The metaverse is a topic that everyone is talking about, and here at the Lab, we’ve been talking about it by focusing on platforms and strategies that are driving it, such as Facebook’s investment in VR and Fortnite’s live events. That truly immersive internet is going to take years to come to fruition. In the meantime, we’re going to start to see bits and pieces of it integrated into products we’re already using today — No headset required.
The world of online avatars is nothing new: Second Life made them mainstream in the early 2000s and now Apples Memojis are incorporating them into our day to day lives. It’s the caveat of interoperability however that has seen massive growth over recent months and that is set to continue in 2022. Twitter has even rolled out an NFT integration for its app in the form of hexagonal profile pictures. However, initial exploration into the space has been dominated by the wealthy and famous, or those in the know when it comes to the space. As the industry moves out of its infancy, companies in the space are gearing up to encourage wider adoption.
Estonian studio Wolf3D’s ReadyPlayerMe offers a far more accessible way for building a “digital twin,” offering cross-game, metaverse-ready avatars for over 1500 platforms such as VRChat, Spatial, and Animaze. With the platform recently securing €13 million in Series A Funding, they plan to help developers drive growth through avatars, in-game asset sales, and NFT’s. There is also a major opportunity for brands who can partner with these developers, similar to the Roblox model.
The entertainment industry took a big hit with the pandemic, but they have restructured and come back with more opportunities than ever. You’ve probably seen the Travis Scott x Fortnite concert by now, but in Europe, everyone is talking about ABBA! They are embarking on a world tour later this year, but their physical form will stay at home. Holographic avatars, also known as ABBAtars, use cutting-edge tech to provide ticket buyers with a hybrid reunion tour like no other.
It’s not only how we are perceived on purely superficial level that is set to shape the future of online personas. It will be the overall increased sense of presence, an awareness of who’s online with us, who was there before us, and what they found most interesting or important. We already have an ambient sense of awareness for our digital presence, but it’s the coming together of communities online, in real time, that will shape the future.
2022 was the year of many sporting moments, but the one that captured audiences the most was Lionel Messi’s PSG Twitch interview with the Spanish influencer Ibai Llanos. Broadcast live on his Twitch channel, it was arguably the biggest sports interview of the year. And the front row seat offered to Twitch viewers was a blow to the traditional offline world of broadcast media. That once passive viewing experience of a sports interview is now transformed into an active and social experience shared among sports fans online.
We are also seeing this connectivity and presence bleed into other forms of entertainment. Spotify, whilst not the most social of platforms has a strong track record on personalization, as well a focus as shared presence with their Friend Activity side bar. With the introduction of the ‘Blend’ feature, they’ve combined the two. Blend combines the music you and friends listen to, updating daily with songs based on all of your listening habits. This not only speaks to everyone’s innate love of sharing passions, but connects these in a live, digital experience that pushes the boundaries of connectivity online.
The idea of a time shifted togetherness also lends itself to more niche interests and communities. Discord as a platform embodies this perfectly. While it has roots in gaming communities, the live chat platform has surged in popularity with those seeking to connect with others over shared passions and topics, from Formula 1 to Uno. The real-time nature of Discord makes it well suited for virtual events, something the platform is prioritizing with the launch of its ‘Stage Channels’, a voice only channel that splits crowds into moderators, speakers, and audiences a la Clubhouse and Twitter spaces.
Italian fashion house Gucci is a good example of a brand that has explored the idea of shared presence. As part of its wider Metaverse strategy, the Gucci Vault server on Discord acts as a place for them to experiment with live communications. As well as acting as a hub of information on the latest drops — Gucci also encourages everyone to connect with other members and find common obsessions on Fashion, Art & Vintage Styles.
This kind of presence online isn’t just a new feature, its fundamentally transforming the experience. In the physical world, a crowd may draw curious on-lookers, but it may also deter more people from joining; In the digital world, capacity is rarely an issue and communities keep growing.
But what Discord offers consumers is just one small piece of the puzzle. The tools for enabling this kind of presence are developing quickly. The most recent iOS update included several developer tools focused on live presence. SharePlay is designed to let you share an in-app experiences with friends via a FaceTime call — a lot of video services supported it on day one like Mubi, for watching movies together remotely, but it can really apply to any experience.
Before long, live presence and time-shifted togetherness will be the minimum for every platform, and something that users are going to start to expect. By experimenting with them now, we can figure out what works for our brand, our category, and our consumers.