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What is the metaverse? How can your agency take advantage of this trend? Learn more in our lastest post.
In late October 2021, Facebook shocked the world with a surprising announcement: the company was changing its name, and presumably its focus, to ‘Meta’.
As the custodian of the world’s most heavily used social platforms, this move carries substantial heft. If nothing else, it shows what Facebook believes to be the future of social media.
The metaverse can be confusing. Much of it sounds outlandish. It also overlaps with other emerging trends like Web 3.0, crypto, and NFTs.
For agencies, the metaverse presents a massive opportunity. If this isn’t a fad, it opens up a whole new market segment. Even if it is a fad, building some expertise in the metaverse can help you position yourself as a cutting edge agency.
In this article, I’ll help you make sense of the metaverse. We’ll talk about what it is, how it might work, how it interacts with existing and future technologies, and how your agency can benefit from it.
What is the Metaverse?
The “meta” of anything is how the thing refers to itself.
The meta of our world - the metaverse - thus, is how the world itself is experienced, analyzed, and perceived.
In practical terms, the metaverse refers to an artificial world created to reflect, enhance, or augment our present reality. Usually, this artificial world has some resemblance to our physical world (so as to not disorient its participants), but it is unbound by the laws of physics.
In the metaverse, you can be 20 feet tall and fly like Superman. Yet, you might still interact with other participants with the same social norms as you would in real life. The metaverse is reality, except it's not.
Is the Metaverse Just Another Video Game?
Video games are perhaps the easiest reference to understand the metaverse. And for all practical purposes, it does represent a good starting point.
Every video game is a metaverse in itself. In the Mario universe, you’re a plumber slaying dragons. In Halo, you’re a soldier fighting aliens. And in Forza, you’re a professional race car driver.
SecondLife virtual world offered participants experiences similar to the real world, albeit in a 3D virtual setting
One of the core tenets of any functioning metaverse would be social interaction. Any reference world that mimics or enhances our existing reality has to have some of the social elements our world revolves around.
Many older single player video games fail on this count - there is no “social interaction” in Super Mario Bros., for instance. However, most newer video games boast robust social systems. You might have multiplayer games, chat lobbies, etc.
However, there are a few things that make it difficult to categorize most video games as ‘metaverse’:
- Video games are usually mission driven and all interactions are oriented towards fulfilling mission objectives, rather than simply existing
- Player paths and interactions are limited by the mission. While you can chat up with other players, you can’t quit the mission midway and get a virtual job - at least in most games.
- Real-world economies and social interactions are mimicked very loosely, if at all
Of course, it's not all black and white. Some video games might truly have a thriving metaverse. But your average single-player game is unlikely to meet the qualifications for being categorized as the metaverse.
So What Really is the Metaverse?
Based on what the metaverse is not, we can draw some conclusions about what the metaverse is:
- Imitates or incorporates real-world economies with currencies and concepts of ownership
- Is built around social interaction and engagement
- Allows for some degree of simulation of real-world experiences
While the setting might be a fantasy universe, an alien planet, or even a digital city, any full-fledged metaverse would essentially be like our existing world at its core, at least in its economic and social dimensions.
You might have a virtual vacation on Mars, but you’ll still hang out with friends the way you do it in the real-world.
Perhaps the closest example of a full-fledged virtual world is Second Life. This “game” was released in 2003 and allowed people to create avatars that lived in a virtual world. You could get a virtual job, get paid in virtual currencies, and even have virtual relationships.
Why Metaverse? Why Now?
Based on the description above, you might very well ask: why the metaverse? Why now?
After all, we’ve lived on the internet for over 30 years without using any metaverse. Why should it matter now?
While there are plenty of catalysts - and I’ll discuss them below - it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we are already living in a quasi metaverse.
Think about the amount of time you spend online. If you’re a knowledge worker, you probably spend upwards of 40 hours/week glued to a computer screen. And even when you’re not working, you’re chatting with friends on your phone, tweeting out articles, and sharing pictures on Instagram.
Across all these interactions, you’ll likely have different personas - real or fake. Your LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter profiles might all be different, with entirely unique interests, content, friends, and economic use cases.
Essentially, you already have multiple digital identities that are completely distinct from your real-world identity. The internet, in its present form, is practically a gigantic metaverse.
Of course, this has been true for the last several years - or at least since social media became mainstream.
So what changed recently to make the metaverse such an attractive idea?
A few key developments such as:
3D worlds like Second Life and 2D pixel worlds like Habbo are nice, but they aren’t really immersive enough for a true metaverse experience.
The Habbo virtual world is 2-dimensional with pixel characters representing participants
Both AR and VR technologies are maturing at a rapid pace. VR, in particular, has the potential to offer a truly immersive virtual experience (little wonder that Facebook bought VR hardware startup Oculus years back).
The technology is finally reaching a point where it can create a near-lifelike virtual world.
2. Digital Ownership
When sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson first introduced the idea of virtual metaverses in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash, one of its core tenets was digital ownership.
The idea is simple enough: if you’re going to exist as a digital avatar, there should be some way to own digital goods as well.
Until recently, validating ownership, especially of digital items, was complicated and hard to enforce legally. You can never really tell who owns an image floating around online.
Recent developments such as NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), however, have made digital ownership easier to reconcile. NFTs make it easy to figure out who owns any digital asset, opening up opportunities for the complex economies any metaverse should ideally have.
Popular NFTs such as the Bored Ape Yacht Club - pictured above - have exploded in value and adopted by celebrities
Which brings us to the next development…
If a metaverse is going to simulate the real-world, it should also offer a way to simulate real-world economies.
This, again, used to be challenging because there was really no consensus across metaverses on what the base currency should be. Second Life had its “Linden dollars”, Habbo had its “credits”, etc.
Further, these currencies were entirely tied to the company that owned the virtual world, posing risks of centralization, fraud, and bankruptcy.
Cryptocurrencies change that by offering decentralized currencies that can be used across multiple metaverses. Metaverses built on the Ethereum network, for instance, can all use the same currency, ETH. Virtual assets can be easily transported across the metaverses, making it possible to create complex economies at scale.
While these tech developments coming together at the same time has been great, the metaverse narrative also got a shot in the arm thanks to the pandemic. With hundreds of millions of people confined to their homes and working remotely, social interaction has become increasingly virtual.
The metaverse is the perfect narrative for this isolated, work-from-home time.
You can now see why Facebook changed its name to Meta - all the stars are aligning for this trend to break out in a big way.
The question now is: how does the meta narrative benefit agencies? What can you do to position yourself to capture value from this trend?
I’ll share a few answers below.
How Agencies Can Benefit from the Metaverse
The metaverse, should it ever reach its lofty potential, promises to be an entirely new medium - a new internet, if you will.
If you assume that even a fraction of the world’s current internet users - 4.66B as of now - were to enter any metaverse, you’re looking at a market that’s in the hundreds of billions.
Indeed, PwC estimates that by 2030, the metaverse market will be worth north of $1.5 trillion.
Of course, $1.5 trillion might seem like an absurd figure today, but remember that this would be less than thrice the market capitalization of this trend’s biggest cheerleader, Facebook (now Meta).
If a heavyweight like Facebook has positioned itself fully behind the metaverse, agencies at least need to acquaint themselves with this phenomenon. You don’t want to be the last one to hop on before the train leaves the station.
While the metaverse might take a very different form in the next few years, there are quite a few opportunities today, such as:
1. NFTs and digital ownership
An NFT is nothing but a record of ownership stored on any blockchain. Technically, an NFT can represent anything - text, video, audio, multimedia content, images, etc.
Creating digital assets that can be owned and distributed is one of the biggest opportunities currently for agencies right now. This is largely creative work so it fits right into your existing skillset. The NFT market itself is exploding at a phenomenal rate - OpenSea, the largest NFT trading platform, has seen daily active traders grow at breakneck pace.
Some ways to enter this space include:
- NFT creation and distribution
- Marketing and branding for NFT projects
- NFT integration into existing metaverses
2. In-world content
NFTs are just a way to validate ownership; there’s still a ton of digital content that needs to be created for the actual metaverse.
As metaverses mature, there will be an increasing demand from consumers as well as brands to create content and experiences within the metaverse. You might create a game within the metaverse that helps promote a brand, digital branded sneakers, or even entire virtual worlds for your clients.
If you think of the metaverse as the new internet, there will be businesses that need the metaverse equivalent of websites, apps, and creative collateral - all opportunities for your agency.
This is still a nascent stage, but some existing metaverses worth exploring for opportunities are:
3. Metaverse brand marketing
Facebook’s metaverse might have kicked off the hype, but it won’t be the only metaverse. You’ll likely see multiple companies creating their own metaverse projects with varying degrees of scale and ambition.
Each of these projects will need marketing. If the metaverse attracts enough participants as its proponents expect, these projects might end up being some of your biggest clients - a massive opportunity, indeed.
Over to You
The metaverse is a complicated, albeit exciting new trend. It might stick around and change the way we live, work, and socialize. Or it might fall flat and disappear in a year or two.
As an agency, however, you can’t take the chance of falling behind. After all, any agency that hitched its wagon to once nascent trends - the internet, social media, etc. - benefited greatly when the trend eventually hit mainstream.
While you don’t have to reposition your entire agency, it will help to at least establish some expertise in the metaverse. As an early adopter, you’ll have first-mover advantage - and the opportunities associated with it.
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