Unless you are a Neo-Luddite, you know “metaverse” is the new buzzword in tech circles around the world. Companies and creators—from global superstars like Snoop Dogg to luxury brands like Gucci and Sotheby’s—have created metaverse-specific content and immersive virtual experiences, often hosted on their own corners of the metaverse, such as the Gucci Garden on the popular gaming platform Roblox or Snoop Dogg’s arena in Sandbox, where he invites users to attend private metaverse parties and get access to exclusive NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.
Everyone wants to be in the metaverse, everyone wants to stake a claim to a piece of it before others do. Indian brands, too, are unhesitatingly dipping their toes into an industry that analysts say will be an $800 billion ( ₹60 trillion) market opportunity in 2024.
We are not quite there yet in terms of sophistication, though. The term is poorly understood and often improperly applied. A recent press statement from a non-tech lifestyle brand said it was “running their first metaverse campaign”—it turned out the company meant it was releasing a marketing campaign on social media, “including Instagram and Facebook”.
The eagerness to be a part of something that feels hugely game-changing for the internet is understandable. “The metaverse is here, and it’s not only transforming how we see the world but how we participate in it—from the factory floor to the meeting room,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tweeted in November 2021. He’s hardly the only tech CEO to have made it clear that the metaverse is the future of the internet. No wonder brands are excited; it’s a whole new world to showcase your product, get more people to look at it and ultimately buy it. This is the next frontier in digital marketing.
These are early days, however—and brands have much to learn. “Recently, I attended an event at which the IPL (Indian Premier League) team Gujarat Titans ‘unveiled their new team logo in the metaverse’. It was poorly executed, there were tech glitches, and, for all the hype, ultimately unimpressive,” says a Delhi-based tech journalist. The IPL team launched its own space in the virtual world, “The Titans’ Dugout”, on the platform Spatial.io.
It’s not just cool, new-agey brands that are taking a dip in the concept: For Holi, Tata Tea organised a virtual party on the YUG Metaverse, the Indian platform, during which users could create and customise their avatars and attend a Holi party with a “rain dance”, a music concert and even NFT pichkaris that they could buy. The brand gets full marks for timeliness, though the tacky and amateurish graphics left a lot to be desired.
“One of the remarkable things about this metaverse boom is that it’s happening without the need for expensive VR headsets and having to download separate apps for everything. You can enter a metaverse through your web browser. So it’s really accessible, and brands are excited to try it out,” says Kanav Singla, CEO and founder of Metadome (formerly Adloid), a metaverse and AR builder platform for creators and brands. “People are still figuring it out, and yes, there will be less sophisticated content to begin with, but you have to start somewhere,” adds Singla, whose company provides no-code infrastructure to build immersive experiences for the virtual world, and counts companies like Tata Motors, Hero MotoCorp, Asian Paints, Titan Eyeplus, Royal Enfield and CarDekho among its clients.
Yet, it is difficult to tell how content and experience on the metaverse are going to be really different from other online experiences that have had the benefit of years of evolution, like casual gaming apps. OneRare, an Indian company that is building a “foodverse”, recently joined hands with Urban Platter, which retails gourmet ingredients, to create an NFT economy game that runs on cooperation and trade between play-to-earn gamers and NFT collectors. OneRare’s basic gameplay has users following recipes and collecting ingredient NFTs for a dish; once they have collected all the ingredients, they can “claim” the dish to finish assigned tasks.
On the face of it, this does not sound very different from the popular merge games or task completion games available by the dozen on app stores. But their one unique feature is the inclusion of ingredients created specially for the platform. Where a game like Merge Bakery uses generic “ingredients” like a cup of coffee or a cupcake, OneRare will have tasks, like creating dishes such as a Costa Rican cassado or Korean bulgogi.
Plus, metaverse games have a built-in social layer not present in casual gaming apps, which are ultimately solitary experiences. “Metaverse is an immersive and shared experience on the internet. Today’s VR is immersive but it is unidirectional. You experience—or consume—what is provided. It is single-user or limited-user, professionally-created content. Metaverse is immersive but also shared,” explains Ashish Singhal, co-founder and CEO of CoinSwitch, a leading Indian cryptocurrency exchange.
Explaining a cryptocurrency company’s role in the metaverse, Singhal says: “You can explore, create and share content and digital assets in this virtual world. You could walk into Nikeland and get digital merchandise, attend a concert with friends in the community, get an NFT from the artist. It’s a whole new, immersive realm of the internet. For this to be possible, metaverse needs its digital economy and identity system, and platforms like CoinSwitch are a gateway to digital assets.” CoinSwitch recently hosted its own Holi party on YUG Metaverse and sponsored a “virtual wedding”. Immersive virtual worlds like Decentraland and Roblox, which are admittedly more advanced in terms of both content and merchandising, are the early adopters. “They show us the possibilities of the metaverse,” says Singhal.
So if you are still wondering what the hoopla is about, the only way to figure out the metaverse is to dive right in—even if you land awkwardly.