Looking in the digital mirror: the forces shaping the metaverse

An immersive new form of shared virtual space will redefine how we shop, socialise, communicate and work. Are we ready for the impact of the metaverse, where we don’t just view content but are inside it?

The metaverse is not new. For years artists, writers, designers and technologists have thought about depicting their version of what a metaverse could look like. Books, films and games such as Ready Player One, The Matrix and EVE Online have all explored the idea of how a metaverse may affect humans in the future – some for the better and some for the worse.

However, until recently, these ideas were far-fetched fantasies. Now,  though, they are starting to become a reality. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently shared his vision to transform Facebook into a metaverse company where ‘instead of just viewing content – you are in it’. Now the Facebook parent company has been renamed…Meta.

Persistent virtual space

The metaverse refers to the idea of a shared, persistent virtual space, akin to a digital mirror of the real world but without any physical constraints. People are represented by digital avatars. True metaverses are constantly growing and evolving based on the decisions and actions of the society within it. Thanks to new technologies like VR and AR becoming more accessible, the concept of the metaverse is now open to a bigger audience.

Leslie Shannon, Nokia’s Head of Trend Scouting, explains: ‘The spatial internet is the culmination of everything that AR and VR is developing today. It’s the idea of taking information about things, locations, or historical events and actually locating that information out there in the world where it’s most relevant.’

‘A huge opportunity for companies to capitalise on a relatively untouched marketplace…’

The metaverse has created a huge opportunity for companies to capitalise on a relatively untouched marketplace. Millions of dollars are currently being spent by brands and retailers who are creating their own metaverses. They see the metaverse as a tool to foster new forms of customer engagement and sell more products. This has become especially relevant since the pandemic.

New ways to interact

Companies have had to find new ways of interacting with their customers without physical contact. Fashion houses and car manufacturers have created 3D spaces and avatars in which to display new products. For example, Ralph Lauren used Snapchat’s Bitmoji world as a way of promoting its clothes. Mercedes and other big car brands have partnered with games such as Forza, which lets millions of players test out and drive their cars together in a virtual world.

However, it is not just being used by companies who want to sell products in the physical world. Crypto currency technology has allowed start-ups to create entirely virtual products – think NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens, unique units of data stored in a digital ledger). Virtual asset marketplaces are all the rage in the fintech industry. Asset marketplaces provide exchange platforms for users to buy and sell digital goods. For example, Sorare allows users to buy and sell football crypto collectibles, while OpenSea is an NFT marketplace where users can trade virtual goods across categories (trading cards, artwork, avatars).

Financial companies are also realising how ‘virtual’ is becoming just as important as ‘physical’. Institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Black Rock and Nomura have added cryptocurrency investment to their funds, and now offer clients advice and some even a platform for cryptocurrency trading. In the future, we may see these well-known institutions enter the metaverse and provide their services virtually.

Rise of virtual events

During the pandemic we have also seen the rise of virtual events. It is no longer just gamers who have entered virtual 3D spaces to interact with others but also fans, customers and – critically – employees. Fans of the rapper Travis Scott were able to attend one of his concerts in the Fortnite ‘metaverse’; attendees at the 2021 Music Technology Festival conference joined virtually and were able to create their avatars and move about and interact with each other in a 3D landscape. How long before companies hold ‘town hall’ meetings for their hybrid workforces in the metaverse?

People need to pay attention to the metaverse. It has become the next frontier for online interaction. Social media revolutionised the way business was conducted, and so too will the metaverse. A report by CB Insights has identified 90-plus companies creating and shaping the metaverse market. It is inevitable that brands will lead the charge. The marketing and communications world as we know it is about to change, and with it key aspects of the world of work.

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