Touted as the successor state of the internet, the metaverse is bringing about new, immersive ways for people and communities to engage digitally. At the same time, the equipment used to experience virtual worlds are becoming more sophisticated and cost-efficient to consumers. Together, these trends offer a ripe opportunity for brands to begin experimenting within the metaverse.
Often, investing in gaming activations and experiences has served as a simple way for brands to enter this new space, some of which have garnered media attention and largely positive sentiments among players. These include Ally Bank’s customized island on Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the Uncensored Library, both of which Media.Monks helped create. Whether you want to build a game from scratch or put your unique spin on an existing world, here’s why gaming platforms are top-of-mind in brands’ virtualization strategies—and how you can create a high-scoring metaverse experience of your own.
Why Games Are a Go-To Entry Point
Andy Loo, VP of Operations in APAC says that games make for an easy starting point. Many online games offer pre-existing, fully realized virtual worlds through which brands can engage with consumers—cutting out much of the complex legwork that comes with building a metaverse experience from scratch. “Other points that brands can leverage are the hype that is already built around popular multiplayer games and the ability to connect with players online through their social features,” he adds.
Furthermore, game platforms such as Roblox and Minecraft have libraries of predefined tools that let players easily develop their own games and virtual worlds. These very same gameplay features can be leveraged by brands, too—building on gamers’ desire to create and collaborate. With Ally Island, for example, Ally Bank was able to exhibit their brand promise in a compelling way by helping players manage their in-game money and even invest in the “stalk market”—the game’s play on the stock market—much like it helps customers attain financial literacy and security in real life.
Social Media Gives Way to Social Gaming
In recent years, games have become important places to meet and socialize virtually, particularly for younger audiences. Spurred further by the pandemic, more people have jumped into online gaming, not just for its entertainment value, but also as a social lifeline to connect with family and friends. Statista’s 2021 survey of gaming audiences released in April found that the social side of gaming is very important to the majority of players: 77% respondents said that gaming helped them stay in touch with friends and 80% reported that video games helped them to meet new people.
With the social and entertainment aspects of games intersecting, it’s no wonder that online gaming is gaining ground. Major game developers are also building enhanced social capabilities in their products. Sony is partnering with Discord to build a voice chat app into PlayStation consoles and Bitmoji will be integrated into Gismart-developed games in Snapchat. These are just a couple examples of games evolving towards spaces for socialization.
“We’re constantly looking for new ways to enable players around the world to connect with one another, form new friendships and communities, and share fun experiences and lasting memories,” Sony president and chief executive Jim Ryan said in a blog post.
These trends support a cornerstone characteristic of the metaverse: it’s an intrinsically social space. Much like the internet, the metaverse fulfills a desire for connection between people—but unlike the asynchronous, feed-based internet we know today, the metaverse is set to thrive on live interaction, like attending a virtual concert where players can interact with one another and enjoy the performance together.
A focus on sociality and relationships presents another way brands are entering the metaverse through gaming: by creating avatars and “skins” that players can personalize to show off their identity and style. “Fashion has always been used as a building block of identity, so what you wear says something about you, as a person in the real world,” Liam Osbourne, Global Client Partner of FLUX, our fashion and luxury team, told Digiday. “As we’re seeing things get more advanced digitally, it’s only natural that your avatar or virtual version of you gets given the same level of importance and attention.”
A World Customized for Your Brand
While many brands have had success tapping into existing game worlds, others have taken a more bespoke approach by building experiences from scratch. Sure, it’s going to require more effort and resources, but you will have full creative control in tailoring your own world.
In promoting Netflix’s first-ever original anime series Eden, we built a VR racing game from the ground up. Available in English and Japanese, the game is based on the unique art style of the show, which is a mix of 3D cell-shaded characters and 2D painted backdrops. Developed as a companion to the series, the game lets players ride through Eden’s luscious environment to discover key locations and piece together the series’ story.
The benefit of these custom environments is that they are longer-lasting than one-off campaigns or ephemeral in-game activations. To that point, Eden Unearthed expands the world of Eden into a living, immersive world for fans to explore as they create their own stories inside.
“By establishing their own virtual worlds and encouraging people to interact within them, brands can seize opportunity in the metaverse to fuel future marketing and engagements with their audiences,” suggests Loo. Continually filling these spaces with fresh content helps them feel dynamic and real—and keeps audiences engaged into the long term.
Whatever your method to approach the metaverse or gaming, begin by considering which kind of experience is the best fit for your audience. Questions to ask include: what is a suitable gaming platform or type of world that would appeal to them, and what is the level of engagement you seek? For example, if you are trying to reach a young gaming audience, then customising a world within games such as Fortnite or Roblox—whose core players belong to Gen Z—may be the way to go. Free, multiplatform games may also be preferable for reaching the widest possible audience and lowering the barrier of entry.
Creating an affinity with your audience and connecting with them is key; there is no place for hard selling here. Be creative in making use of the environment to build value. The metaverse is a place to unlock new creative expressions, and brands are presented with numerous opportunities enabled through gaming.
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