What if the Metaverse Is *Just* Video Games?

For the last two years, we’ve been inundated with predictions about the dominance of the emerging metaverse. Everyone from brands like Nike to governmental bodies like the EU and even the Vatican has announced plans to do something in the metaverse.

The metaverse is not a fixed “thing”; it’s a framework. And there are quite a few competing frameworks for defining what this thing actually “is.” For example, there’s Tony Parisi’s “Seven Rules” and Matthew Ball’s metaverse series and book.

But practically speaking, when you hear of a brand or person “doing something in the metaverse,” we’re essentially talking about an activity in a 3D virtual world. As Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games (maker of Fortnite), puts it, the metaverse today is “3D social,

The Metaverses of Now

 When we take on new clients, we have to build a plan for how we will reach our audience. It is insufficient and irresponsible for us to point to something in the distant future when they need to deliver sales or raise awareness today.

So what are the current metaverse options if you want to make an impact? Here are the top three options ranked by monthly users. (Yes, these are estimates from publicly available records.)

There are, of course, other virtual worlds like Minecraft and Animal Crossing that could be included, but neither allow for explicit brand activity. (It’s worth noting that Minecraft has gone further and banned NFTs and blockchain entirely.)

But importantly – when we say “metaverse,” at this point and time, we’re really saying “video games.” Who knows, maybe that will change someday.

A few smaller virtual spaces have attracted quite a bit of media attention, like Meta’s Horizon Worlds & Venues (300K) and Decentraland (56K). But these are far smaller than what mature video game ecosystems currently offer.

One could argue that all video games should be included as metaverses. There are quite a few of substantial size. Each month, 90 million people play Call of Duty: Warzone, 30 million play PUBG, 140m play League of Legends, and 50 million play Apex Legends. None of these titles are part of “the metaverse,” but all have done brand engagements and should scratch the metaverse itch.

I see some inconsistency in the phrase “metaverse gamers”. At that point, you’re making a semantic claim that something that is 99% video games is somehow not just video games? If I make a cake that is 99% chocolate, is that not a chocolate cake?

Focus on the Audience, Not Checking the Meta Box

So bear with me for a thought experiment. When all the dust settles, are you ok with the metaverse just being video games? If not, why not? If so, why not just say “video games”?

For the same reason, I couldn’t convince my old boss to take a closer look at video games. Over the last 15 years, I’ve watched as a variety of new terms have attempted to supplant video games. When FarmVille was popular, the phrase was “gamification.” When World of Warcraft emerged, it was “virtual worlds.” When competitive online gaming increased in popularity, it was “esports.”

None of these activities or industries were larger than video games, but all of them had a viral moment. Why?

There’s still quite a bit of baggage with video games being perceived as unsafe for brands, overwhelmingly for kids, or an interesting “niche.” None of these assumptions are true, of course, but sometimes it’s easier to rebrand a popular activity than to change a preconceived notion.

The question for you as a marketer — are you simply trying to check a box just to say you did something in the metaverse? Or are you looking to build long-term relationships with gamers to help grow your business?

In either case, at this moment, there is no significant “non-gaming metaverse” audience to speak of. This could change someday, but if you want to tap into the metaverse, you’re going to have to learn how gamers think.