Myth buster: Debunking common misconceptions about the metaverse

Illustration of a gaming metaverse.

Over the past year, the metaverse has become the marketing industry’s favorite buzzword, with brands scrambling to establish bespoke virtual environments, sell digital collectibles and otherwise stake their claim to the virtual world to come.

Despite this flurry of activity, though, a slew of common misconceptions about the metaverse continues to plague the advertising and marketing sector.

To learn about the most common misconceptions about the metaverse, Digiday reached out to a group of experts across the gaming, advertising and Web3 sectors. But even among the experts, there remains significant disagreement about what exactly the metaverse is and how it will play out in the future. One source said that the idea that blockchain technology is necessary to build the metaverse is a major misconception. Another source said that the idea that blockchain tech is not necessary to build the metaverse is itself a common misconception. Bottom line: the ultimate role of blockchain technology within the metaverse is yet to be determined, so this article will steer clear of that particular debate.

Even the capitalization of the letter “m” in metaverse itself is a source of disagreement, with some writers capitalizing and others choosing not to. Digiday chooses not to use a capital M, taking cues from the widespread lack of capitalization of the word “internet,” but this formatting is not standardized. “I do capitalize ‘Internet,’” said metaverse thought leader Matthew Ball. “Style guides have shifted to lowercase I, and yet I believed that using a capital M was more declarative. For consistency purposes, I do both.”

Debates about the metaverse’s future notwithstanding, the space has certainly firmed up enough to clear up at least a few misunderstandings. Here’s a myth buster debunking some of the most common misconceptions about the metaverse.

Myth: The metaverse is a product developed by Facebook/Meta

The metaverse isn’t a single virtual space or entity, but rather a multitude of digital platforms that metaverse builders envision will someday be stitched together to form a cohesive, interoperable whole. Although Meta executives have publicly agreed with this vision, the company’s recent name change hasn’t helped clear things up. While those who are actively involved in building the metaverse understand that Meta’s VR platform Horizon is only one piece of the puzzle, many metaverse newbies are still under the impression that the metaverse is the domain of Meta alone.

“Facebook — Meta — is nowhere close to building the metaverse, or being the leader in the metaverse,” said Margot Rodde, innovation lead at Mirada Studios, a TPG company. “Actually, other companies are leading in the metaverse; I would say Roblox is way ahead of Meta in that space.”

Myth: The metaverse will be primarily accessed via virtual reality

This myth goes hand in hand with the perception that Meta is the owner of the metaverse. The company has gone all-in on virtual reality for its vision of the metaverse, and Horizon apps are available only to Quest headset owners at the moment, though Horizon lead Vivek Sharma told Digiday that the platform will eventually expand to other types of users earlier this year. But the idea that the metaverse is inherently a VR experience discounts the proliferation of virtual experiences on platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite Creative, which do not require VR to function.

“There’s this omni-channel, omni-media approach to the metaverse,” said Brian Trunzo, metaverse lead at the blockchain gaming company Polygon Technology. “The metaverse will be on your phone, it’ll be on your wearable glasses, it’ll be inside your VR. It’ll be on screens in the public domain — it’ll literally be accessible everywhere.”

Myth: The metaverse is an escape from the real world

To some observers, there’s something inherently dystopian about the idea of a virtual space that gives its users an opportunity to retreat from the physical world.

Metaverse inventor Neal Stephenson’s seminal novel “Snow Crash” includes passages about “gargoyles,” users who constantly wear VR goggles to live their lives inside the metaverse. But the metaverse that is taking shape today includes ample ways to layer virtual experiences over physical spaces, including the augmented-reality efforts of companies such as Niantic and the development of “digital twin” virtual environments that exactly match the physical world. Metaverse builders believe that these new technologies are an opportunity to expand our uses of physical spaces, not run away from them entirely.

“One of the problems with the term ‘metaverse’ is based on where it comes from. In Neal Stephenson’s book, it was more of a virtual escape from the physical world,” said Ben Grossman, founder of the technology and production company Magnopus. “The metaverse everyone’s trying to build today isn’t the metaverse of a dystopian science fiction novel; what we’re trying to do is just convert the internet from a series of interconnected pages to a series of interconnected spaces.”

Myth: The metaverse is populated predominately by men

Metaverse platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite face the same demographic misconceptions as the gaming community — the idea that their users are largely white, male teens. While this may have been true in the early days of Fortnite, the demographics of the metaverse are increasingly growing closer to those of the real world thanks to the efforts of companies such as Bad Bitch Empire, which exist to educate women and other marginalized groups about the benefits of the decentralized web. 

“Most of the people that I have found to be just a lot of talk are of the male gender,” said marketer and metaverse consultant Aaron Wahle, “and most of the people that I have found in the metaverse that are doing things that have products behind them, running communities, doing the things of interest that I’m there for, they were all women.”

Myth: Brands can’t simply build metaverse experiences and expect users to come

It’s one thing to build a metaverse environment and another to get users to spend time inside it. Dozens of new Roblox and Fortnite experiences are being built every day, meaning simple word of mouth just isn’t enough. The distribution end of brands’ metaverse production cycle often involves the recruitment of influencers, who promote the spaces on their videos and social channels. 

Although some metaverse creation studios, such as Oni Studios, have started to provide both production and distribution services, most brands that dip their toes into the metaverse will have to recruit both a studio to build their virtual space and an influencer or agency to promote it through events, giveaways and social content.

“‘If you build it, they will come’ is a misconception — you have to program it,” said Josh Rush, CEO of the metaverse design studio Surreal Events. “We often talk to clients about gaming as a core loop; it’s designed to keep you engaged, entertained, wanting more, coming back. The metaverse needs a core loop, and that core loop is very much predicated on content programming.”

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