Welcome to the metaverse, where the physical world converges with a digital universe. As sci-fi as it may sound, this is our new reality. Mass participation in the metaverse has accelerated exponentially in recent times due to the global pandemic.
Rapper Travis Scott made headlines in 2020 when more than 12 million concurrent Fortnite players tuned in for his virtual concert hosted within Battle Royale. It was the biggest live music event of the year, at a time when people were not leaving their homes. Likewise, the Biden-Harris campaign embraced the virtual world as a way of reaching and rallying new voters. Biden created a virtual HQ in Animal Crossing, Nintendo’s life-simulation video game, where players and their avatars could explore and engage with his campaign.
This isn’t about basement gamers, it’s mainstream and it’s only the beginning. The new release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold 22m copies during the first peak of the pandemic (Mar-Aug 2020), attracting an audience of mostly 20-40 year olds, many female and first time gamers. Fortnite, the multi-player game, has the largest player base with 350m players globally, with a skew towards young males but nearly a quarter of its players are 25-34 years and 15% are 35+.
These are not just video games as we know them, they’re alternate realities that are quickly becoming extensions of people’s real lives. They will permeate how people work, socialise and what they buy. Today, the metaverse is a shared virtual space where people are represented by digital avatars. But new connectivity, devices and technologies will eventually allow people to enter the metaverse through virtual reality or merge it with their real world using augmented and mixed reality.
People will foster friendships and relationships in these shared spaces. Virtual shopping is already prevalent. Property, cars, clothing etc. all have their own worth in the metaverse, whilst remaining capable of influencing real-world purchases. Fashion houses have been quick to embrace the trend, with Balenciaga releasing their fall 2021 collection in the form of a video game. Users were given early access to a virtual store and the chance to have their avatars styled in the brand’s newest looks, something usually reserved for an elite few in the real world.
For brands, the creative and content possibilities of a metaverse are endless. Whilst the real world has become a noisy battleground restricted by the confines of media formats and frames, ‘multiverse’ games represent the next generation of media channels. But the rules of engagement are very different. Brands typically do not pay to be part of these games; they join organically. Users can then opt-in to brand interactions through codes or via partnerships with content creators. More traditional routes in have involved sponsorship of players or allowing users to unlock exclusive offers or content through game play. There’s little tolerance for brand ‘badging’ or loud promotions. To succeed, brands must become part of the community and contribute to the virtual world in their own way, whilst remaining true and connected to what’s going on in the real world. When done right, the opportunity for deep brand integration and discovery through immersion is beyond anything we’ve seen in this world.