The term was originally coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel 'Snow Crash' and revisited in Ernest Cline's 'Ready Player One.' Now the announcement by Meta is reinvigorating interest, and its modern understanding is driven by advancements in Virtual Reality headsets, NFTs, and mixed and AR technologies. There's also the shift online in response to the pandemic and consumer adoption of digital spaces, resulting in Meta banking on the metaverse becoming the future of the internet.
Understandably some are skeptical. While apps like Marriott Hotels or Vroom have already experienced success, most industries lack business cases that leverage the technology in meaningful ways. A recent survey from the Reuters Institute found that only 8% of publishers plan to invest in more metaverse apps in 2022. So how will it affect digital publishing, and what is the publisher's take on the situation? We talked to two leaders in the gaming world, Mariusz Klamra, CEO at GRY-OnLine SA and Gamepressure, and Amine Issa, Founder and Warchief of Science at Mobalytics, for their opinions.
What opportunities await publishers in the metaverse?
To be part of metaverse's future, publishers can explore the opportunity to improve user engagement with more immersive experiences and build digital communities.
"In terms of the gaming industry, the concept of the metaverse already existed - the idea to go online, meet new friends to talk to, and have adventures is basic in games from the 80s. The technical means might be better, e.g., virtual headsets but the metaverse concept is already strong in this sector," said Klamra.
"The level of immersion makes it easier for people to believe the illusion; that is the game they're playing or the metaverse. But it's hard to picture a metaverse that doesn't exist outside of a game ecosystem; that's essentially what it is a game within a game," added Issa.
In 2021 Roblox saw revenues boom as Generation Alpha spent billions of hours in the game's digital world. Travis Scott, the American rapper, played a virtual concert in the Fortnite universe. Over 12 million players logged in to watch the show, making him an estimated $20 million in only 9 minutes from ticket and merchandise sales.
Second Life, with around 900,000 active users, created in 2003 by Linden Labs, has seen its virtual world newspaper Second Life Enquirer massively grow. The 'paper' allows business owners to advertise to consumers by purchasing virtual "advertising spots" acquired through payments made to advertisement boards using virtual-world currency.
The Wall Street Journal encourages investors to investigate and research metaverse technology, "even if they do not understand it yet," and Reuters foresees an increasing number of interviews held on the metaverse in 2022.
Whereas media and entertainment are likely to diverge from "standalone experiences" into a multitude of interoperable entertainment spaces experienced together. Some have started doing this through virtual events; Complex developed Complexland, a virtual space that provides shops, drops, activations, and other features for a more immersive experience.
Real-world cryptocurrency analytics companies like Messari and Coincheckup are starting to display news sections. These amalgamate different articles which address a specific metaverse platform and its associated crypto token.
"It's just that the medium has changed, right? If this were 15 years ago, we'd have a phone call. If it were 100 years ago, we'd have to meet. Now we have a video call, and in 20 years, we'll go into a virtual space, and you'll make yourself look however you want. It's just changing the construct, the medium through which the interaction takes place," explained Issa.
Monetizing the metaverse
The metaverse will usher in a new era for the media. The digital space allows for interconnected places to be experienced together. For publishers, advertising is potentially the most lucrative route and the most straightforward option to ease them into this new world. Interconnectivity is not the norm now, but monetizing in traditional methods will become more difficult. At the same time, brands can feel confident that they are reaching a valuable demographic.
"When we talk about consuming content for publishers, we are actually talking about how consumers will access the content. I am sure content consumption will change and play a big part in the metaverse, e.g., the ability to meet with other people and creators," said Klamra.
"I think the ultimate dream of what is being advertised is something like 'Ready Player One.' The actual concept of the metaverse has existed in online gaming for ages. People become their avatar, and the metaverse is just taking that and doing it in a way that people who don't play video games might care about," thinks Issa.
For the metaverse to reach its full potential, worlds must interact with each other and the real world. Interoperability, seamlessly traveling between or transferring assets between worlds, will greatly benefit brands and consumers.
"What will the real metaverse look like, will companies separate, e.g., an apple universe? Who will own them? If an advertiser wants to show a billboard, do they need approval from each owner? I think there will be lots of smaller worlds with the ability to move between them. For example, I can't see why the MET would allow free movement through it. Consumers will need to buy five or more subscriptions. 'Megafragmentation' could lead to Walled Gardens, with companies creating small ecosystems. Meta (Facebook) is just running away from its current problems, feeling the pressure of the market. It's not a new thing," said Klamra.
Then there is going full-on virtual through NFTs, another way brands can engage with their metaverse audience. Adding a layer of authenticity to a virtual item or service and allowing buyers and sellers to tell the difference between buying an authentic product or not. It’s already over a year since The New York Times author Kevin Roose’s article Buy This Column on the Blockchain! was sold for $560,000, the first such sale for the paper on record.
What does a metaverse future look like?
The expression "in real life" has taken on an entirely new meaning for those trying to create a connection with today's new generation of consumers. It is not enough to be digital; it needs to be entertaining, meaningful, and immersive, precisely what the metaverse can offer brands.
Publishers need to explore what's out there and understand how to best monetize their content, whether with NFTs, advertising, or building loyal communities that favor immersive, live, and interactive experiences. With people's avatars directing online friends to new content sources. But for now, the most important thing is to stay in the loop and watch this "virtual" space.