Pieter Van Leugenhagen
Oct 11th, 2021
Pieter Van Leugenhagen
Every so often, a tech billionaire barges in who noisily predicts the next big thing. ‘Futurist’ has even become a job title. In the past year, one buzzword has been on the rise in futurist circles, so much so that you may well be interested to know more. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… the METAVERSE! Sounds like every sci-fi author’s boyhood dream. And it is, because like a lot of technology, the Metaverse was indeed born in a book.
The Metaverse has gone through many names. The illustrious Kevin Kelly called it The Mirrorworld, with a clear warning that said mirror could be white but also black. Then there is The Magicverse, just a trifle cuter. The Internet of Non-Things, that one must have come from a copywriter. The Oasis, on the other hand, sounds more exotic. In the end, it was the boys at Microsoft who banged their fists on the table. The future of the Internet will be called The Metaverse. And so it happened.
So there we are, the thing has a name, but what on earth is it? Even if Mark Zuckerberg tried hard to make it seem like his ingenious invention, the Metaverse is actually a logical consequence of separate technological developments we have been witnessing in recent years. Think of the IoT, Blockchain, gaming, AR, VR and hopefully some 5G and cloud rendering to top it all off.
Today, it is technically possible to create a digital twin of our physical world. We are actually working on it already. So much of what we know and use is now digitally present: you, but also your job, your purchases, the contract of your house, and, ever since the pandemic, our meetings as well. Now, imagine for a moment that all these things escape from your screen and manifest themselves in the space around you. That, dear reader, is the Metaverse.
Web 1.0 was for one-way data gathering. Web 2.0 was all about user-generated content, the social media boom and the maturation of e-commerce. Web 3.0—the Metaverse—is a place you don’t have to log onto anymore, it’s just there. Everywhere and always. You don’t go on the Internet you are smack dab in the middle of it. And as it happens, getting off is no longer possible. Do you feel it creeping in, the discord, the black and white mirror? Mr Kelly knows.
The Metaverse is a world where online and offline become symbiotic. The transition between the two feels seamless to you. Hence the term ‘embodied’. You can use different devices to merge into the metaverse, but it’s the immersive technologies that make the experience worthwhile. AR, VR and the likes may not be a prerequisite for the Metaverse to take hold, but they are highly desirable. They are the foam on your cappuccino, so to speak.
Let’s talk Balenciaga. Oh, so terribly expensive, but so terribly cool. The brand already was ambassador to the WFO and the personal label of the Brussels rap phenomenon Zwangere Guy. It is now a front-runner to occupy the Metaverse as well. Balenciaga’s previous fashion show took place in a game developed with the Unreal Engine, but this time they are going all out. The house designed and launched its new collection in Fortnite—for which ‘game’ is a serious understatement. Fortnite is a full-size virtual world, in which people pay big money to have their avatar adorned with a skin or outfit.
With this collaboration, Balenciaga is taking a crucial step in the normalisation of the Metaverse. Want to go shopping online? Then you walk into the digital ZARA. Prefer Gucci? Why not? The brand has already built ‘The Garden of Gucci’ in Roblox to showcase their latest products.
So, as of today, we can buy our own Balenciaga skin there, presented to us by a humanoid dog (he probably refused the catwalk). You can also buy a jumper in the Fortnite Balenciaga store and have it delivered to your door. This may all sound complicated, but it is actually as simple as it is ingenious. An immeasurable number of people wander around Fortnite, so why not play shop there? Especially since it is more accessible to many than the physical shop.
The fashion brands are taking the Metaverse by storm with their designs. And it works, because unlike humans in the offline world, digital bodies or avatars look very much alike. So if you want to confirm your unique identity, which counts as much online as offline, you do not want to look just like anybody else. Or like a shabby Lego brick, for that matter. Better to invest in a Balenciaga hoodie then.
Identity, beauty and individuality—the core business of fashion brands—are vital assets in the digital world. The early adopters understood that very well.
The universe is passé. From now on, we will live in the Metaverse, which will consist of our world and its digital twin. Unless you want to exist only halfway in the future, you had better start assembling a Metaverse team. Preferably not just populated with interns and your second cousin who loves gaming, or you will miss the boat. Just like the sceptics missed the boat of Web 2.0 and social media.
Quite crucially, the Metaverse is a single entity, otherwise it would lack the network effect that is so vital to successful technology. This calls for an open ecosystem, a completely different philosophy to that of, say, Apple. The dream of the Metaverse will only come true if all those separate efforts, all those games, worlds and initiatives are connected in a standardised way. Then you are no longer one but two. Always wanted to be a twin? This is your chance. Or rather, for the two of you. So what are both of you going to wear today?
Do you want to find out what opportunities there are for your brand in the metaverse, do not hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org