How ‘playing around’ in the metaverse is actually deeply strategic

It's not all gimmicks and games...

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September 1, 2022
Strategy

Netflix has recently joined the Decentraland metaverse by launching a replica of a maze found in its recent film, “The Gray Man”, starring Ryan Gosling. As of 2023 the Seoul Lantern Festival will be held in the metaverse so that anyone in the world can join. Italian luxury fashion house Prada recently livestreamed its Fall 2022 collection within the interactive realms of “Meta Ziwu” a virtual space in Baidu’s metaverse social app XiRang.

I’m sure that many of you will regard these types of metaverse projects as quite gimmicky: not very interesting commercially, except maybe for reasons of PR and branding. But I believe that their value goes far beyond that, and that these endeavors are deeply strategic if you look at them from a deeper level. Let me explain with an example.

The Teleperformance eSports arena

These Summer holidays, my company nexxworks’ team visited Teleperformance’s “Global Esports Arena and Metaverse Center of Excellence” in Lisbon. For the moment, this metaverse-oriented eSports arena may not immediately mean something for Teleperformance’s core business – which is customer acquisition management, customer care, technical support, debt collection, social media services, and other services – but that’s not why they introduced the concept.

They launched this center because they want it to have significant impact at the edges:

First of all, the studio is meant to familiarize their employees with the new VR, AR, MR and gaming technologies that form the basis of the metaverse. It will allow them to recognize all the possibilities of the metaverse in the most pleasant and non-threatening ways. Seen from this angle, this is learning by playing in its most strategic form.

At the same time, they told our team that this project sends the message to their customers that Teleperformance is continuously innovating and pushing itself to the next level so that it, in turn, can help its customers access that level too.

Our colleague Carlo with Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev

Last but not least, they understand that the network always wins: the ecosystem of gamers that is growing around the studio, is expanding Teleperformance’s metaverse community in a very natural manner: the benefits range from talent acquisition through employer branding to collaborations with metaverse influencers like Ukrainian Counter-Strike professional Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev.

In other words: when a company experiments with an emerging technology, this is rarely just about it wanting to play around, but often has an impact that goes much further. Playing is how we learn as children and that actually remains the same when we become adults. We just don’t call it playing anymore, but experimenting at that point.

Walmart follows pretty much the same approach, albeit with a different focus. They filed several new trademarks that indicate its intent to make and sell virtual goods, including electronics, home decorations, toys, sporting goods and personal care products. In a separate filing, they said they would offer users a virtual currency, as well as NFTs. Are these ground breaking and super convenient products or services? Probably not in a first phase. Will these have a major impact on their customers, and their experience when they launch? Unlikely. But again, I see these evolutions much less like gimmicks than as smart strategic decisions.

For me, this is the true impact of these types of experiments:

1. They are establishing a presence in the metaverse:

“Be where your customers are”. It seems like a platitude, but - in this case - if you’re not establishing a presence in the metaverse while your competition is, it will be hard to launch yourself once the truly useful use cases will emerge.

2. They are building a community in the metaverse:

Even if it’s just a brand launching a free game in Decentraland, they are perhaps building a tribe of enthusiastic fans over there who may also buy whatever they may be selling there in the future.

3. Their employees are learning about all the possibilities and limitations of the technology:

Once the really interesting uses cases appear, the process to launch yourself in the metaverse will be much harder if none of your employees has been experimenting and learning there with your brand.

4. Their employees are learning about the needs, wants and specific behaviour of customers in the metaverse:

We all know that customers do not behave the same way on an online shop as they would in one IRL. Well, their behaviour will definitely also be different when they interact with your brand in a layered, 360° and/or immersive experience. Those who are experimenting there now, can learn a lot from that.

5. Their customers are learning how serious they are about innovative tech:

Though that may not be (very) significant in the case of B2C customers, this could present a powerful message to the customers of B2B organizations, as in the case of Teleperformance above.

In short, those who are now experimenting in the metaverse are building solid foundations for whatever they will be building or selling there in the future and that is absolutely priceless. Don’t make the mistake of laughing this away as silly but expensive gimmicks.

WRITTEN BY
Steven Van Belleghem
Steven Van Belleghem
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September 1, 2022
Strategy