Last month, J.P. Morgan set up its own space in a mall in Decentraland, a virtual world. In January, Walmart signaled its metaverse intentions when it filed for a trademark related to "digital currency" for use in "an online community." In December, Nike bought a company that makes sneakers for the metaverse.
The metaverse isn't coming, it's already here. So, how should your company prepare?
Gaming has long been a prototype for this new concept called the metaverse. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft and EverQuest created persistent online worlds more than a decade ago with digital goods and clothing worth real money, vibrant communities and virtual online interactions.
Today's online games expand this financial power with real world brands designing and selling virtual items and experiences: Louis Vuitton designed skins and weapons for League of Legends, and Ferrari let players test-drive its 296 GTB in Fortnite.
Hundreds of millions of gamers play online games for fun and socializing every day. Epic Games alone hopes to scale Fortnite, one of the more advanced virtual spaces, from 60 million monthly users to a billion.
Here is what today's virtual worlds of gaming tell us about how to build a thriving metaverse.
What Brands Can Learn About the Metaverse from Gaming Worlds
Lesson 1: People will join your digital space for a specific purpose.
Online gamers play games to have fun with other people. It doesn't matter how great a game looks, how detailed the virtual world is, or the size of the company's marketing budget--if the game isn't fun to play (and in the case of online games, play together), it won't succeed. For games, enjoyment is the special purpose.
Takeaway: Provide special purpose(s) for why your customers would spend time in your corner of the metaverse. What can they experience there that they can't find anywhere else? Perhaps it's a unique live event, a special competition or educational opportunities.
Lesson 2: Allow users the flexibility to be creative within your space.
Designers make games, but it's the players who bring them to life. The most popular games give players the freedom to make their own culture and meaning, both inside and outside the game world.
Blizzard's "World of Warcraft" developers created a game world with all kinds of engaging experiences, quests and environments. But much of what made this MMORPG a global phenomenon is the digital culture of the millions of subscribers who have played this (still active!) game since 2004. For example, the designers created a guild system that allowed like-minded players to team up on group missions called raids, but it was the players who made each guild unique in its personality and style. And without these guilds we would never have seen the legendary Leeroy Jenkins become a timeless symbol of charging into a dangerous situation before you're ready.
Takeaway: Digital culture grows from the bottom up. Build a versatile virtual world that empowers people to build community, interactivity and meaning.
Lesson 3: Create an open, cross-platform experience rather than a digital silo.
For all their popularity, online games still run inside their own digital spaces and don't offer universal access. Even free-to-play games like "League of Legends" require fast computers and speedy internet connections. What's more, today's gaming worlds don't share content, as you won't find weapons from "Elder Scrolls Online" inside "World of Warcraft."
Since today's online games are built expressly for group entertainment inside a relatively closed environment, they create digital silos that lack the openness and cross-platform presence of the ideal metaverse. This is fine for a game, but a thriving metaverse will have interoperability and cross-platform data sharing to enable a truly open experience.
Takeaway: Look for ways to extend your metaverse experience beyond your single silo. Use open technologies where possible. How can your digital culture and story cross the boundaries of virtual worlds?
Lesson 4: Reduce or remove barriers to entry.
Today's online games require too much onboarding and startup effort to appeal to a truly universal user base. Just learning a new game's systems, strategies and environments can take days or even months.
To build a metaverse for everyone, we need to offer a progressive immersion experience. This would start by making the onboarding process for joining new virtual worlds and the places and events within them as simple as opening a web browser.
Once users are comfortable inside the metaverse, there should be easy steps to progressively get more engaged. The experience can begin on a browser and eventually lead to VR headsets and deep immersion.
Takeaway: Think about how to reduce onboarding and setup requirements.
Today's gaming worlds show how the metaverse is not some abstract marketing concept or the pipe dream of a tech billionaire. Instead, the metaverse and its interconnected virtual worlds are a real entity that most people will one day join--brands and businesses need to prepare.