Friday, December 2, 2022

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    How can we dissolve the barrier of entry into the metaverse?

    Web3 presents a (virtual) world of opportunities, but with them comes a minefield of implications surrounding privacy, accessibility and sustainability. Ting Zheng of PMG delves in, urging brands to consider these factors if they want to establish themselves in the metaverse.

    Meta platforms such as Niantic and Roblox are racing to build the first true metaverse experience and, in doing so, an interesting growth trajectory plays out for users. Like how social media emerged as an online space for interacting with friends, and eventually transformed the internet (and society), metaverse platforms of today – while impressive in their own right – are rudimentary to what can be expected from the metaverse of tomorrow. 

    Knowing what we know about the challenges facing web2, like enabling adequate consumer privacy and data security, things like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and metaverse activations should be carefully considered, with special attention paid to the challenges currently facing web3 technologies. 

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    Access to the metaverse isn’t easy (yet)

    Metaverse platforms often require hardware designed for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology. Most web2 platforms, such as YouTube and Instagram, are free to users, while Meta’s version of the metaverse (for example) is accessible through a Meta Quest 2 headset, which retails for $399. Rival platforms may require different software and hardware, meaning mass adoption of metaverse experiences may be slower compared to that of social platforms in their heyday.

    Virtual worlds such as The Sandbox and Decentraland are accessible via desktop devices; however, blockchain technology requires virtual currency to unlock the full potential of such platforms. The infrastructure of each metaverse platform relies on cutting-edge computing technology, like the blockchain of Ethereum, which benefits from an influx of capital and press interest but may alienate general audiences who want to join in the fun. 

    Brands eager to enter the metaverse should remember that ease of access and understanding will be critical to long-term success. Inclusivity should remain top-of-mind and will go a long way to helping customers grow more accustomed to engaging with brands in the virtual world.

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    Metaverse regulation remains a work in progress

    Access to the metaverse is only one piece of the puzzle. Some immersive experiences such as Roblox and Fortnite have made things easy in this respect by establishing themselves, first and foremost, as a game platform v a virtual world.

    Logging into Roblox is as easy as Facebook, but regarding engaging and moderating communities, it couldn’t be more different. Roblox was recently accused of deceptive marketing by Truth in Advertising, which argued that Roblox doesn’t explicitly identify branded worlds, called ‘advergames.’

    The same challenges hold true for providing user safety. In May 2022, a female researcher reported that her avatar was harassed while on the metaverse platform Horizon World. While Meta launched a new personal safety feature dubbed Personal Boundary in February 2022 to reduce these encounters, the continuation of them indicates that user personal safety remains an ongoing concern. 

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    Does adequate data privacy exist in the metaverse? 

    Today, protecting consumer privacy remains critically important. At a high level, data privacy concerns in a web2 environment are primarily centered around consent, safekeeping data and minimizing unnecessary user behavior and signal tracking. Contrarily, the list of user data signals that can be tracked within a metaverse environment increases. 

    Depending on the sophistication of the platform, data collection could soon include virtual avatar behavior, biometrics, eye-tracking within AR/VR hardware, personal interests and countless other personal details that will require specialized data privacy protections.

    Web3 requirements run counter to sustainability initiatives 

    Calls for more sustainable products and business practices are growing louder across the world stage, with brands going to great lengths to adopt more eco-friendly practices. Despite the metaverse taking shape within a virtual environment, the computing power needed to host these immersive experiences demands a significant carbon footprint, counteracting brands’ sustainability initiatives.

    Already, brands including MeUndies have gone back on web3 partnerships after customers argued that the activation conflicted with the brand’s mission to reach net-zero carbon emissions. 

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    Brands, don’t be put off

    These challenges should be considered, but not seen as an insurmountable barrier to entry. For every challenge facing the metaverse, there are just as many opportunities for brands. Just as web2 platforms built out dedicated teams and tools to solve challenges such as protecting user privacy and enforcing content moderation across regions, the same can be expected for web3 in years to come.

    It’s early days for web3, but as web2 evolves into this new frontier, brands that take an imaginative yet pragmatic approach to vet new opportunities will be best positioned to unlock the endless potential of any metaverse opportunity that comes their way. 

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