The promise of truly immersive and enthralling virtual worlds is an old one – but technology always lagged, meaning that early efforts either looked uncanny or underdelivered. Now there is renewed excitement. Hardly surprising because so many of us have been locked at home for so long during the pandemic, coupled with some noteworthy advocates.
It remains to be seen if this new foray into the metaverse will survive this initial cycle of excitement versus skepticism, but while we await that verdict, there are numerous misconceptions that, should you and your brand decide to jump in, you should be mindful of, alongside key learnings from the gaming industry when it comes to building, populating, maintaining, and moderating online spaces.
Misconception 1: There is only one Metaverse.
There is no single metaverse at this point in time. There are however several competing platforms with no interconnectivity, so if you do invest in a metaverse presence there is a hefty amount of work required to identify which platform best reaches your target audience – if any! Don’t be there just to be there: you risk coming across as an out-of-touch adult trying to get down with the kids.
Misconception 2: All formats are equal.
Immersive VR (virtual reality) is fun, but it is far from a thorough representation of a metaverse. In Brazil many metaverse initiatives are happening in Cidade Alta, a GTA (Grand Theft Auto) server – meaning they are much closer to a game (or second life) than the promotional videos distributed by Meta.
Design your experience specifically for your platform of choice, or your foray into the metaverse risks becoming nothing but the most cumbersome menu system ever used to simply make an online purchase. And if the end of your experience directs the user to open a browser window, why are there several virtual space steps leading into that? What is the benefit of them being there? How do they add to the experience?
Misconception 3: Everyone starts from the same point.
In its current state, a metaverse makes several assumptions about what users already know – many of those assumptions are from gaming. Do you move using arrow keys, or WASD? Is one hand on the mouse and the other on the keyboard? Is a Joystick used?
In a global market, accessibility must always be considered: accessible devices used by people with visual or hearing impairment in the US might be prohibitively expensive in other regions – or not available at all – so ensure that audiences are not being excluded from your metaverse by overlooking the importance of universal accessibility.
And now on to some lessons learned.
Learning 1: Behavior still needs moderating in the metaverse.
A virtual environment is not a place where good behavior is guaranteed. We all know how toxic online spaces can be, and the metaverse is no different. Moderation must be active and thorough. Users must know the rules of the virtual space and have access to tools for reporting misbehavior. There must be a clear understanding of the consequences for breaking rules and those consequences must be enforced.
Each system you implement must take this into account. For example, if an avatar’s clothes are customizable, there should be moderation for lewd or violent imagery, or hate symbols – and be aware that these change frequently and rapidly. If third parties can create assets that show up on your spaces, these must also be validated.
Learning 2: Hackers exist in the metaverse too.
This means there may be users who get into spaces they should not be in or use items in ways that are not as intended.
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are not just an asset in an inventory – each carries code – so understanding what one entails is essential, especially if you inhabit a metaverse that interacts with tokens from third parties.
There are myriad possible issues with privacy, data management and fraud. Anti-cheat methods are many in the gaming world. As we create spaces in the metaverse, which mimic mechanics from gaming, learn from the experiences and crises in MMOs (massively multiplayer online games).
Learning 3: Closely monitor your economy.
Online games have seen several different types of economic collapses. Systems Theory gives us a framework to consider – everything moves towards entropy – and this is not a joke. Discussions on emergent behavior on complex systems are essential to identify red flags on your online realities. In numerous online games, we see the main economy completely bypassed through parallel peer-to-peer trading. Other games have seen functional economies break down by adding too many items and pieces for purchase, bringing the value of past items down too fast and going into a hyperinflation cycle.
If you plan to have an active economy, you need it actively monitored.
Learning 4: Get to grips with the why.
Finally, remember the corporate blogs of the early aughts? In those early days blogs often went months without an update or there were no comments on any of the posts. We can apply learnings from those early days of blogging to new ventures in any medium – including the metaverse.
The “what” (you’re doing in the metaverse) is easy – you already have your brand messages, corporate positioning, audience targets, and objectives. The “why” is trickier – why would someone use your space in a metaverse? Once in your space, why would they come back?
Game developers might not have a single answer for this, but they do have a lot of experience. Think about live service games like Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite or Destiny, which keep players engaged for several years through events, new items, new mechanics, a story refresh, or simply great community building and management. And so, we have arrived at the crux: a foray into the metaverse must be thought of as something for the long haul. What does your metaverse presence look like three months from now? Next year? Remember what you don’t want: an abandoned aughties corporate blog.
The metaverse brings a lot of excitement and possibilities, but it does not appear in a vacuum. Here at Current Global, we have expertise managing communities in online and digital spaces, from client programs for Call of Duty and Destiny to linking physical events with digital ones for MIT-Sloan. FOMO is a bad reason to do anything, so count on us to help you build a digital presence that is worth keeping.
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