No, the metaverse isn’t dead. Only the incorrect definition

No, the metaverse isn’t dead. Only the incorrect definition

Instead of virtual land and virtual shopfronts, start thinking of the metaverse like the offspring of twin technological advancements — the internet and gaming — and carrying half of the DNA of each.

Mark Twain said the cat that sits on a hot stove lid will burn itself and will never sit on a hot stove lid again. But, he added, it will now never sit on a cold one either.

Twain’s maxim summarises how we misunderstand failure. We fall foul of the logical fallacy of “composition-division”;  assuming one part of something applies to all parts. In this case, it wasn’t the stove or its lid that injured the cat, but the application of heat.

And so, the metaverse. Some in the industry appear to have been burned by a hot stove lid and are now warning against the whole enterprise. Liberated from toeing the line, marketers feel empowered to say: “It was never going to work, was it?”

But I would argue that this is not true, and those lining up to tear down what they once lauded are drawing the wrong lessons from failure. Like the cat that mistakes the stove lid for its temperature.

In fact, the metaverse is still an inconceivably vast and brilliant opportunity and remains deliciously untapped.

You just need to understand what the metaverse is and, more important, what it is not.

Dodgy definitions

The metaverse has long-been hampered by the problem of mis-definition. Usually, a confusion over the relationship between its selective parts with the whole.

At some point the metaverse became synonymous with the word “virtual” – thanks to its overuse in culture. Writing about virtual worlds, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and Ernest Kline, wittingly or unwittingly, had set our expectations. Thus, commentary centring on virtual worlds, virtual currencies and virtual reality seemed to generate excitement. People were asking, Is the future finally here?

But the word “virtual” became a synecdoche – meaning a part becomes a synonym for the whole, like when we describe a new car as “new wheels” – that in turn became a magnet for the industry’s hyperbole. The words upon words about how the metaverse would change the face of media were words dedicated only to the metaverse’s narrowest manifestation.

The actual reality was that this “virtual” label, so seductive to the tech community, was a red herring. It forced us to mistake the part for the whole; like thinking the Isle of Wight, lovely though it is, is all of Europe.

But we can get beyond the hype to excavate the real opportunity. If we redefine and reframe the metaverse properly, as marketers we can still find ourselves at the foot of a field after first snowfall, with not a footprint in sight.

And that’s exciting.

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The metaverse is a dimensionalised internet

We wrote our latest report, Avoiding The Regretaverse: How Not To Mess Up In The Metaverse, not only because we wanted to bust myths and immunise against hyperbole, but also because we wanted to reframe the territory, starting with a vital clarification on the definition of the metaverse.

Instead of virtual land and virtual shopfronts, start thinking of the metaverse like the offspring of twin technological advancements — the internet and gaming — and carrying half of the DNA of each.

This union is, in effect, a dimensionalised internet. The internet surfaced in the mid-90s to network humans and their knowledge and provide digitised goods and services. Computer gaming, though born in the late 1970s, matured in the 90s, and delivered a new form of experience: dimensionalised embodiment. Users could now “be” something else and control their interactions within three-dimensional environments.

Up to that point most media interactions had been in 2-D, with newspapers and televisions existing in the X and Y axis. But now media was on a Z-axis, bringing depth to our experience.

Fast forward 30 years, the genes of the internet and gaming have intertwined to create not only a dimensionalised internet, but also a Cambrian explosion of opportunities powered by a new geometry: we can navigate our way “into” experiences.

Gaming is the metaverse’s on-ramp

Crucially, however, most of those dimensonalised experiences exist today, not just on the 20 to 30 million VR headsets in the world, but across the utterly ubiquitous 2-D screens of 1.5 billion consoles, 1.5 billion PCs and 10 billion smartphones of gamers.

Gaming, or computerised competition, is now mass media. Furthermore, in 2023 nearly everyone is a gamer whether they know it or not, providing we redefine the term “gamer” too.

The cliché of teenage boys in darkened bedrooms has not been accurate for 20 years. There is broad parity of age and gender across gaming, not least because hypercasual games — mobile apps offering simple but addictive interactions like jewel smashing, Sudoku, or Scrabble — have levelled the playing field. Witness, too, the rise of the Grey Gamer, where one-in-five of the 60+ age group also game for 7 to 12 hours a week and one in eight of 60+ gamers games for more than 20 hours a week.

That is why forecasts suggest there will be 3 billion gamers on earth this year, fuelling an industry worth more than film and music combined. Imagine: 40% of earthlings are gamers. That’s your metaverse, right there.

Tilt your view of the metaverse to incorporate all platforms and all audiences, and an entire universe of opportunity opens in front of you.

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Making more of the metaverse

A challenge remains though. How do marketers take full advantage of gaming, a $200 billion media channel. How do they advertise? Some may still feel that to be part of it, they must build things in it. But they don’t.

Imagine a parallel universe where it’s 2023. But television does not yet exist. Only press, radio and outdoor.

Then, one day a technological breakthrough occurs: “Television” is invented. There is even better news: marketers can use “television” to advertise.

They immediately react, excited there is a new medium that can be built into marketing plans. But the buzz and hype around this new technology has led them to believe there is only one way to get involved: to build their own television studio, commission, and film their own shows, and shoehorn their shows onto a television channel.

Other marketers point out that there are many other ways to employ this new medium: a 30 second advert in the commercial break within a show will reach millions; sponsoring a TV show by integrating into opening credits will build associations with the content; do a product placement deal to normalise your brand in a dramatic setting. But the marketers are too swept up in the excitement, and plough ahead with making their own show.

This sounds absurd. But that’s what’s happening with the metaverse.

Being involved with the metaverse does not mean just building something in the metaverse, in the same way that advertising on television does not just mean making a show for television.

As with TV, within the metaverse and its constituent games, there are many marketing approaches available, answering a host of business objectives, for a variety of budgets. There are paid ad placements and positions for IAB banners, 30 second video ads and radio ads. There are sponsorships and influencer tie-ins.

They can all be ported across and integrated into platforms with billions and trillions of hours of engagement without a virtual storefront or VR headset in sight.

Shout it from the rooftops: you can use your existing advertising assets in the metaverse.

Rebooting the metaverse

Through work like Avoiding The Regretaverse: How Not To Mess Up In The Metaverse, we are attempting to re-present the metaverse to advertisers in a way that better describes the abundance of options.

As marketers, we should become acquainted with the whole metaverse map, not just the distant continent in the dog-eared corner.

If we incorporate gaming in all its forms, from hypercasual to hardcore, and all audiences, from teenage zombie slayers to retirees on Roblox, and all platforms from consoles and PCs to VR headsets, and we call that the metaverse, then we can represent the advertising opportunity more accurately.

The metaverse, properly defined, is not only bigger than we imagine, but bigger than we can imagine. Or, rather, think of it as an infinite line of stove tops of infinitely varying temperatures.

Don’t be the cat that refuses to sit on any of them.

Phil Rowley is head of futures at Omnicom Media Group UK and the author of Hit the Switch: the Future of Sustainable Business. He writes a monthly column for The Media Leader about the future of media.

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