Ready Player One, a 2018 science fiction film set in 2045, features a virtual world, i.e. a metaverse, known as OASIS. This was an enhanced, paradise version of Earth and offered people an escape from the struggles of real life. Sounds like science fiction right? Possibly not. Recently Epic Games, best known as the creators of Fortnite, announced that they have raised $1 billion to fund its vision for building the metaverse. If the term ‘metaverse’ means absolutely nothing to you and sounds like bizarre sci-fi lingo, then don’t fret. You are not alone. Soon, it will all make sense.
So what exactly is ‘the metaverse’?
When you google the term metaverse, you’ll find find several definitions. Wikipedia defines it as “a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet“. So, in lay terms, the metaverse will basically be a virtual world which is the digital twin of ours! In the context of Epic Games’ announcement, the metaverse will not just be a singular virtual universe. It will be the virtual universe, where everyone and anyone can exist as a digital human (i.e. avatar). The aim is, that when it’s complete, our physical reality will merge with the digital world.
Why on earth is this relevant for brands?
The idea of a metaverse may not be as futuristic as it first sounds. We are already seeing generations who prefer being online. The pandemic has also accelerated this and shifted life online. From graduations on Minecraft to pub quizzes on Zoom. With online social events becoming the norm, “it’s inevitable that brands will play a significant role in the metaverse”. We are already seeing brands dip their toes in – it wasn’t long ago that Gucci created and sold virtual sneakers.
Epic Games’ CEO, Tim Sweeney explained that the metaverse will allow people to experience new products for themselves – “If you are a car manufacturer, your brand presence in the metaverse isn’t going to be a bunch of advertising for your cars. It’s going to be a place where you can actually drive the cars around and feel the experience of it”. This will obviously be a huge transition for brands and they will need to do their market research on their digital customers – “how people act and what their preferences are in the metaverse could be totally different than how they behave and what they shop for in real life.” This new era of the metaverse will massively effect society and this includes brands. Apparently the technology to build this digital world is already available. It is expected, however, that it will take years if not decades for the metaverse to be widely accessible. There’s no harm in starting preparations early though.