The so-called metaverse — the digital 3D space that is a favorite of gamers — may still be under construction and only starting to come into its own, but it is already taking on a secondary role as a marketing platform.
While the overall metaverse economy is still small and emerging, the growth of sponsored content and product placements within this space is what is turning heads, especially since it appeals to a largely young, tech-savvy demographic that is super-comfortable browsing and buying online.
In short, while it may seem like science fiction to some, the metaverse is clearly on a path to becoming part of our day-to-day lives.
As conceived by enthusiasts, the metaverse in its full and best form will be a fully immersive, game-like virtual world where consumers can go to work, learn, create art, shop, attend events, hang out with friends and live their real lives in a wholly artificial construct. And while the metaverse in full is not yet real, it’s coming is increasingly viewed as an inevitability given the progress path of the enabling technology undergirding it.
“It’s real-time, computer-powered 3D entertainment and social medium in which real people would go into a 3D simulation together and have experiences of all sorts,” Fortnite-maker and Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney recently said. Sweeney is a long-term and passionate metaverse booster, conceiving of the Fortnite gaming landscape as a future metaverse node open for all kinds of action apart from the main gaming storyline. During the pandemic, Fortnite was host to a virtual Travis Scott concert that drew in 12.3 million fans.
And as recent reports have indicated, the metaverse even under construction is creating commercial activity of varying kinds. Art collectors, for example, are seeing their options multiply as virtual gallery spaces are proliferating. For example, earlier this month startup Wilder World raised $3 million to build what it is calling a “metaverse” around art that is monetized by nonfungible tokens, or NFTs.
Conceived as something other than just another NFT site, Wilder World is creating a world leveraging the Epic Games Unreal Engine to create a project more ambitious and fully immersive gallery setting for art shoppers.
“We’re really building kind of a multifaceted system,” said Wilder World in an interview. “We’ve approached it from a really holistic viewpoint, seeing other NFT platforms that have come up. We’ve been in space since 2017.”
What exactly Wilder World will build with its $3 million raised remains a bit vague — according to reports the overall ambition is to create a multi-level, photorealistic and mixed-reality world where users roam freely, acquire virtual land and express themselves through unique NFT avatars, assets and fashionable and accessories. What that world will look like, how it will be accessed and how consumers will transact within it are important details to be determined.
In more concrete recent examples of leveraging the metaverse as a commercial space, Roomke is hoping to build what reports call its own “mini metaverse” creating a social event space large enough for 40 people mix, mingle, interact and transact in a 3D room with animated avatars and voice chat.
Designed to be a hosting space for events like its upcoming Social Entrepreneurship Festival but also digital events such as virtual art galas, breakfasts on entrepreneurship, a talk show on venture capital, musician mixers, diversity meetups and the like, the space is designed to offer up a VR-esque experience that users can easily tap into via iOS, Android or the web.
“This is what I hope to bring to the world,” said Roomkey creator Don Stein in an interview with GamesBeat. “There’s a lack of social anxiety as there’s no need to turn on your camera.”
There is also the possibility of using the metaverse to create consumer access where it has heretofore never existed. Online metaverse and social networking site IMVU grew by nearly 50 percent during the pandemic, and now boasts 7 million active users a month.
“Fashion is at the epicenter of why people create avatars and connect with others on IMVU,” Lindsay Anne Aamodt, IMVU’s senior director of marketing, told Vogue. “Part of that is because dressing up an avatar in a digital space gives people access to anything that they want to look like, and it’s hard to do that in the real world.”
Moreover, she said, IMVU metaverse fashion has brought immediacy to the industry, making red carpet and runway looks available to consumers as soon as they appear in public. And now, IMVU is looking to import live fashion shows to the metaverse, with a first-of-its-kind virtual fashion show featuring real-world labels like Collina Strada, Gypsy Sport, Mowalola, Freak City, Bruce Glen, My Mum Made It and Mimi Wade. The show will stream on May 27, after which IMVU users will be able to buy and dress their avatars in the designer looks they saw on the virtual runway.
Will consumers flock to the metaverse to do all their transacting? Probably not — recent data indicates there is a lot to be said for the real world given the excitement of consumers rushing back to it. But for access to goods and events where being there wouldn’t really be an opportunity? The metaverse, it seems, is gaining ground with consumers and innovators, making one wonder how long until it’s just another tool in the consumer’s digital box.