By: William Dakin
The National Millenial & Generation Z trip to New York City in September of 2022 was an incredible opportunity to meet executives and other students from around the country and, sometimes, the world. The topics of every meeting were variable, but frequently, in or out of meetings, there were questions surrounding the “metaverse,” artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) technologies. As a rising topic, I was surprised by how little the general public was interested in or educated on the metaverse and had no idea of its applications in private and business environments. These technological developments could be the defining achievement of our lifetimes and changing interactions across the globe. A general understanding of the metaverse, its uses and tools used in development, is highly advantageous.
A significant hurdle for discussing applications of the metaverse is many people don’t understand what all it entails, as there is no set vision or definition. Broadly speaking, the metaverse describes a virtual environment accessible through a computer or combined with AR or VR technologies. Many people and companies have visions for the metaverse, including a digital economy using cryptocurrencies and NFTs as digital assets. This is overly generalized but can be more easily understood through examples that people have experienced.
Coming out of the global COVID-19 pandemic, where most social interactions ceased, there was an emergence of businesses using Zoom to meet virtually. Zoom is an example of the metaverse used by companies, connecting individuals through a virtual medium. Another instance of the metaverse, also popularized during the pandemic, is a game called Roblox. In Roblox, users can join different worlds to hang out with friends, explore or compete. Many businesses and brands, such as Vans, popularized their world within Roblox, where users can participate in challenges and customize virtual Vans and skateboards (Gibson 2021). Being accessed through a computer, cellphone or VR headset opened up new customers for new virtual products offered by Vans. A great quote that characterizes existing brands in the metaverse is from Nick Pringle, senior vice-president and executive creative director at R/GA London, “The successful brands will be ones that don’t simply replicate their current products and service in the metaverse, but instead think more creatively about what value they can offer.” Not only are new customers engaging with existing brands, but opportunities for brands to expand into new virtual product lines that appeal to new and existing customers.
Creating items, photos and objects in the metaverse take time, but new technology is emerging to help decrease time commitments and make designing in the metaverse easier. While meeting with and touring the impressive office space of R/GA in New York, we had a brief overview and demonstration of a new AI technology in research for use in artificial design. The technology dubbed “Midjorney” is an Artificial Intelligence Bot on the popular communication platform, Discord. Midjorney will interpret a string of words or phrases to deliver four completely original images based on the user’s inputs. These images are all computed, generated and delivered within 60 seconds. This tool, currently in its beta stages, has the potential to completely revolutionize computer design, lightening the image design burden for advertising and marketing fields. It is especially useful for existing or developing brands in a completely virtual environment.
While still drawing attention from skeptics, the metaverse is beginning to take shape and could define the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs and brands. Being informed and having a general understanding of the concepts will be beneficial very soon. When meeting with R/GA, it was emphasized that “innovation happens at intersections,” and this is a major intersection we see, the collision of a physical and virtual world. What technologies, innovation and knowledge will come from this is unknown, but highly anticipated.
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