Given the way the metaverse has captured marketers’ imaginations for the last year, it’s easy to feel the need to make moves in the space for fear of missing out—or maybe to simply be seen as an innovator. But with roots in gaming and digital art, the lifeblood of a metaverse world is the culture that calls it home. While hopping into the hot platform of the minute may be tempting, it’s important to carefully consider what value your brand can bring to show up authentically.
The metaverse is a new canvas for creativity, but the hyped up trend wave could snuff all the incredible out of a good thing. We must see past the hype and look to the future with purposeful creativity.
The idea of people coming together in virtual environments isn’t new, as any fan of online games will tell you. But as these worlds become more mainstream, we’re seeing a shift in the role they play in our lives, whether it’s a pivot from competition to cooperation or enabling people to push beyond limits that hold them back IRL. This is virtualization in action: a set of new audience behaviors and cultural norms resulting from 30 years of digital transformation, hyper-accelerated over the past five years. These behaviors vary from one metaverse platform to the next, meaning an understanding of its culture is crucial to success in the space. In some ways, it’s not so different from identifying which city or neighborhood is the best location for a brick-and-mortar store.
Do you need to find your way into the metaverse? Don’t despair, because we’ve mapped out some of its preeminent worlds. Discover what differentiates one from the next with the information below. With a better understanding of each space, you’ll be able to better envision your brand’s place within the metaverse—wherever that may be.
Despite its quick rise to fame in recent years, Roblox dates back to September 2006, and today has a monthly average user base of 190 million. Its worlds are user-created, meaning they can vary drastically in look and feel; you never know what you’re going to find there. Users have the ability to develop their own assets (models, textures, audio and more), adding to the variety on the platform. This ability to create and sample a diverse array of activities is what makes it so appealing to players. Roblox is free and multiplatform—available on PC, mobile, Xbox One and VR platforms—and its developer tools are surprisingly accessible for those without deep coding experience.
More than a game, Roblox is a creation platform that has allowed millions of amateur developers to try their hand at making games and virtual environments for the first time. Players can both create and share individual assets, build robust games or simply play. The level of creation enabled by the platform, as well as its younger-skewing audience, makes it ripe for memes. Don’t expect avatars to mirror players’ physical likeness; fanciful avatars are the norm here. One great example of a brand embracing gamified elements in Roblox is the Song Breaker Awards, presented by Logitech For Creators. The experience reinvented the awards show format to be more accessible and interactive, inviting viewers to participate in a narrative that unfolded throughout the show.
Meta’s foray into the metaverse is the newest virtual environment on our map—and the only one that requires a headset to enter. Since its launch in December 2021, Horizon Worlds now has 350,000 monthly active users. Like Roblox, environments in Horizon Worlds are largely user-created, meaning there’s a lot of variety in the worlds you can build or step into. The Unity-powered platform has a cartoon-like look and feel, with environments ranging from the fantastical to the ordinary, like a virtual comedy club or recording studio. Based in VR, Horizon Worlds requires an Oculus headset to enter, although its creation tools are accessible and intuitive.
Built by Meta, developer of some of the biggest social platforms on the internet, Horizon Worlds is first and foremost a space to socialize and create. While users can build competitive environments, connection among communities is key. The space also lends well to cultural moments like live sports or musical performances, which users can immerse themselves within from afar. Given the platform’s connection to Facebook—users can join with an existing Facebook account, although Meta just recently announced a unique account system—avatars and identities in Horizon Worlds are meant to reflect one’s real-world identity. This also makes safety and moderation a key consideration on the platform. Speaking of identity, a stand-out Meta’s Going Beyond: Women’s History Month event, made in collaboration with the NBA, is a stand-out experience. Throughout an interview focused on representation, viewers had a front-row seat.
Officially launched in November 2011, Minecraft is home to 170 million monthly average users. The blocky, open-world simulation game places users within a unique, procedurally generated landscape that they can explore and manipulate to their desire. What’s really driven Minecraft’s popularity over the decade is its marketplace of downloadable content and customization tools, allowing for the design of diverse worlds and environments. While Minecraft is a paid download, its wide availability on PC, consoles and mobile make it widely accessible to audiences.
Minecraft’s culture is focused on building. Players take enjoyment in creating environments together and sharing them with the community—or even breaking apart pre-made environments. Users are afforded complete control of virtual spaces they inhabit, allowing for a high sense of ownership and collaboration. One of our favorite Minecraft activation is the Uncensored Library, which cleverly uses the game to circumvent state censorship and offer access to articles banned around the world. Of course, we have a soft spot for the time our VP of Platforms and Products Brook Downton built our New York office in Minecraft, too.
Epic Games’ wildly popular shooter, powered by the developer’s own Unreal Engine, launched in July 2017 and boasts 280 million monthly average users. Having risen to fame at the height of the “battle royale” trend in gaming, Fortnite offers a handful of different game modes that take place on an island that grows and evolves over time. It features a cartoon-like art style, similar to what you might expect from a CGI-rendered animated film. As a free-to-play, cross-platform title available on consoles, mobile and PC, Fortnite has a very low barrier of entry for players.
Fortnite is an evolving space, refreshed seasonally with new competitive modes and events featuring limited-edition skins (avatars) depicting characters and celebrities from pop culture. The promise that there’s always something new is what keeps players coming back. In late 2021, Fortnite launched Party Worlds, or social spaces where players can access minigames, concerts, movie screenings and other content. The space demonstrates the kinds of ways that metaverse worlds can uniquely bring people together in shared, persistent social spaces.
Decentraland launched in February 2020 and is frequented by 330,000 users each month. There’s a big difference between Decentraland and the other platforms mentioned above: it’s a Web3-based environment built on the Ethereum blockchain. While platforms like Roblox and Horizon Worlds invite users to jump into self-contained worlds, Decentraland is a seamless, persistent landscape in which plots of land are bought, sold and redeveloped by the community—just like in the real-world real estate. Decentraland is accessible in a browser, though the need to connect a crypto wallet can be a technical barrier of entry to users.
The culture in Decentraland is more plugged into the Web3 space and skews very digitally mature. In addition to in-world games and activities, this environment is a place to flaunt what you’ve got: art galleries designed to show off NFT collections are popular, and a bustling marketplace allows users to trade ownership of unique digital outfits and objects. Duolingo expertly captured the playfulness of the space by dropping a giant statue of Duo, its infamous mascot, into Decentraland’s leisurely Terra Zero area. Holding a billboard that cycles through snarky push notifications reminding visitors to do their language lessons, the activation cleverly emulates Duo’s pesky habit of popping up right when the leisurely activities tee off.
Our final metaverse world covered here is also one of the oldest, having launched back in May 2012. Since then, the Sandbox is enjoyed by 300,000 monthly users. Like Decentraland, it’s a Web3-based world where users can purchase land and build their own monetized environments. The platform is relatively consistent in look and feel, taking a voxel art style reminiscent of Minecraft as a nod to its 2D roots. Available on PC and mobile platforms, the Sandbox handles onboarding very easily: new users have the choice to connect a crypto wallet or a social account if they lack one.
As far as interactions go, the Sandbox offers a mix that you’ll find in other platforms. Like Roblox, users can easily construct their own games without coding experience. A play-to-earn model rewards creators and players, incentivizing play on the platform. And similar to Decentraland, a marketplace of NFTs in the form of avatars and unique parcels of land add to the opportunities for users to earn real-world value from their digital creations. One cool example we love is a collaboration between Tony Hawk and Autograph to build the biggest skatepark in the metaverse. In addition to hanging out in the space, visitors can purchase NFTs inspired by Hawk’s career.
Find your place in the metaverse.
Just like how the universe contains too many planets to count, the metaverse is a vast space comprising unique worlds—each with their own distinct culture. From video game worlds to Web3-native environments, each platform offers different tools for people and brands to engage with one another. Before jumping into the metaverse for the sake of it, carefully consider the audience you want to reach and how your brand can uniquely add value inside the world cultivated by its community. After making the right culture fit, you’ll have made the crucial first step in building impactful, authentic metaverse experiences.
The metaverse is a natural progression of the internet, and it reflects a cultural shift brought on by the ongoing process of virtualization. The metaverse is everywhere––a universal and connected experience that transcends geographical barriers and presents exciting opportunities for brands to show up. But, the stakes are high and the barrier to entry is steeper than ever. Advertising in the metaverse shouldn’t look like advertising at all. Brands need to strike a balance between being present and being authentic by providing utility and meaning for people through creativity and technological innovation. In short, brands must create experiences people actually want. While this isn’t a new idea, marketers will have to stretch their thinking for a new, fully-virtualized medium and a highly engaged audience quick to criticize disingenuous marketing efforts.
Want your own map of the metaverse worlds? Download it below:
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