Head of Innovation, Alex Hamilton, shares his thoughts on the Metaverse and the opportunities it poses for brands in 2022 and beyond.

A part of my job involves cutting through the ‘buzzword bullsh*t’ to help brands understand the latest and greatest in experience technologies and how they can be used to offer consumers great experiences that deliver business, brand and/or consumer value.

Following the announcement that Facebook is now going to be called Meta, the buzzword ringing around the industry over the past few months is; ‘The Metaverse’.

It’s the topic we’ve had the most inquiries about here at Whitespace. What is it? How is it different from gaming? How can our brand be first in this space? And is it a fad or the start of something truly disruptive? These are just a few of the questions that have come our way since Zuckerberg made the announcement.

First and foremost, the term ‘Metaverse’ is nothing new. In fact, author Neal Stephenson coined the term all the way back in 1992, in his science-fiction novel ‘Snow Crash’. The book – which is a great read – envisions a virtual reality-based successor to the internet where people use digital avatars of themselves to explore the online world, often as a way of escaping a dystopian reality.

Secondly, the meaning of the Metaverse is still fairly ambiguous, reflecting the speed of change (everyday a new product, platform or use case is emerging). Our interpretation is simple. People are spending more time in virtual experiences and worlds, from gaming and virtual/augmented reality experiences to blockchain-based games like Sandbox and decentralised social platforms like Discord. All these areas, and more, contribute to what is currently a ‘disconnected’ Metaverse.

The vision for the Metaverse, for many, is a set of virtual spaces that are increasingly connected and decentralised, allowing us to move freely between them, exchanging goods, playing together, socialising, learning etc. In a true Metaverse, I could buy a digital item – let’s say a jacket – in Fortnite, wear it in League of Legends, attend a festival with it on in Decentraland, then redeeming it for a physical product in the real world.

This interoperability – a key concept within the space and one worth understanding – is a crucial building block to creating a truly open Metaverse.

As we see it currently, there are five types of Metaverse experiences, each with a different level of maturity with regards to brand involvement.

Gateway Experiences: platforms such as Discord (150 million+ users globally) and Reddit are increasingly being seen as the social routes/gateways into Metaverse spaces, as well as upcoming enterprise virtual reality solutions such as Microsoft Mesh.

In-Game Experiences: activating media through gaming titles such as Fortnite and building virtual spaces in games like Roblox (Vans built a skatepark on this platform) or blockchain-built games including Decentraland and Sandbox.

Virtual Communities: hosting virtual events/communities in the Metaverse e.g. Monkey Shoulder hosted an after party in Decentraland, or bringing people together to learn together in virtual spaces.

Commerce Experiences: the creation of commerce experiences in the Metaverse via businesses such as Boson Protocol, allowing customers to buy virtual items and redeem them for physical products in the ‘real world’, as well as the development of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to sell on open marketplaces.

Out of World Experiences: leveraging experience technologies mainly used in gaming, including Unreal Engine, to build more immersive brand-owned digital experiences. This is relevant when thinking about the evolution of the web from 2.0 to 3.0 – more information on this here.

For most brands, however, playing in one (or more) of these Metaverse experiences is some way off. There will always be brands who move first, such as adidas who have announced a string of partnerships of late.

My advice to brands right now is to watch this space, learn about it, talk to start-ups, understand use cases around blockchain technology and push your agency partners to keep you updated on the latest developments.

And don’t forget the hardware – I can’t stress this enough. The way in which we interface with technology is changing. Smart glasses from Facebook (launched) and Apple (soon to be launched), cheaper virtual reality headsets (Oculus Quest 2.0 at just £300), Siri-enabled Apple Airpods (potentially). This new hardware will provide the means to access the Metaverse in more natural ways and talks to a broader shift in interface away (slowly) from using our fingers – see a past blog to read more on this.

Like the internet when it first arrived on the scene, it will take time for the Metaverse to develop. Some components will rise, others will fall, but what we know for sure is that it’s not going anywhere. We will all be spending more time in virtual, more immersive experiences in the future.