Beginners Guide to the Metaverse

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“The most unique element of the metaverse is that it has more definitions than anything else, yet it is still incredibly vague and opaque.” 

This wry observation by Tom Ffiske, Immersive Wire, shows you’re not alone if you’re baffled by this significant, non-physical entity looming on the horizon.

Originally coined in the 1992 science-fiction novel Snow Crash, the term “metaverse” is increasingly intruding in our reality today. As it continues to evolve, fundamental questions remain including what the metaverse will look like, how it will be accessed, and what impact it will have on society as we know it. Some liken the future to Ready Player One where we’d spend most of our time working within a VR world; others feel the metaverse is simply a new way to depict how we interact with technology and the internet as a whole.

“I believe the Metaverse is the next chapter of the internet.” This was Zuckerberg’s big statement. But what does that really mean?

Over the coming months you’ll see multiple definitions of what “the metaverse” will be. This is to be expected – it’s new, and pioneering companies are still exploring it themselves. However, tangible results are starting to surface, so we can begin to see what it could look like.

Let’s unpack the fundamentals together in our beginners guide to the metaverse – right here, right now.

What is the Metaverse?

‘The metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.’

We like this clever definition by Matthew Ball. It supersedes the differences in definitions given by Microsoft and Meta (aka Facebook) and highlights how ‘we will constantly be ‘within’ the internet, rather than have access to it.’ Meta primarily focuses on the social element – about connecting people together more effectively; while Microsoft focuses on the business-to-business aspect – aspiring for workers to collaborate effectively to reach their productive potential. Essentially where the metaverse differs from current reality is that it moves from an app-based model where we step in and out of walled gardens each with their own styles and rules, to a one-world model which can be freely explored.

On the social side, the metaverse could become a virtual space on the internet that allows people to communicate and socialise virtually, play virtual games, buy virtual clothes for your virtual holiday, sell things like digital artwork and NFTs, virtual houses and virtual cars – and so on.

Fundamentally you would be ‘living’ in a 3D virtual world. Your physical self would still be sat on a sofa at home, but you would engage with life virtually. What’s more, in the metaverse you can transform who you are, your appearance, your abilities and what interests you have through creating your own avatar. It will be accessed through a virtual headset, as this is the best way to fully engage with a virtual space. But it’s also possible to engage through other electronic devices like mobile and computers. There is also talk of cryptocurrency and how it could become the primary financial resource in the metaverse. That these blockchain based, decentralised financial initiatives such at Bitcoin and Ethereum will be our main way of paying for products and services.

Will there be just one metaverse?

We expect there to be multiple metaverses with varying geographic and demographic groups. Just like you see in the world of social media, there isn’t just Instagram or Twitter, there’s LinkedIn and many others too. Each metaverse, likely to be owned by tech giants, will serve a purpose and each person will gravitate towards one or the two depending on where their friends ‘are’ or where their work is ‘located’.

Is the metaverse based on AR (Augmented Reality)?

We understand that the notion of a ‘3D world’ can indicate there will be a focus on AR (augmented reality) – super imposing objects into spaces – but actually this isn’t the focus right now. The metaverse, or metaverses, will be a large collection of virtual tools and experiences. Virtual artwork, virtual land, virtual working. Augmented Reality could certainly be used to help amplify a scenario, but it’s the ‘virtual’ term that is the important one here. Users will enter a metaverse, join the environment and engage with it – this could all be done solely using virtual tools – without the need for AR.

What will you be able to do in the metaverse?

To say ‘everything’ could be going a bit too far, but certainly many parts of our day to day life.

  • Shopping and fashion
  • Gaming and exercise
  • Business meetings
  • Training teams
  • Social engagements
  • Collaboration and team working
  • Concerts and events
  • General home life
  • Creating and trading digital artwork and assets
  • Owning digital items
  • Day trips and travel

The list goes on.

What does the metaverse mean for a SME business?

The concept of the metaverse has been sprung upon us in recent months and has left many SME business owners feeling some-what rattled. Many are unsure how to invest in it, questioning what it means for their customers?

Does this apply to you too? Here are a few things to know.

  • It’s likely that any virtual content you already have can still be used in a metaverse – whether a virtual tour of your school, a virtual recruitment tool for new employees or a virtual sales piece for your international clients – so don’t worry, these tools won’t become obsolete. Investing in virtual resources for your customers is the best you can do right now. There could come a day when such virtual tools require more sophisticated technology in order to help them sit within a meta-space, but that’s where teams like ours come in to play. We have teams already way ahead of the curve, keeping up to date on all the tech-know-how, so any transition will be an easy one.
  • If you’ve managed to purchase virtual land where you intend to base your organisation – congratulations. Many have been snapping up spaces using platforms like Sandbox. But if you haven’t, that’s ok too. Just like in the real world where organisations rent from each other, or buy and sell properties when companies grow or change, this will likely be the same process in years to come. If you’re still eager to buy your own space, there will also be more land coming up for sale over the coming months/years – it will all depend on how many metaverses are created, and where you want to be positioned.
  • Customers, and internal staff, are expecting a virtual future. They may find it a little daunting, but they’re looking to you to lead the way. You could start off small with a virtual tour around your shop floor or create virtual training for your international sales team. This could progress into a larger virtual experience where your take your customers and staff on a journey with your brand. Perhaps ‘fly’ them to other countries where your products are manufactured, or highlight the sustainability work you’re a part of.

How will our virtual experiences fit into the metaverse?

We envisage the metaverse-world being one of 3D animations, AR/VR options and personalised avatars. Where digital items are physically owned (NFTs) and payments are made through digital transactions (Defi, Cryptocurrency). We foresee the virtual experiences we create being used in one of two ways:

  1. Uploaded INTO the metaverse: Where a regular virtual experience is uploaded into the computer generated space. For example, picture your team’s avatars ‘sitting’ around a table looking at a ‘big screen’. On that screen could be a virtual product demonstration or virtual exhibition. Something that connects with the physical object for sale in the real world, but communicated through virtual reality. Or Imagine a metaverse room filled with parents and student avatars, keen to learn more about a university before they visit. They could hear from guest avatar speakers and would then have the option to look around a virtual tour whilst in the metaverse. But that virtual tour would still include video and photography from real life environments.
  2. A metaverse ONLY experience: These virtual experiences with be entire simulations in 3D where no real-life connection is required. These will be a lot more sophisticated and coded by our in-house specialists. And they don’t really exist yet. not for business use. But they will be here soon enough – we’ll let you know when they arrive on the scene.

It’s Not Really All That New

The concept of “the metaverse” itself, of interacting with a virtual world isn’t too hard to imagine – partly because many of us are doing it already. We already have gaming sites like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox and World of Warcraft, where players can engage virtually with others within a space online. We’ve already seen people purchasing the first NFTs – the first ever SMS message is up for sale as we type. Creative agencies, like our own, are helping share brand stories and experiences through virtual means, whether on desktop, mobile or VR headset.

The part that feels most difficult to comprehend is the idea of ‘living’ in that space. It’s accepted that we can enter a virtual game wearing a VR headset, shoot some Zombies and then remove the headset before dinner’s ready. But what if we put on a VR headset first thing in the morning, we ‘walked’ to work, ‘chatted’ with someone in Starbucks as we grabbed a morning coffee before heading to the office where we ‘legitimately’ conducted a full day of work (by this point we could be wearing VR gloves that help type on ‘keyboards’, and you might have a phonebook in the virtual world to make the relevant calls). And after a full day of work, we head back to our virtual house on Virtual Reality Street, sit down with a partner or cat and discuss the day. You could even then head back out to a house party with Snoop Dogg’s avatar, carrying a brand new NFT gift for him, before heading home once more and taking your headset off so you could kip in the real world.

Cue ‘Large Exhalation’

It’s a lot to imagine, but is it possible? Yes.

So let’s say this is all going to work – who exactly owns that space, who governs it, who creates the elements – and who determines what it will be, and how it works?

Who will oversee this new world?

In recent months many of us will have heard Meta speak about the future of a metaverse, speaking in a way that it feels as if it’s theirs. The good news is, it isn’t.

Sure, there will be a focus on privacy and security policies from any company that designs a metaverse space but there will also still be a need for wider governance and accountability.

It appears, at this point, tech giants and other organisations who help create the metaverse are likely to own the sections they possess, and could charge other corporations to be part of that world – just like landowners charge shop owners to rent their buildings and space. But none are ‘in charge’. They are likely to oversee their own areas but no further. Meta for example might look at social initiatives of every day users, Microsoft could focus on businesses and how they trade and interact, and gaming sites would focus on their players’ experience in a game.

There are many questions that will need to be governed by law, here in the real world, to prevent monopolies. Questions of whether there will be any free space, any virtual-land governed by earth-based states? One thing is for sure: we can fairly confidently predict that regulation will lag far behind the pace of innovation, so there will likely be a period of wild-west style lawlessness.

Who’s making the Metaverse?

We’re entering a stage where many tech giants (i.e. the ones with capital and resources to invest in such a technological virtual revolution) are pulling together teams and resources to engineer their own version of a virtual world that could then come together in partnerships to form a metaverse. (Or if they all fall out and don’t play nicely we could see ourselves with a few metaverses that we jump between). Giants like Microsoft, Meta and Google. As the metaverse conversation gains momentum it’s likely that open source innovators will become more vocal about making it more democratic much like the internet. The question is whether they can gain any ground against the tech giants who will want to own the space.

But there are many other companies to be aware of too. Some focused on areas like gaming, fashion and NFTs – most looking to build infrastructure for the metaverse. These corporations include Nvidia, Unity, Roblox, Fortnite, Zepeto, Animal Crossing, Unreal Engine, and even Snap.

Then there’s brands themselves. Once these metaverse platforms are ready, and the infrastructure is in place, it’s most likely brands will be able to customise and personalise their own ‘shop front’ and run their own ‘world’ within the metaverse, owning spaces and creating communities.

Examples of Metaverses so far

Virtual stores are no longer digital replicas of physical locations. Instead, these branded, 3D, navigable spaces are being designed to offer the best attributes of both the physical and virtual worlds. That is, as Vogue Business succinctly puts it, the ‘immersive, visually appealing experiences for entertainment and utility’ from physical stores, and the ‘convenience and data’ from e-commerce. What’s more, these virtual stores, along with in-game partnerships and brand NFTs may well be paving the way to a full ‘metacommerce experience’. An experience that includes purchasing and wearing digital items entirely in virtual spaces.

This shift marks a new willingness for brands and consumers to experiment digitally. And this appetite, in turn, has been stimulated both by the pandemic and the need it brought for virtual retail, plus the current flurry of excitement around the metaverse. Brands want to be ahead of the game when it comes to innovation and immersive brand experiences. And consumers are increasingly interested in their digital selves and what things look like in that environment. The metaverse provides a neat solution. How? The metaverse, as Stefan Hauswiesner puts it, is an “embodied internet where people want to express themselves through their appearance, just like in real life. It’s about user empowerment in AR and VR just like what we’ve witnessed previously in photos (Instagram) and videos (Youtube)”.

Read on for our favourite examples of unique brand experiences in the digital world that are demonstrating innovation & creativity, engaging younger audiences and new opportunities to purchase.

Balenciaga in Fortnite

A great example of a brand-created destination within an existing platform, Balenciaga was the first high-end fashion brand to take on Fortnite at the end of 2021. Digital outfits inspired by real-life Balenciaga pieces could be purchased from its virtual boutique by players of the open-world video game. In addition to purchasing merchandise, some items could be unlocked, like Balenciaga’s Triple S Sneakers. During the week the hub was live, players could try on outfits (in changing booths), add the brand’s merchandiser to their inventories and simply hang out with each other.

To link the hub to the real world, a line of clothing was made available in some Balenciaga stores and website; and fans that bought real-life clothing could then unlock the same outfits in Fortnite.

To top the experience tsunami off, they created a DOOH activation: a striking 3D billboard experience in London, New York, Tokyo and Seoul.

Gucci in Roblox

Last year Gucci wanted to tell its story ahead of its centenary and produced a virtual recreation of a real-world installation in Florence. The Gucci Garden – a two-week art installation aimed at building brand awareness among young customers – was hosted by gaming platform Roblox. Mirroring its real-life counterpart, the Gucci Garden in Roblox offered multiple themed rooms dedicated to the brand’s campaigns while offering an out-of-this-world experience.

As visitors entered the Gucci Garden, avatars became neutral mannequins. As they wandered through the various rooms, their mannequin would absorb elements of the exhibition. With every guest experiencing the rooms in a different order and holding other fragments of the spaces, they come out at the end of their journey as unique creations. Stunning.

Louis Vuitton – Louis: The Game

This adventure video game follows Vivienne, a mascot created by the brand monogram, as she traverses the virtual world and journeys to colourful locations across the globe in search of 200 collectible NFT candles. Released to celebrate Louis Vuitton’s 200th birthday, stories about the journeys of Louis and his family are unlocked by each candle, and guests can collect 30 NFTs, including 10 by Beeple – the artist whose digital collage sold as an NFT at a Christie’s auction for $69.3 million. Like other brands, Louis Vuitton is on a mission to explore ways to reach younger audiences without putting them off by having to buy anything.

Selfridges and Pokemon

2021 marked Pokémon’s 25th anniversary. To celebrate this, Selfridges, with designer Charli Cohen and Yahoo RYOT Lab created Electric/City, created a virtual city where you could shop for exclusive physical and virtual products.

Visitors would be immersed in the 3D environment, inspired by the fashion capitals of the world, where they would create unique avatars to explore the digital space. These avatars could be dressed in the digital garments and viewed through the AR body-tracking Snapchat lens; and also shared on social media and other virtual environments.

Linking it to the real world, Selfridges put on an in-store launch promotion where visitors could register for a digital wallet to enter physical Easter egg hunts to win physical prizes or Charli Cohen digital collectables.

Will the metaverse succeed?

The key to the success of the metaverse is to understand our current engagement with technology and pinpoint how this virtual space can be used to improve our day to day activities – not just fill our time with more virtual things. If it can do that, ideally without compromise, it’ll be here for the long haul.

For it to work the metaverse will require a lot of manpower (designers, engineers, web developers etc.) and a whole lot of investments. It will need highly sophisticated software that is easy to navigate and use, and hardware for users to wear such as gloves and glasses that ensure a true representation of your physical self in the virtual realm. There will need to be laws and policies to determine safety, security and privacy, virtual items and content to be available to buy, sell and use, and a willingness from companies and people to engage with it – and most importantly of all – to engage with it together.

As Elon Musk would say, nothing is inevitable but with a team working together, towards a common goal, it’s definitely going in the right direction.

What's CIRCUS' role in all this?

As the metaverse evolves, people will increasingly have access to – and familiarity with – immersive content and experiences, and virtual reality hardware. That means a growing audience will require virtual content, just like the work we create. So right now, our role will be to help facilitate this transition for brands and their agencies.

Although the metaverse itself will likely take the form of a 3D game world, that world will be full of experiences and content, just as is the web now. So real-world content can still find a home in the metaverse. It’s just a new way of accessing it.

For example, in recent years we’ve worked with Barclays to create a virtual recruitment tool, showcasing their head office and what it’s like to work there. In the metaverse, Barclays might create a fantasy 3D recruitment centre which people can visit virtually and access information about jobs. But if those visitors want to see a job preview, they might prefer that it was showing the real-world environments which are relevant to them (if they were still going into an office at this point). Same goes for things like university open days and product demos.

As a team we are constantly trying new technology and merging real world and 3D environments to create virtual tools and experiences. We look forward to seeing what new capabilities and applications the metaverse brings, and playing a part in bringing them to life.

We hope you’ve enjoyed and learnt a thing or two from our beginners guide to the metaverse. If you have any questions, get in touch, we’d love to help.

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