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2022 Cheat Sheet: Gaming in the Metaverse

London, UK
We asked industry experts about the opportunities that metagaming presents for advertisers and brands, and whether 2022 is the year it all takes off

The metaverse opens up - quite literally - a whole new world, or even worlds, of opportunities for both the gaming industry and the world of advertising. Speaking to experts on innovation and the future of advertising, LBB’s Ben Conway asks whether 2022 will be the year that gaming in the metaverse would thrive and provide the perfect conditions for the commercial world.

From digital out-of-home style billboards in virtual cities, to brand experiences with fashion icons, there’s a multiverse of possibilities. With gaming drawing a significant portion of the interest surrounding the metaverse, opportunities for marketers are abundant, although there are also difficulties and learning curves to overcome for brands and advertisers alike for the foreseeable future.

To hear some expert predictions for the next year of ‘Metagaming’ opportunities, we spoke to Naji El-Arifi, head of innovation, Wunderman Thompson Commerce about their recent research into the topic and Laurent François, managing partner, 180 Social & 180 LUXE about the opportunities that adidas original’s partnership with The Sandbox generates, as well as several more insightful experts from across the globe.


Naji El-Arifi

Head of innovation, Wunderman Thompson Commerce

The metaverse is being seen as the next internet - you can think of it as your browser turned up to 11. To me, Ready Player One, is where it's going, where you go into the internet by going into the Metaverse and look for what you want. It's like this new, shiny future of the Internet. It's got a relatively high barrier to entry right now, so that's kind of the only problem - but I think that'll that will come down in time.

[Our report] showed how important a person's online persona is. For some of the age groups that we looked at, there was only a couple of percentage points difference between what's more important to them - looking good in real life vs looking good in game. It was super close… and for 17-to-19-year-olds, looking better in-game was more important. One problem, from our point of view in commerce, is that the way in which you can pay for things in gaming is really limited. You can think of these things as super silos. What Facebook is trying to do is create that umbrella that kind of sits above it all, so that you can easily pay between them. Say we wanted to create a company's shop in Fortnite, how would we execute the payment? Because we can't exactly do it in V-Bucks? 

People are also a little bit more receptive if it's an item that you can buy in-game and looks cool, which then automatically makes your brand look better. Because there's one side of [advertising in games] which is the posters and in-game banners and all that kind of stuff, but the actual items for sale are advertising as well. Not to mention, you can make a hell of a lot of money. I don't see why Nike couldn't make the same amount of money from digital sales as physical sales. I see no reason for that not to happen, because the profit margin on a digital item is insane: you just build it once, there's no factory, just ‘Command C, Command V’ and you've got two now. There's a huge market for that kind of high margin item. A lot of the games companies have started to realise that this is another form of revenue now. Their yearly income was people spending £50 on the game, whereas now you're getting these free-to-play games where you make the money on the cosmetic items and in-game advertisements.

At the minute it’s difficult because you have to be in a specific game. You are siloed, you’re stuck in that very particular area, you can't transfer your Nike Air Jordans from Fortnite into Warzone. That's not going to happen, so until it's a bit more everywhere, it's kind of stuck.

Laurent François

Managing partner, 180 Social & 180 LUXE

A bit like the first arcade games in the 70s, metaverse experiences create new conversations among friends, and can potentially shape cultural moments. The main difference being that the dimensions are not limited by geographical spaces or physicality. 
There are at least three creative playgrounds for brands and advertising:

Creating commodities, tools and artefacts to enrich a participants’ experience within metaverse environments: Not only through digital merchandising but also in truly affecting the way the experience is designed and how an individual could evolve thanks to a branded element in it.

Meta to real meaningfulness: We don’t think that the metaverse should be thought of as a parallel world for brands. More precisely, as all dimensions are starting to be vaporised, there should be a deep synthesis between what’s going on in one of the many streams of the metaverse and with the physical existence. This blurred reality can amplify and augment a consumer’s journey, one with hopes, desires, expectations and dreams.

Shared history: Brands that survive are often the ones that can make their legacy very timely and relevant for current consumers. Metaverse, beyond one-shot games, can offer long-lasting, mutual relationships in which the brand can grow with its consumers, creating cultural moments in which they will participate, so becoming a shared memory. To some extent, for a new generation of citizens, the 23rd April 2020 Travis Scott concert on Fortnite is as important as the 1986 Madison Square RUN DMC concert was for Gen X.

The Sandbox offers a new space for sports brands like adidas to play in. It’s a great opportunity for us at 180 for a number of reasons. Firstly, distinctiveness; by removing the physical restraints, brands are given the ability to add to a game by attaching new meaning to products. Secondly, metagames and metaverse environments become places where teens, but not only that age group, build friendships. This generation are the heirs of old chatrooms, looking for an additional place to basketball courts, city playgrounds and skateparks. Adidas, like other sports brands, know that it’s not necessarily natural to spend time with a branded community so, in a sense, with their move onto The Sandbox, the brand creates a ‘first’ link with its younger fans, helping to capture their attention. Thirdly, a move like this from a brand marks an interesting moment when it comes to job roles at the company. Community managers might turn into community experience officers or even meta experience officers. 

David Kleinman

Managing director, Giantstep

Forward-thinking creative teams are conceiving ways of communicating to the growing audience of consumers living virtual lives on metaverse platforms. Influencers are creating impressions in Fortnite and Roblox, the metaverse Gaming League, even Decentraland. Advertisers should tread cautiously since this audience is already highly suspicious of being treated as just another marketplace. I suspect we’re a way off. Experiences in the metaverse(s) will improve as technology advances. Advertisers will continue to find unique, subtle ways of getting eyeballs on their brands. Back in ‘08, the Obama/Biden campaign bought billboards in “Burnout Paradise,” the car racing game from Electronic Arts. I thought that was genius, so we should expect that kind of attention in the metaverse.

While fashion brands are already offering products for online avatars, rewards for hitting milestones in gaming will go beyond tokens to include branded NFTs or other items. We’ve had a number of conversations with a gaming platform that will offer incentives for gamers including unique apparel or other items, including participation in exclusive events like virtual parties and concerts. The keys for this evolution in e-commerce will be ease of use, familiarity with a digital realm, universal access, and user interest in digital engagements… but until the ability to access these virtual stores is accessible to the everyday person, it will remain a novelty/toy.

Morgan Pomish 

VP/director, creative & innovation strategy, Digitas

With the exception of IRL activations - which can be expensive, have limited scale and have become even more scarce in recent years thanks to the pandemic – consumer engagement tactics for brands are constrained by the capabilities of existing platforms and Web 2.0 scroll culture. The metaverse, on the other hand, has nearly infinite ways for brands to engage with consumers that aren’t limited by the constraints of Web 2.0. In 3D spaces, consumers are more immersed, can engage with content and experiences that are hyper-personalized, and all at scale.

There are many dimensions to in-game advertising, but at its most basic there are digital OOH placements in a 3D space- a billboard in a virtual city or a sponsorship of a race car driver in a racing game. But the richer opportunities exist in activating in the metaverse and taking advantage of its unique engagement opportunities by creating compelling brand integrations or entirely new experiences altogether. Wendy’s, for example, brought their “fresh never frozen” promise to life by creating a Wendy-inspired Fortnite character and sending her on a mission to destroy all of the freezers in-game. Players, inspired by her mission, joined in and started to kill freezers vs. opponents.

One space where I’d expect to see some really innovative integrations that go both ways (physical to digital and digital to physical) is within brand loyalty programs. We’ll see consumers engaging in digital activities to earn rewards points that can be cashed in for a real-world perks or experiences or alternatively earning rewards through real world experiences or purchases that can be traded in for in-game access, limited edition NFTs, etc. 

Luke Hurd

Augmented reality influencer and director of experience design, VMLY&R

2022 will mark the first real year of mainstream metaverse-style gaming. The Meta Quest sold more units than the Xbox last year and PlayStation just announced their second generation VR headset for the PS5. I’m pretty sure the water is finally starting to come to a steady boil. The evolution that I see is a further distancing from “gaming” and more push into community and social gathering. The gaming elements will still exist, but deeper dives into personal identity (things like avatar customisation, fashion, expression, etc) and ownership (which we see with NFTs) are going to be where games/experiences begin to gravitate more and more – and that is exactly where advertisers will meet them. It’s all about socialization. I think multi-player VR experiences are going to bring the most success in the immediate years to come... Customising your life within a world means commerce – and with the promise (and hope) of interoperability that means I can take some of those digital goods with me as I enter different platforms and not feel like I’m stuck in one corner of the metaverse with all my toys.

The real opportunities arise with virtual worlds that have their own built-in audiences, communities, and culture that brands can leverage. It’s like partnering with an event like Coachella – a place where people meet and make friends, experience art and music, and have a common shared experience – but instead of a few days a year it happens every single day, at all hours, all across the world. Physical retail was rocked by ecommerce, and it will continue to be rocked by the metaverse – but probably not in the way a lot of people envision. Ecommerce is contextual and dynamic by watching your patterns, pairing you with other related products, remembering what you left behind last time – now physical retail can finally reap the benefits of ecommerce with dynamic signage, personalisation, virtual products (and try-ons) and more. Physical retail no longer has to be limited by shelf-space, in-stock merchandise, time spent stocking shelves, organising products – they can leverage the virtual just as well as someone can at home, most likely even better.

Phil Hall

Joint MD, Ocean Outdoor UK 

Since we started to come out of the depths of the pandemic, we've really seen in the real world, a concentration on branding. There are lots of new entrants to the market. People in the digital economy, food delivery, Peloton, are trying to push their brands out there. It’s not rocket science, wherever lots of people gather in an environment that is safe and brand friendly, that is a good place for brands to be. And we think the metaverse is no different to that real world situation.

They say that gaming will always be a cornerstone of the metaverse and we will be there with our OOH solutions, but also gigs in the metaverse or shopping experiences or people gathering to socialise - these are big opportunities as well. The research that is out there suggests that people will spend more and more of their time in these worlds and therefore it becomes more and more valid for us to be to be there as well. 

It’s really important for it to be additive. We're very keen that everything that we do in the m etaverse and partnering with brands is additive to the consumer experience. It might well be that Ocean billboards in the metaverse are actually pointing people towards areas in the metaverse where they can have a brand experience. So rather than displaying “Wear Gucci Clothes”, it will be signposting an area or experience in the metaverse, rather than the more traditional display advertising. We have to be careful with that, because if we just start talking to landowners in the metaverse and plastering billboards up all over the place, that's not going to be a great user experience. So, we are very mindful of that. 

But almost certainly bigger than that will be the experiential aspect to the metaverse. This is something that we offer through Ocean Labs in the real world - sampling, more traditional experiential, random engagement, all of those things - we will also do that in the metaverse. We think that the advertising experience in the metaverse will be much more conducive to brand experience. If you had somebody like Gucci, for instance, we would be able to go and experience that brand; look at some catwalk shows that they've done, your avatar could try on virtual clothes, you could even be able to order those clothes and receive them in the real world.

We've been really pleased with the buying community, in terms of agencies, specialists and brands themselves saying, ‘We want to get involved in this, how can you partner with us?’. I think it’s very promising and indeed higher than we expected. There will be early adopters and there are some brands that are more conducive to being in the metaverse than other brands. But I think that 2022 will be the year where, rather than a very small number of brands dipping their toes in the water, it will start to be a mainstay on a media plan for a relatively large number of brands.

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