The estimated value of paintings burned by artist Damien Hirst after 5,149 buyers chose instead to have an NFT of the artwork from his latest collection – aptly titled ‘The Commerce’. “It is the most exciting project I have ever worked on by far,” says Hirst.
But there’s still a (very) long way to go…
The very low number of “active users” in the community of Decentraland (DappRadar)
1. The metaverse does not exist yet
We hate to burst the bubble, but current metaverse activations grabbing the headlines are actually just online experiences that have been around for ages. The total convergence of physical and digital life just isn’t technologically possible yet.
2. When people say metaverse they mean gaming + digitalisation and a bit of crypto
The term ‘metaverse’ has a lot to answer for. At the moment, it’s an attention-grabbing buzzword for the world’s impending web3 reality. However, when you actually unpick what people are talking about, it’s just gaming innovations and crypto experiments.
3. Don’t fool yourself, a lot of current activations are just fads
Digital burgers? Love Island’s virtual getaway? Need we say more. As of right now, the metaverse is a lot of overly-commercialised fast culture. It only features aspects of trends that change and develop at pace – like music, food, fashion, and so on. Brands risk being inauthentic and jumping on the fads of the moment.
4. Real world shifts are a precursor for how the metaverse will develop
The clues of the metaverse lie in genuine human needs. Currently, however, the discourse is dominated by over-commercialised fast culture that responds to the needs of a few. To predict the direction that the metaverse will take, we need to inspect slow culture – those slower moving societal shifts within areas like family and work.
5. Listen to people, join conversations, show genuine interest, grow with them
If the goal, as a brand or business, is to use the metaverse to interact with consumers, don’t just jump on the bandwagon. To become truly relevant to audiences, it’s vital we listen to what they actually need and want from the endless possibilities of our metaverse future.
22 March, 2023