What is the metaverse? Definitions differ on what it can encompass, ranging from a fully virtual world that one lives in, to a virtual world layered upon our real one, to one that has its own economy. But the gist of the metaverse is an active consumer compared to a passive one. In other words, you will not be accessing the metaverse from the outside but will be in it.
Gaming platforms lead the way
Some versions of the metaverse already exist. Gaming platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite have avatars, shopping and merchandise built into their platforms, which are accessed by their millions of daily active users. As of Q3 2021, Roblox had more than 47 million active daily users on its platform, playing games, creating avatars, fighting demons, and buying and selling virtual merchandise. Another industry that is gearing up to create its own version of the metaverse is the entertainment segment. Movies, music videos and the like are a natural progression of a more inclusive world and a more active, less passive experience for the audience where the consumer is driving the story and having their own adventures.
Epic Games, one of the major players in the metaverse with its Fortnite gaming platform, recently received $1 billion in funding from various companies. The biggest name was Sony, which has contributed $450 million in funding in the last year alone. Sony has massive intellectual property (IP) across movies and entertainment. If Epic’s metaverse takes off, Sony will get first dibs on the new advertising and commerce opportunities that come with it.
House of Mouse jumps in
Media giant Disney is not far behind. Disney has publicly claimed to be involved in creating its own metaverse, with its IP as well as its streaming service Disney+ involved in the creation, although details are scarce. However, anything Disney does generates public interest. As of October 2021, Disney+ had 118.1 million paid subscribers worldwide. Disney’s theme parks and resorts, which are its second-largest sources of revenue, will be a big part of the metaverse. Revenue at Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products Division climbed 99% YoY to $5.4 billion in Q3 2021.
Disney is using an augmented reality (AR) firm Illumix to demo several AR experiences for its theme parks as a part of Disney’s experimental tech program Disney Accelerator. The demos include AR animated overlays in some parts of Disneyland with cartoon explosions intermingled with real-world smoke or the popular Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear flying around Disney California Adventure, or Minnie Mouse offering birthday greetings to kids. This promises to be an immersive experience in the real world itself, layering AR on top of the physical rather than creating an entire virtual world, in which the augmented reality characters appear to move with, and understand their surroundings.
Another metaverse experiment is Disney’s Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser, a multi-day Star Wars-themed hotel. It takes the viewer into the Star Wars world, making it their own adventure rather than being a passive observer. The rooms start at almost $5,000 for two guests, who can turn themselves into Star Wars avatars and immerse themselves in a live-action video game. The hotel stay has costume guidelines, which provide a glimpse of the interplay of e-commerce built into an immersive experience in the metaverse driving merchandise revenues. This hotel is expected to open in March 2022 and if it works, will be a pioneer of an interactive metaverse that can surround a consumer.
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