What is the Metaverse?
First and foremost, we want to understand what the Metaverse is. While it might be one of the most talked about new concepts, the Metaverse itself is quite a complicated topic to describe.
"It's like living in a universe, not a physical universe but a digital universe" says Director of Digital at Coolabi, Naomi Dare, "it's the next stage of the internet!".
Tony Grillo, the Chief Strategy Officer at Greenpark Sports, describes the Metaverse as "Web 3.0".
"It's kind of turning the internet into something more 3D. You can play, feel, touch and taste [in the Metaverse]", adds Rachel Bardill, Executive Editor at the BBC's Children's and Education.
Nick Walters, the Managing Director of SuperAwesome Gaming, adds that while the Metaverse is about 3D spaces, it's also about your "persistent identity that is your avatar, your digital persona". Nick states the importance of forging an identity in the Metaverse, an identity that could be equally (if not more important) than your own identity.
Examples of the Metaverse
One area the Metaverse is most prominent in is gaming. SuperAwesome Gaming is owned by Epic Games, so Nick is well versed in the Metaverse side of online play. "Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft all offer a proto-Metaverse platform", states Nick, "but one of the more interesting things that has happened is the introduction of more real life experiences into what once would have been games". Concerts and social spaces can be accessed through Metaverse platforms, with Roblox being one of the best examples. Aside from entertainment, brands also have opportunities to get involved in the Metaverse. Nike, Adidas and Gucci have all hosted Metaverse-style events to sell their products.
Naomi talks of her experience in introducing Warrior Cats (a book series owned by Coolabi) into the Metaverse. Warrior Cats has a massive fanbase, with lovers of the series creating animations, art, fanfiction and even Metaverse-style spaces to immerse themselves in the series. "People want to live in the world of Warrior Cats, so as a brand owner we wanted to extend beyond just having a successful book series and that's why I was interested in Roblox". A few years ago Naomi and her team started to look at Roblox and saw that that was where their target market was. "It could extend [fan's] fandom, people could live and breathe and become part of the [Warrior Cat's] world in Roblox". Coolabi found a fan-made Roblox world built by a developer and they decided to partner with him. The game did fantastically, since launch they have gotten over 2 million players a month. The game is monetised through customisable items that players can buy for their online identities (a key element of the Metaverse).
Tony expands on this point and thinks that even shoes could become just as valuable in the Metaverse. Status symbols can exist in the Metaverse, just like they exist in real life.
In a kid's space, Rachel says that the Metaverse offers children new avenues to indulge their fandom, but also mentions that brands need to be vigilant and make spaces that only match the target audience's cognitive ability.
Nick broadens this point and says that Metaverse strategies need to be well composed, some strategies might work for some brands that won't work for others.
Visibility, marketing and making money in the Metaverse in the Metaverse
Nick thinks it's vital to include the Metaverse in your wider online strategy. He says that brands in the Metaverse should think about it twofold; acquisition and amplification. In order to create the perfect integration to the Metaverse, Tony adds that the user experience needs to be perfect. If the user can't get involved in a convenient way "it's like lighting money on fire".
Having an existing fandom in the brand definitely helps, says Naomi. User Generated Content (UGC) also adds a huge amount to the Metaverse experience, a lot of users will record and share their experiences on YouTube, this is a great way to leverage the experience and introduce it to new users. Making sure that your brand doesn't just exist on the Metaverse also helps. You need those involved to be speaking about it on YouTube, blogs and forums for it to really improve the brand's visibility.
Tony points to value in the secondary market as well. The Metaverse (through blockchain and NFTs) allows users to buy digital goods "second hand" that are proven to be completely legitimate. Naomi also thinks making money is about scale, rather than users in the Metaverse spending huge amounts of money on one item, it's more likely that they will spend a small amount of money on many items.
Safeguarding in the Metaverse
Governance and child safety should be at the forefront of child orientated Metaverse spaces, says Rachel. Anything that attracts large volumes of children should be cautious that they are making the most appropriate moves to guarantee safety and trust. In acquiring SuperAwesome Gaming, Epic gained access to SuperAwesome's verified parental consent (which let parents control what their kids can see), explains Nick. They then offered this service to any developer on the platform for free. Privacy and consent issues crop up in the Metaverse, just like on the Internet, so it's important for developers to get ahead of that and learn from past mistakes before building in the new digital world. Age appropriate design code is key when thinking about the Metaverse, says Nick. In game monetisation should be respectful, rather than exploitative and should add to the Metaverse experience.
The foundations of a successful Metaverse strategy shouldn't be any different than a regular strategy. Understanding your audience, understanding what they want from brands and understanding how they want to engage with you as a brand are still massively important in the Metaverse. The core fundamentals remain the same, but the tools have changed. We look forward to seeing how brands make use of these exciting new tools in future!