There has been much discussion around what mainstream adoption of the metaverse will look like. In a way, it depends on how someone defines the word “metaverse.” The gaming industry already has several examples of immersive and interactive web experiences with hundreds of millions of registered users across the world. These virtual worlds exist within the constructs of today’s version of the internet, known as web2. When talking specifically about the metaverse that is part of an emerging blockchain-based web3 experience, where digital ownership through NFTs is possible, we are in its early days. That said, there is significant investment into the development of this space and it seems to be accelerating rapidly. The utility behind this technology continues to evolve, and once it reaches the mainstream, it will profoundly change the way in which people experience the web.
Before exploring the metaverse of the future, let’s quickly look at some virtual worlds that exist within the current version of the internet. One such example is Fortnite, a survival game where players can drop in on a virtual island and fight to be the last player, or team, standing. The game allows users to create their own island with its own rules, or visit someone else’s island. Fortnite has even hosted virtual concerts and events as interactive experiences within their virtual world. Roblox is another interactive gaming experience where players can create their own mini-worlds and mini-games. The Roblox Web2 “metaverse” allows its users to design a wide range of engaging experiences that they want to keep coming back to. This freedom and ease of use in its creation tools has made Roblox a popular choice among kids. Both Fortnite and Roblox have built large communities in which people can interact via cool virtual worlds to create genuine connections. This is precisely why they continue to grow in popularity.
The metaverse which exists within a peer-to-peer (decentralized) web3 experience opens up amazing opportunities for its users. In this world, owning virtual real estate, art, and other digital assets is made possible by utilizing non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to represent ownership. Specifically, NFTs are the unique virtual assets that are owned by users. Decentraland and Sandbox are examples for these types of metaverse experiences. Within these virtual worlds, users can buy and sell digital real estate, which as mentioned earlier are also NFTs. The holders of digital real estate are given voting power to make decisions on metaverse community proposals. Developers also have the freedom to create all kinds of innovative and captivating experiences for users on the digital real estate they own. In addition to digital asset ownership, users can explore the metaverse and interact with one another as avatars in real time. They can enjoy a variety of experiences that include virtual concerts, art galleries, shopping malls, and even casinos. Within a web3 metaverse, people are able to retain ownership of all their virtual experiences. Digital assets are fully portable — they can be bought, sold, and traded without the need for a middleman. This space is wide open and gives unique audiences the freedom to build fun, interactive communities.
Digital art collectors like Andrew Klein, Sweet’s Vice President of NFT & Metaverse Brand Experience, can own and share their art collections as interactive, real-time experiences with people who live in completely different parts of the world. I recently had the opportunity to experience this firsthand. Andrew took me on a tour of his virtual art gallery and showed me his very dope NFT art collection in the process. The experience felt surprisingly personal, considering I’m on the West Coast and he lives on the East Coast. We both entered the space remotely as our own avatars. He described the significance of each art piece in real time as we explored his virtual gallery together. It opened up an entire discussion around different artists who are creating original art in the digital space. This was educational for me from the perspective of learning about art, but it also gave me a glimpse into the type of connection that can be fostered within this space. Andrew told me he is a big fan of street art. He shared how it’s possible for someone to own and display this type of art in their virtual gallery, since owning street art in the physical world poses significant challenges. Someone would have to either purchase the building on which the street art was created or tear out an entire wall of that building. This also shows how the metaverse can completely disrupt the way in which people collect and view artwork, while adding utility for an experience that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to attain in real life.
The metaverse opens the doors to a variety of experiences that are no longer limited by physical boundaries. This will revolutionize the way in which fans can interact with their favorite performers and designers. Imagine experiencing a concert in an interactive 3D world where your favorite singer can alter the environment to match the mood or theme of their music. Consider a song like “Rocket Man” by Elton John, and picture your surroundings shifting from an earthbound concert into outer space, or perhaps morphing into planet Mars. Friends who live an ocean away will be able to enjoy these unique experiences with one another in real time, just as I enjoyed exploring Andrew’s virtual art gallery and learning about street art.
Brands will also have the opportunity to customize interactive, 3D virtual shopping experiences that are tailored to the specific needs of their customers. Instead of looking at photos on a website and sifting through product descriptions like someone would currently do when shopping online, customers can have their questions answered in real time by a dedicated team of experts within the metaverse. Not only will people be able to do all this from the comfort of their own homes, they’ll also have the opportunity to make more informed buying decisions. The limitless possibilities that exist within the metaverse present an incredible opportunity for brands to create a more enjoyable and interactive shopping experience. In fact, some of these shopping experiences are already underway. H&M, the second largest clothing brand in the world, has launched a 3D shopping environment for its virtual customers. Nike created a virtual world inspired by its real-life world headquarters, aptly named Nikeland. Gucci has been using the metaverse since 2020 to sell a variety of its Gucci-signature items and continues to offer new metaverse experiences. These are only a few examples of brands already in the space. This number is set to grow massively in the coming years.
As Sweet continues to partner with brands and creators to design and launch unique and engaging NFT experiences for their fans, we are always mindful of how these experiences can be implemented and enhanced within the continually evolving metaverse. One of the main purposes in creating a memorable NFT experience is to build a stronger connection between a brand and its fans. In building these connections, Sweet wants to help brands develop thriving communities where people engage organically because they want to. It becomes less about marketing and more about creating genuine moments which people cherish. It is easy to see how an engaging three-dimensional virtual world can take these experiences to the next level. For example, when working with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sweet created a virtual locker in which fans could display their Cavs NFT collections to show off their fandom. As metaverse capabilities continue to evolve, this virtual locker could exist within a virtual locker room in a virtual stadium that is inspired by the real life Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (Cavs stadium). A few lucky fans who are the first to collect a Cavs NFT set in the future, might have the opportunity for their virtual locker to be placed within this virtual Cavs locker room. They might even be able to enter the locker room as avatars to interact with one another, or perhaps have their own basketball game on a virtual Cavs basketball court. These expanded experiences are not that far off from what will be possible in the coming years.
The possibilities of where a web3 metaverse will lead are too vast to predict at their outset, as is the case with most emerging technologies. It is relatively safe to assume that no one could have predicted how the early days of a web1 internet would evolve into its current web2 version. It would have been hard to fathom that AOL and Yahoo of the 1990s would lead to the current explosion of user-created content, and the ways in which we use apps and social media in our daily lives. That’s the wonderful thing about technology — it opens the doors to human ingenuity.