Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently said Facebook’s future lies in the virtual metaverse.

“In the coming years, I expect people will transition from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company. In many ways the metaverse is the ultimate expression of social technology,” he said.

The concept of the virtual metaverse is not new – witness the numerous dystopian sci-fi movies and series that reference it.

According to Facebook Reality Labs’ Andrew Bosworth, the metaverse is already here as a collection of digital worlds each with its own physics to determine what’s possible within it.

“The defining quality of the metaverse will be presence – the feeling of really being there with people – and Facebook Reality Labs has been focused on building products that deliver presence across digital spaces for years. But to achieve our full vision of the metaverse, we also need to build the connective tissue between these spaces, so you can remove the limitations of physics and move between them with the same ease as moving from one room in your home to the next,” he wrote on Facebook.

Kirsty Bisset, MD of HaveYouHeard Durban, says that while the rise of the metaverse is exciting for both digital natives and sci-fi pundits, what still needs to be asked is what their impact on brands will be.

“For me, the current hype around metaverses feels like social media did in the early 2000s. Brands initially brushed off social media until it was impossible – and irresponsible – to ignore the importance of being involved,” she says.

“The pandemic has definitely accelerated interest in metaverses, as virtual economies are becoming as important as physical economies. A great example here is the popularity, and huge revenues, of Fortnite's virtual concerts. Businesses and brands active in virtual economies will naturally win within the metaverse.”

Metaverses give the creator economy a strong springboard, Bisset points out, adding that from fan fiction to creating new characters and stories, it will further democratise creativity.

“But the real winners in the metaverse will be the influencers and brands that craft a virtual world that isn’t just a ‘flat’ surface. Today’s metaverses are simplified virtual items or virtual services accessible with or without VR headsets. Successful worlds will need to offer layers through avatars, visuals and music.”

Those industries or brands seeking to pioneer metaverses include gaming, crypto, fashion, apparel brands and celebrities. A breakthrough example here, Bisset says, is that of Gucci and gaming platform Roblox.

Last year Roblox announced that Gucci had brought some rare items to the platform with the support of Roblox’s creator community. In the next phase of the collaboration Gucci entered the metaverse in the form of Gucci Garden Archetypes – an immersive multimedia experience in Florence, Italy, that explored and celebrated Gucci’s unique creative vision. Gucci made limited editions of virtual bags available in the game.

“Many brands today are digital first,” says Bisset. “Should they decide to enter the metaverse realm, they’ll need to be brave and detailed. Any metaverse built around a brand will have to deliver a user-driven engagement design and fully immersed digital experiences. Winners in the metaverse will understand all that, plus have extensive online culture, digital art and gaming experiences.”

Just as brands initially brushed off social media until it was impossible – and irresponsible – to ignore the importance of being involved, so too will the metaverse eventually be considered.

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