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The metaverse and the future of gaming

Posted October 14, 2021
Digital painting of a spacecraft flying through the clouds to a futuristic city

When it comes to creating an immersive digital customer experience, the metaverse is one of the next big things, and a growing contingent of brands are looking for ways to adopt the technology.

There’s just one problem: As it stands, the metaverse is still a bit of an ambiguous, high-concept idea. A recent New York Times article described it as “a variety of virtual experiences, environments and assets that gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic. Together, these new technologies hint at what the internet will become next.”

Some, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, see it as a virtual environment where people can interact digitally. When talking to investors, he described Facebook as a “metaverse company,” and that, “You can kind of think of this as an embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.”

While some industries are still defining exactly what the term means, the metaverse is already moving full steam ahead in the games industry, with Epic Games and Roblox blazing the trail.

The two video game heavyweights are showing us ideas of what the metaverse could be, both in terms of content and audience. For instance, Fortnite — an Epic Games property — hosted a virtual concert that was attended by over 12 million people, and a collaboration between Roblox and Gucci created a virtual Gucci Garden space that sold limited edition virtual bags. One bag got flipped onto the scalper market and ultimately sold for the equivalent of $4,115 (in Robux, the game’s currency). The digital bag sold for $800 more than the actual, tangible version.

Both brands showcase the metaverse as a shared virtual environment for interaction, congregation and immersive storytelling, all of which are very exciting for games companies looking to disrupt and iterate on customer experiences.

The metaverse and gaming go hand-in-hand

Few groups are as well-versed in the metaverse as gamers. Fortnite, the online, cross-platform, free-to-play battle royal can easily be seen as a “proto-metaverse.” The game has millions of regular players who are eager to attend in-world events and interact with brands in unique ways. Nike’s Jordan brand and LeBron James have both launched skins (in-game avatars and clothing), and short-lived streaming app Quibi screened its reboot of the popular prank show Punkd for players to watch in-game.

As an online game platform and game creation system, Roblox allows people to create their own worlds and games within its wider metaverse. Brands including Nerf, Hot Wheels and Sony Music are partnering with Roblox and building their own immersive worlds to connect with customers. Films are doing it too; the musical In the Heights held a virtual block party in a recreation of New York City’s Washington Heights within the Roblox world.

Gamers are happy to invest in virtual events, skins, avatars and so on. In the second quarter of 2021, virtual currency purchases in Roblox rose 161% to $652.3 million. “People are starting to develop a deeper connection with the digital world via things like cryptocurrencies, NFTs (non-fungible tokens), avatars and immersive gaming experiences,” Doug Scott, chief managing director at gaming and e-sports company Subnation Media, told Digiday. “And as people further develop their digital identity, platforms like Roblox are providing a home for the community.”

Realizing the potential of the metaverse

The potential of the metaverse is immeasurable. Each new experience — whether that’s an event, an NFT or getting player support — can be recreated in-game (or rather, in-world) and increase customer engagement. It can be frictionless. As Barbara Messing, Roblox’s chief marketing and people experience officer told Business Insider, “This is not a static ad. It’s a way for someone to really engage with their audiences and tell a great story about the brand.”

To thrive, the metaverse needs new technologies, protocols, companies, innovations and discoveries, writes Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist and one of the key futurists surrounding the metaverse concept. “There will be no clean ‘Before Metaverse’ and ‘After Metaverse.’ Instead, it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services and capabilities integrate and meld together,” he predicts.

Emerging technologies like 5G will help provide the speed and power that makes it possible for digital worlds to function. Digital devices need to be supported by big advancements in order to provide latency-free experiences through virtual and augmented reality. Haptics — wearables that stimulate sensory experiences like touch — will also need wider adoption. And, a metaverse also needs more brand interest.

“At a foundational level, the technology simply does not yet exist for there to be hundreds, let alone millions of people participating in a shared, synchronous experience,” notes Ball. So, we’re not there yet — but that doesn’t mean gaming companies can’t prepare, especially when it comes to player support.

Player support and the metaverse

As the games industry increasingly adopts the metaverse, it’s integral for brands to establish a strong digital customer care foundation. It takes a two-pronged approach.

Start by focusing on your team members. Creating that frictionless player and customer experience means brands will need support teams inside the metaverse who have the autonomy to interact directly and spontaneously with customers. Members of your player support team need to have a particular set of qualities. First, they must be empathetic. The metaverse is a whole new galaxy to explore, and players are going to have questions. Empathetic agents will jump in the cockpit with players, patiently showing them the way. Second, they must be tech-savvy. With the metaverse comes connected platforms and services, an increasingly intricate web of technologies. Player support agents should be comfortable with disparate technologies and troubleshooting interactions between them.

To take your support to the next level, back your team with technology. Brands that get this right will leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to track trends, handle certain requests and develop a greater understanding of players. It’s easy to see, for example, how an in-game conversational bot could contribute to an immersive experience, while guiding players and freeing up time for agents. What’s more, these technologies can be applied to the task of content moderation to keep the metaverse safe from malicious or misleading content.

For brands looking to ready their player support teams for the metaverse, it is a good idea to build out a roadmap. That might take some extra creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, says Roblox CMO Messing told Business Insider. Ultimately, though, Messing says it comes down to, “What emotions and memories do I want them to take away from this experience? How do I want them to come back and engage with me again?”

Games companies can also draw inspiration from partnerships like that of Gucci–Roblox and look for ways to enrich the player experience and create unique and interesting touchpoints. Those touchpoints are key, says Ball. The mere existence of a metaverse doesn’t automatically make it an attractive place to be. Brands will play a big role in populating the metaverse and making it a hot destination for virtual togetherness.

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