The Metaverse is still under construction. How far are we in yet?
Most of the data points used in this article are taken from GWI’s Diversity in the Metaverse report. Other data points and references are cited as hyperlinks.
With the ever-increasing number of eyes on the Metaverse, 2022 has been an enormous year for the ‘growth’ and ‘popularity’ of the Metaverse. According to research by Oxford University Press, Facebook’s rebranding to ‘Meta’, the usage of the term ‘Metaverse’ has “increased almost fourfold from the previous year”. But how does all of this aforementioned popularity translate in terms of actual data and statistics? Let’s break it down.
Consumers and their time spending habits
From grocery shopping to banking, many people worldwide have shifted online to carry out many life activities. People generally love hanging out and/or creating content online. China and India – the two countries with the world’s most enormous populations have large chunks of audiences that prefer spending their time online. Mass internet access and penetration in India are directly proportional to income strength, as India is still not counted among the stronger economies of the world. This mass penetration was supported by the public availability of Jio 4G since 2016. For several months, they gave out 4G internet connections for free and even when they did release their recharge plan options, Jio was amongst the cheapest internet providers in India.
But what does all of this have to do with the Metaverse?
The interest in the Metaverse begins when you have an internet connection, of course. There is no denying that but it was surprising to see that more Millennials prefer spending their time online, and more Generation Z (Gen Z) are interested in the Metaverse. Normally, I’d expect Gen Z to have higher numbers in both criteria. 63% of Millennial consumers prefer spending their time online compared to 57% of Gen Z consumers, but 47% of Gen Z are interested in the Metaverse while a lesser 40% of Millennials are.
The dynamic of changing behaviours
When spending time on the internet, it is no secret that people behave differently online. The ‘online inhibition effect’ allows people to be whoever they want to be in the ways that suit them. Looking at the data chart, we can see that apart from being open-minded, consumers are more likely to be expressive online rather than in person. The two most common behavioural patterns of consumers, as stated by the report, are that people are generally more curious online and polite in person. This duality in behaviour brings about a different ball game for brands, but curiosity can be greatly nurtured as a force for learning, experiencing and growing.
The curiosity for new experiences among consumers and the brands’ effort to create immersive and more extraordinary Metaverse experiences go hand in hand with the growth of the Metaverse. When people are curious, they don’t hesitate to try new things, which is why there are many first-timers on various platforms. This action puts DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity) in the spotlight, and brands need to take special consideration to keep all these measures checked to ensure a safe and inclusive space for everyone.
Metaverse – The new playground for self-expression?
The multi-brand marketing collaterals for the Metaverse talk of it as a new playground for greater self-expression. Technically, there exists a myriad of possibilities regarding being someone and expressing oneself in the Metaverse. It is more likely that Metaverse potentials would adopt a new persona online and this phenomenon, like the duality of behaviour mentioned earlier, is a tough landscape for brands to understand and play with.
To put that into perspective, from the 42% interested in the Metaverse in Brazil, a meagre 8% of this cohort say they’re a different person online. This statistic is different in France where lesser people are interested in the Metaverse but a greater share from that cohort prefer to use a new/different persona online. The developers of the Metaverse need to accommodate both these focus groups because while one may see it as an extension of their reality, the other might see it as an escape from one.
Taking another look at things, self-expression is more than just display of interests. It can also be about people being comfortable in the masks of anonymity they wear in the Metaverse. Inner.world is one such platform that helps people get this comfort. The virtual platform gives its users a space to open up about their life’s challenges and work through them with others based on the concepts and insights of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. All of these actions take place, if the user wishes so, in complete anonymity.
What gets them going?
Now that we’ve talked about at the behavioural and identity inclination of the Metaverse potential consumers, let’s take a look at their preferences. This would be helpful for the developers of the Metaverse to create experiences that their audiences would enjoy and keep coming back to the platform for.
Looking at the graph, eSports taking the cake doesn’t come as a surprise. The gamers were generally expected to be amongst the early adopters of the Metaverse. Along with coders and developers, they are also a heavily tech driven audience. Urban/Modern Art being among the top three interests also fits right in as they usually are involved with the creation of NFTs and other art collectibles.
There are immense opportunities for other interest groups and brands can have offerings on both spaces, real and digital.
Standing apart from the crowd – Retail therapy in a virtual world
Unless a person is famous, it could be different to stand apart from the crowd in the digital space. The Metaverse lends a helping hand to that issue by factoring the possibilities of personalisation. A whopping 65% of the Metaverse potentials want to browse and shop for products across platforms. So, to allow consumers to really take a dive into and enjoy self expression, it would be wise for creators to bring out a range of shops and products that they can purchase to make them feel unique. The brands and creators also need to keep in mind the exclusivity factor that they need to bring with purchasable product. They can no longer set up shop and call it a day but instead they need to think about exclusive activities and experiences that consumers can participate in to showcase their status.
Digital Asset Ownership in the Metaverse
There is a varied range when it comes to the consumer interests in the Metaverse but when it comes to digital asset ownership interests, the statistics have a different say. When divided into three segments as first, second and third interest of asset ownership there are a lot of differences based on the country. For the United States, it’s Real Estate in the first interest, followed by Art/Collectibles in the second interest and Clothing/Outfits (i.e. Skins) in the third interest. Taking a look at China’s interests, it’s Emotes/Dances followed by Art/Collectibles and Design/Decoration. In terms of India, it’s Real Estate, Emotes/Dances and Cosmetics. Along with purchasing based on interests, the trends also show that consumers are looking at digital purchases as investments.
Personalisation. Personalisation. Personalisation.
Linked closely or probably even directly to digital asset ownership in the Metaverse is personalisation. Among the 9 markets, 8 have clothing/outfits as consumer’s top priority in terms of ownership. Appearance personalisation with clothing and accessories has already become a huge market and big brands like Nike, Adidas & Puma all have been immensely investing in Web3. They have shaped their digital catalogues along with partnerships with NFT projects to create exclusive one-offs. Even Luxury fashion brands such as Prada, Balenciaga, and Thom Browne are investing in this space.
Along with personalisation, there needs to be a space for representation. Like mentioned earlier, consumers want to stand out and for that to happen, the customisation has to go beyond clothing and accessories with the offerings for different skin tones, genders, body types and more.
Representation of the underrepresented
Inclusivity needs to be a priority. Period.
The foundation of a good user experience starts with a good DEI. Users shouldn’t have to demand to be included in the Metaverse; instead it should be breaking boundaries. Meta claims that it’s designing their Metaverse platforms with inclusion and diversity right from the beginning. They hope to unite and empower communities through socially driven technologies.
The early adopters of the Metaverse also have an important role to play in this. We know that younger users (Gen Z and younger millennials) will be probably the first adopters and their activities need to be nurtured according to the space.
Metaverse consumers want to feel valued. 16% of them want brands to make them feel valued with the customisation and 8% also want them to listen to customer feedback. Aligned with this, there’s a common thought that they (around half) want the brands to be socially responsible in the Metaverse.
The road ahead?
With all the data at hand, it’s clear that people have been enjoying their dabble at Web3 and a full-scale adoption of the Metaverse is not too far away. Right now, the tech infrastructure is still under construction with platforms for various use cases being rolled out gradually. People need to find something to do in the Metaverse and until multiple apps or platforms aren’t available, mass adoption of Metaverse will still be thought of as a little far-fetched.