The metaverse doesn’t exist yet. But, it’s rapidly being built. Unlike web2, which has largely concentrated our online experience into a small handful of contained spaces and platforms, the future of web3 is still in the balance. There are spaces emerging that offer a glimpse of a best-case scenario: places shaped by creativity, opportunity and entrepreneurship. But to avoid the pitfalls of previous internet ages, we need a concerted focus on creating experiences that are inclusive, open, and have a meaningful impact on our daily lives. The most successful brands will be the ones that approach metaverses with a long-term vision and commitment which they are prepared to share with their communities.
That’s one lesson taken from ‘Better Metaverse’ - a collaboration between location-based sneaker game ‘Aglet’, and strategy and innovation consultancy, The Upside. It's research that aims to reveal areas of the metaverse which are important to consumers as they begin to explore this new fascinating frontier.
1,570 ‘Aglet’ players were surveyed to better understand their views of the metaverse and its potential impact on their lives. To complement this, The Upside also ran qualitative focus groups with eight selected players to dive deeper into their beliefs, barriers and motivations. The survey findings are cited throughout the report, and have driven the narrative, insights and conclusions that you see here today.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Niku Banaie, CEO and co-founder, and Lucinda Brooke, strategy director, at The Upside to find out what brands need to know if they’re going to build the metaverse they want to see.
LBB> Why did you first decide to do this research?
Niku & Lucinda> It’s pretty simple, really. There is a significant evolution happening with the internet. Call it web3, call it what you want, we are living through it right now, and the metaverse will be a massive part of that. It will have a hugely influential role in so many generations, so brands and agencies need to understand it much more deeply.
As we started exploring and speaking to people, it became clear that there was a bigger job to do. That we had to debunk the hype, the noise and the misinformation. There has been so much pontificated on and written about this shiny new object.
What we didn’t see was people understanding that there was a chance to interrogate and redefine how this new world can be born and built in a way that allows us to learn from the mistakes we made repetitively in this world. To do it better. We call it a ‘betterverse’.
This is something the majority of respondents believe: ‘I think the metaverse is a new beginning to restart humanity and focus on the best parts of us. There doesn’t need to be wars or poverty or injustice. Everyone can simply be free and live and do however they please in an infinite number of virtual universes. It’s a chance to start over’.
‘The metaverse is an opportunity to redefine the world we live in and our perceived reality’.
‘A place of open opportunities’.
‘A wonder in a dark world’.
News breaks around the metaverse like little endorphin hits, then disappears again. We wanted to take longer on this research because we wanted to do it properly. A metaphor for the metaverse as a whole, maybe?
We also brought a lot of experience that we have gained from working on accessibility and belonging projects for clients - such as co-creating All In, Google’s marketing accessibility playbook that launched at Cannes last year - that allowed us to put that extra cultural lens on the project.
LBB> How does the research inform your view of a best-case scenario metaverse?
Niku & Lucinda> It will allow everyone to learn from the mistakes of the past, to give creators and brands help in building that new future. And hopefully, show people that there is a betterverse. One which is genuinely open and accessible to all.
LBB> What's the most surprising part of the research to you?
Niku & Lucinda> There was a huge response back about the metaverse being a home of female entrepreneurialism. We’re so used to a world where women face so many societal and systemic barriers to success - it's made it so difficult for women to succeed that it was a wonderful surprise to see women making money in the metaverse.
One woman revealed how she makes more from her music in the metaverse than Spotify. “We put on our music on Spotify and in two years, I made $6. For me to post something and gain 15% off it when it sells on to someone else is amazing.”
Another participant believes the metaverse is giving opportunities to those that might not get them in the ‘real world’. “It’s a new opportunity for many individuals from minority groups of people to express themselves and pursue new ideas. Also, new economic opportunities.”
We thought people’s main reason for entering the metaverse would be escapism or entertainment, but people see it as a way to live and make money.
There’s actually a huge group of people who think, ‘this is not just a playground. I can work and make money in ways that might not be available to them in the physical world’.
LBB> And how can brands be part of using their resources to build that so we don't end up in the same mess as web2 did!?
Niku & Lucinda> I think it's a really cool idea on paper, but if developed wrong, it could definitely have many negative circumstances.
At the moment, it has to be about building the community… but doing it properly, from the bottom up, and without the mistakes of last time. Making it accessible and safe for all. Giving people the opportunity to use and build the metaverse that can work for everyone!
They should also be focussing on the bigger challenges for the future. Focussing on point of access has been largely missed because brands have been busy building their own mini metaverse experiences. It’s time to look up and look around, to think bigger, and to focus on the bigger experience.
This includes thinking about equal opportunity, creativity and entrepreneurship. Don’t create these new experiences in a vacuum. Brands should seek out designers and developers and entrepreneurs from all minority groups to help them. In doing so, they can become active allies, bringing in those on the fringes that want to get involved bang in the centre of it.
As one of our focus group respondents, Daniel, said: “Entrepreneurship, it’s kind of already happened within the communities I’ve become a part of. It’s made connections in the real world, discussed business ideas, and stuff like that. Adidas had a thing where you had this NFT, you could create a piece of art that they combined into one piece [of] art. It sold as an NFT, and everyone got royalties.”
Don't treat it like an advertising platform. This attitude is a default for a lot of brands, but there is a way of doing things, a set of predefined paradigms. A lot of web2 businesses are ad-supported. It's not the same here - it's starting from a very different place. Brands will need to operate differently within there.
But in all honesty, entering the metaverse is like trying to make a better connection in any other new platform. Be conscious of the audience, work with them, and be in it for the long term. It's the same answer as if a brand wanted to say ‘how can I make a better connection with music?’. You wouldn't just write one song, which is the equivalent of creating one NFT.
LBB> What are the key things brands need to understand if they are going to embark on that journey?
Niku & Lucinda> First is to really interrogate and understand why they want to participate in this space. They need to understand their own reasons and make sure they are representative of the world they are about to enter.
Within this should be a reflection of their own values. It’s about asking the hard questions - how can we be authentic, honest and transparent about our intentions? After all, they will absolutely be called out by others if they haven't really done the hard thinking up front.
Then, they need to acknowledge that how they design for that space is different from other environments (e.g. TV), and be open to building with and for a community. And more importantly, they need to ask themselves if they have the capabilities for the commitment that this will require. You can’t just hop in and hop out.
They also need to understand the various spaces and platforms; the fact that it isn’t one metaverse yet, but a group of metaverses. The whole thing is built on game engines. That they need to know about blockchain, AR and VR.
And, of course, prioritise safety.
LBB> And how could they benefit if they get it right?
Niku & Lucinda> Well, according to 33% of our respondents, brands that don’t participate in the metaverse will become irrelevant. So survival is first and foremost.
And then, they can literally make money. There are new revenue streams and new business models - businesses are always looking for new ways to innovate and create income, and this can be it.
From a wider cultural perspective, they can be leaders in building a better world. A lot say they want to do it, now they can. By supporting the creators in there already, and making it more accessible to everyone else, they can actually start building things better. And they will be recognised for that. They have the chance to become a leading brand.
By supporting people in a new way and building connections and loyalty with them, they can subsequently learn from them, research with them and make them advocates and loyalists to their products.