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How Can Brands Make Sense of the Metaverse’s Endless Possibilities?



Sombra Network’s founding partner and head of metaverse Brendan O'Neil breaks down the metaverse’s at-times overwhelming potential for brands

How Can Brands Make Sense of the Metaverse’s Endless Possibilities?

The metaverse. Over the past year, it’s hard to think of a topic that’s been discussed with such a unique blend of excitement, hyperbole, and cynicism. And yet, after months of frenzied conversations and headlines, there are notably few concrete definitions of what the metaverse actually is - and fewer still of what it is set to become.

For many, it’s precisely because of those unknowns that the dizzying potential of the metaverse is so exciting. For others, the fledgling technology still has much to prove before it becomes an unignorable pillar for brands’ communications strategies. Broadly, however, there is a growing consensus across the creative industries that - in one sense or another - the metaverse is the future. 

Brendan O’Neil, the head of metaverse for Sombra Network and co-founder of the award-winning special effects powerhouse Bonfire FX, has been watching the metaverse evolve over a long period of time. In his view, the metaverse represents an exhilarating new tool for brands to connect with audiences and maintain relevance. 

“There are a few reasons why the concept of the metaverse is so exciting, and one reason it's a must-do for your brand”, he tells LBB. “In a sentence, it’s because there are endless possibilities in a limitless digital world. In one sense that can be overwhelming, but once the proper directive is chosen, companies can create a fun way to encourage brand engagement with tangible rewards and cultivate loyal long-term audiences in a landscape where every market is oversaturated, and becoming a household name requires either massive luck or massive wealth”.

Understanding the metaverse within the context of your brand, then, is swiftly becoming a high priority on the to-do lists of marketers worldwide. And perhaps the best place to start, explains Brendan, is with the broader culture of gaming. “A lot of people point out that the metaverse is heavily influenced by gaming, and they’re right to do so”, he says. “That’s because the fundamental DNA of a great gaming experience contains a connection between host and client which allows people around the world to interact together inside a single location. In that sense, we’re already seeing countless examples of what we could call metaverse-prototypes in the likes of Fortnite, Minecraft, and others”. 

Fittingly, exploring the emerging metaverse space within the context of gaming is an idea that Brendan and the Sombra Network team are already way ahead of. “Naturally what’s exciting us most is our own interactive VR TV show and GTA-style videogame, Sins of Shadow, which is being built with Unreal Engine 5'', notes Brendan. “But beyond that, there are endless applications to look out for - I’d say that AR is an exciting space in the context of the metaverse. Think back to the phenomenon of Pokémon Go but on a whole new level, allowing players in the physical world to interact with a digital one”. 

But, whilst the possibilities might be endless, there are some early success stories that point to the value of a clear and considered strategy. 

Dressed for the Metaverse

Among many of the high-profile metaverse activations we’ve seen over the past year or so, it’s been interesting to see the prevalence of fashion brands. Whether it’s the much-publicised Gucci Garden in Roblox or lesser-known names such as Volleback in Decentraland, it seems fashion brands have been quick off the mark in terms of metaverse experimentation. 

As Brendan explains, that might not be a coincidence. “Fashion brands have a lot in common with the world of NFTs and crypto which, to date, has been closely associated with the emerging metaverse in a variety of ways”, he says. “To own a Gucci jacket in the metaverse on your Bored Ape is much akin to owning one in real life. People want to compete, and that competition accelerates demand for items in the digital world. Many people buy on speculation of the future - so time will tell - but I’d certainly expect fashion brands to continue developing new experiences in the metaverse”. 

In fact, Brendan and the Bonfire FX team have already dipped into the metaverse alongside a fashion and cosmetics brand - NARS. The project - a two-minute film named Meta Gala - represented NARS’ first steps into the metaverse as a brand. “The most challenging part of the project was timescale - putting script, storyboards, character design, level development, motion capture, animation refinement, supporting characters, VFX, and colour together in just three weeks”, recalls Brendan, “but that just goes to show what can be done in tight timeframes in this space”. 

Above: The Meta Gala represented the first step into the metaverse for NARS. 

Aside from the NARS project, the Bonfire FX and Sombra teams are already busy with several metaverse-adjacent initiatives. “We’re collaborating on a variety of NFT and metaverse projects such as Project Godjira and NFL/Ticketmaster season tickets for 2022. We’re also fully supporting avatar creation inside of Unreal Engine and Metahuman, as well as NFT smart contract support”, lists Brendan. “Equally excitingly, we’ve also moved heavily into the world of AI and deepfake technology”. 

Interestingly, as they’ve moved further into metaverse projects, the Bonfire FX team has noted the transformation the renewed focus has had on their studio more broadly. As Brendan explains, there’s a feeling amongst the team that the process has been more of an evolution than a transition. “Because Sombra is leading the way with R&D and highly visible partnerships in the space, it has created a natural space for Bonfire to come in and lead the execution on projects that involve heavy lifting in VFX and animation, while Sombra concentrates on the overall big picture strategy and the tech”, he says. “It’s been a really powerful combo to be able to offer our clients”.

Zooming out to the bigger picture, the way that many of these emerging technologies play off one another provides the clearest clue yet as to the metaverse’s future. “New technology always goes through evolutions, and this will continue until we arrive at whatever it is we eventually deem to be ‘the metaverse”, suggests Brendan. “For those unsure I recommend staying involved through news and education. But for those bolder I implore you to try new things and continue to help develop the landscape that's being defined on a daily basis. If you think The Metaverse will be limited to monkey jpegs and 3D Fashion shows, think again”. 

And, for Brendan and countless others, therein lies the metaverse’s ultimate appeal. Far from being a totally unknowable future, the metaverse represents a future that is being shaped by creatives and makers today. 

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Genres: Metaverse

Categories: Online, Media and Entertainment

Bonfire FX, Mon, 05 Sep 2022 07:16:00 GMT