“Metaverse” is a term first coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash, captured the imagination of emerging generations and has gained unsurprising traction in recent years. From fully digital lives in online worlds, like Second Life, to a plethora of movies like Ready Player One, each provide a glimpse into what the metaverse could mean and how it could play a part in our daily lives. As we’ve seen, the mission, vision, and values that we hold for our futures are the premise of how these new worlds emerge.
It’s not hard to find media covering the topic of virtual worlds, they are real, they exist now, and yet there is so much we have yet to see as far as technological developments in this area.
The current understanding and experience of the metaverse varies. Although Meta (formerly Facebook) is creating its own “Metaverse” it is only one of many such projects. There is Meta, the brand, and there is the all-encompassing term, metaverse, which essentially means multiple worlds enabled through augmented and/or fully virtual experiences, where people can interact, work, play and more. Brands, opportunities and partnerships are ripe across this ever-growing ecosystem — many organizations are currently building out similar and novel virtual experiences for work, commerce, entertainment and more, across a spectrum of centralized and decentralized systems.
As it stands, the metaverse is what we would say is in its ‘prototyping’ phase. Thus, there is so much yet to come, and infinite possibilities in which we can partake.
Metaverse and online communities
You can’t have a metaverse without community.
Think of the metaverse as just like our real-life public and private spaces, except augmented / fully digital with a game-like, fantastical structure. Metaverses are narrative driven and hosted for connection between people, groups, and organizations. And the glue that holds these worlds together and enables a new epoch of collective experiences is the community aspect of them.
We can see large-scale examples of metaverses with the recent explosion of worlds like Decentraland, Sandbox, and Roblox. Worlds like these will only become more extensive and are increasing in number over time.
Here we will dive into the role of communities in the metaverse and how the evolution of key community considerations provide emerging opportunities for Brands:
In contrast to other technologies, metaverses are unique in the advanced sensory experiences they offer through augmented reality and full immersion VR. Avatars let people connect through body language, expressing themselves in real time. With so many added layers of connection and exploration, they come ever closer to real-world-like interactions, and also open up new opportunities for unexpected, serendipitous, and fantastical moments between users. The more sensory an experience becomes, the more precise our expressions, rich our personal connections and heightened our personal and collective meanings become.
As there is less structure engrained in these spaces, engagement also becomes more fluid. A user feels more empowered than ever to connect with others, find information, explore, shop, and so much more. They can choose their adventure, their personal course of action, and even imprint their own meaning into the world by co-creating spaces, experiences, and/or digital products. The possibilities are infinite. A members meaning can become the brush upon the canvas of the metaverse.
Brands and communities looking to build here, will start as all communities do, around a sense of collective meaning. Those that have a clear mission, vision, values, value adds, and embrace co-creation across stakeholders, will be the ones equipped to shape this new frontier. These building blocks will allow brands to host spaces where new and shared experiences are created, where meaning making is an iterative process and where the brand and community experience become one.
The Metaverse takes a lot of cues from the gaming world, so it only makes sense that we would see gamification brought into and reimagined in these virtual realities. New methods of immersion and the addition of a third dimension of space allow people to interact with their rewards in entirely new ways — taking gamification to the next level. Alongside gaming cues, emerging tech around blockchain is also looking to expand our definition of what rewards and recognition means, even further.
Rewards can be intrinsic in the form of adventure without limitations and the freedom to meet, engage with, learn from, and support others. They can also be extrinsic with unique avatar fashion kits, modifications, abilities, and access. NFTs are currently being used as extrinsic rewards; for example, the Dallas Mavericks gave away a limited edition retired NFT jersey to those who attended a real world game, providing new forms of rewards and potential financial value for fans.
Recognition can also be coupled with reward. People who are awarded, who have created or own artifacts can have them showcased in digital spaces — on VR billboards, virtual exhibition spaces, or mirrored mixed-reality spaces that overlay these artifacts over the people and places we collectively frequent. The modes of expressed recognition are as endless as the spaces themselves.
Brands that reimagine their recognition and rewards approaches in the context of the metaverse will themselves be rewarded with highly engaged community members who want to share and create together, enjoying the upside with the brand.
The Metaverse is emerging within a new wave of technologies that are expanding the idea of ‘ownership’ at a fundamental level. Some metaverse creators, like Meta, take a more centralized approach to control and ownership, while others, like Sandbox and Decentraland are focusing on semi-decentralised models of ownership built on the blockchain.There are even fully open-source metaverses created from decentralized models, such as Momentum. Each of these projects prototyping over the spectrum of current ownership models, exploring this context for members, partners and brands.
New ownership models and processes in these spaces will continue to transform how and what we buy, sell, trade, and rent. The full potential, especially for commerce, remains largely untapped. NFTs represent a superb example of this, as they’re an emerging technology that allows there to be a universally visible and acknowledged “owner” of a real or digital item or limited access experience, on the blockchain, that sits outside of governments and borders — something that was hard to achieve before. Think artwork, music, accreditations, and even real estate.
Brands looking to build within the metaverse will almost immediately be faced with the question of how centralized or decentralized the metaverse platform of their choice will be. This foundational choice will set the tone of both their role of building and facilitating the experience and the amount of agency members will have to do the same. This answer will also set the groundwork for all possibilities, strategies and forms of engagement going forward, including the ability for members to own what they contribute & create within the experience. Extending ownership to the community, may seem like a far reach for some communities, although those who have taken the leap, have seen whole new communities, products and markets open up to them. Lego has been doing this within their core offering, products & digital experiences, and with their new focus on the metaverse, we may see the true potential of what this can mean.
The Metaverse with all of its forms and sizes offers seemingly unlimited opportunities for space, resources, access points, and interaction styles for communities to grow and collaborate. These opportunities extend to brand communities, where we may see customers interacting in more immersed, personal ways, provided brands take advantage of these technologies.
In day-to-day business, brands are investing into virtual spaces — constructing offices and spaces in the metaverse to complement remote working with colleagues while also creating unique spaces to host collaborations with partners, artists, community members, and the general public. These spaces also provide a new form of connection with a brand and its community from anywhere in the world.
We’re already seeing industries, such as the entertainment industry, be one of the first to capitalize on metaverse experiences in more unique and grandiose ways. For example, rapper Travis Scott performed for a virtual audience of over 12 million people live on the gaming platform Fortnite. Leveraging new interaction styles to captivate an existing artist community, while opening up the experience to millions of new potential members/fans. We will likely see other industries follow suit as virtual worlds present new ways to reach audiences, share work, and buy products, at a scale previously unseen.
The future of social media is evolving in big part through the metaverse — especially virtual worlds built on blockchain technology, i.e., where data and ownership travel with an individual from platform to platform rather than being based or owned by a singular platform. Decentralized digital spaces will elevate the current social media dynamic by inviting more ownership, agency, personalisation, collaboration and co-creation.
New forms of social media are focused on enabling individual agency, creation, and the power of community dynamics more so than ever— moving from social media to social experiences. The metaverse is anchoring itself as the malleable immersive landscape in which digital social experiences keep evolving. In the future, social experiences and these virtual worlds may look even more like gaming — resembling social structures, ownership, fluidity, and collective action like guilds in large multiplayer online games, only at a larger scale. We can expect the first adopters to be younger generations like Gen Z, who have grown up digitally native.
An example we’re seeing in this burgeoning space is that of Roblox — a collective of user-made worlds to connect, co-create, play, and hangout in, with an average of 200 million active monthly users (in 2022).
Metaverses have shown to bring novel benefits to industries such as fashion (digital fashion), gaming, and corporate collaboration. The first movers in other sectors have a massive opportunity at their fingertips to curate the future of their industries' experiences. The true potential of the metaverse may be seen as AR (augmented reality) emerges and bridges the gap between real and fully digital worlds; accelerating adoption, the flow of interaction, data and business, across this spectrum of work, play and more. Many large organizations like Meta, Valve, and even Apple are already scoping out and building these worlds, as they see their potential.
Metaverses in their current stage are akin to prototypes, the equivalent of the early 90s in internet years. At this time, we are lucky to have the opportunity to prototype and intentionally project our missions, visions, values and goals into this space, together shaping the future that is to come (if we so choose).
Choose your mission.
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