“Metaverse” is Too Meta: How Brands Get Immersive in 2023

January 30, 2023

person playing on a VR headset person playing on a VR headset

By Zach Tarvin, Creative Technologist & Cassandra Orion, Vice President, Director of Youth Culture 

Hype Becomes How-To 

It was impossible to get through a month of 2022 without hearing a mention of “the metaverse.” Consumer brands, Internet favorites, even luxury fashion brands touted their metaverse activations last year, but what “metaverse” meant to each of them often felt disjointed and unclear. In 2023, success for brands means sidestepping the hype cycle and focusing on immersive opportunities they may already be playing catch up on: gaming and AR.    

What to Expect 

The definition and vision of metaverse as articulated by Meta won’t suddenly appear in 2023—or likely, this decade— but don’t expect a dearth of interest in all things metaverse this year. Many brands spent 2022 labelling activations on platforms largely built as games as “metaverse experiences.” In 2023, they’ll be challenged to create with improved tools that actually bridge the digital and the physical, instead of claiming metaverse superiority through appearances in browser-based games. 

Established players in the gaming industry—Epic Games, Niantic, Unity—are building and releasing next-generation tools for deploying 3D on the web and in AR. The AR and mixed-reality offerings from Apple, Meta, Google, Microsoft, and Snap should be considerably more expansive, too, as platform providers and device makers begin a multi-year introduction of hardware geared toward consumers and the enterprise alike.  

How Can Brands Win 

This year, brands must recognize gaming and tech aren’t interests for niche audiences, but a backbone of both culture and essentials in the modern marketing toolbox. Globally, nearly 4.3 billion people use social media. Three quarters of that audience—more than 3 billion—also play video games. So how can brands rack up the XP to reach this audience? 

  • It’s time to redraw your mental picture of a gamer. Just as Hollywood has both blockbusters and prestige films, gaming has as many tastes and types of gamers as titles and genres. The days of “gamer” being a stand-in for 18-24 males ended a long time ago—if they were ever true at all. 
  • Balance the pro with the casual gamer. In October, Activision-Blizzard saw more revenue from its mobile games (like Candy Crush) than the total of its PC and console-based sales. Fortnite might help move a brand of energy drinks, but it’s a single peak in a much broader mountain range.  
  • Embrace work and play. “Gamification” is a buzzword because it’s effective. But the old method of badges and quizzes feels like comparing Pong and Pokémon Go. Pong is approachable but has no learning outcomes. Pokémon Go is approachable and engaging, and then evolves the gameplay as it develops.  
  • Lean into AR with social AR. Snap’s AR offerings see 6 billion AR Lens activations across Snapchat and brand apps. By 2025, research indicates 75 percent of the global population and nearly all smartphone users will be daily AR users. Casual games and game-like interactive experiences demonstrably lift brand engagement, can help build empathy, and even reinforce enterprise training goals. 

Why it Matters 

In the last decade, year-over-year changes to the smartphone unlocked more possibilities and opportunities for brands on social media. In this decade, the mass appeal of gaming and the concurrent and codependent advances in graphics processing and imaging are translating to more immersive experiences across the gaming spectrum and in the next wave of consumer tech. Brands should be mindful that no one can win the metaverse until it exists, but gaming and AR? These are immersive spaces that can and should be conquered by brands already. 

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