In this article in the Harvard Business Review, Cathy Hackl gives an excellent overview of the history of spatial computing and the inevitable use cases that it will find across a range of industries. This comes hot off the heels of Apple putting spatial computing front and centre of the reveal of their new ‘Vision Pro’ headset, effectively welcoming the term into mainstream consciousness.
As a company that sits on the bleeding edge of spatial computing and metaverse technology, actively applying it to a diverse set of customers from entertainment and retail to healthcare and national defence, we’d like to give our perspective on why it’s so important. We’ll also explain how its adoption alongside other emerging technologies like AI will lead to a greater tapestry of interconnected virtual environments for everyday use (aka the good old metaverse), and why this continues to be a major area of opportunity for brands looking to enhance their digital customer engagement and community-building initiatives.
Why did brands invest in the metaverse?
Multiplayer gaming gets more popular with each passing year, and this is not lost on brands. In recent years, popular gaming platforms like Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft and Animal Crossing have increasingly attracted investment from real-world brands and creative publishers looking to reach this growing segment of engaged media audiences.
Its major attraction for brands lies not just in the increased time that younger generations are spending in virtual worlds, but also in the growing importance that they are placing on identity affirmation within them.
As multiplayer gaming platforms have evolved to include more User-Generated Content (UGC) and partnerships with external brands and creatives, they have effectively become a new generation of 3D social media. On them, users are free to self-express by dressing their avatars up and engaging in activities that reflect their own personal tastes and wider interests, more so than the rules or aesthetics of any particular game. Studies show that 33% of Gen Z consumers consider their virtual identities as important as their physical one, and the market for digital assets has grown exponentially (hitting US$2.5bn in 2023), showing a desire for goods and services focused on virtual presence.
Around the turn of the 2020s, the considerable success of flexible gaming ecosystems like Roblox and Fortnite (now at 214 million and 231 million Monthly Active Users (MAU) respectively), along with breakthroughs in VR, AR, blockchain, and other computing technologies, lit the fuse on the metaverse concept – namely the idea that interacting with virtual worlds and objects would become an ingrained part of mainstream society.
Crafting a strategy for engaging with virtual worlds was then, and is still now, on every brand executive’s agenda – and this goes far beyond simple advertising. Brands want to create worlds of their own, allowing users to immerse themselves in the aesthetics, narratives, and communities underpinning their brand or product offering. Thanks to the 3D, spatial, and social nature of virtual worlds, they can do so in ways that are far more reflective of the brand’s real-world value than print, radio, TV, or social media content has ever been.
Virtual worlds are thus pegged as a primary area of growth for brands looking to evolve their marketing strategies to achieve more brand awareness and customer engagement in alignment with evolving consumer preferences.
What’s next in 2024?
Hype for the lofty idea of ‘the metaverse’ has cooled somewhat heading into 2024. This is because there is a general realisation that a lot of technical work will need to be done before the metaverse becomes the ubiquitous, freely accessible, and all-encompassing virtual realm that it was projected as.
On the one hand, there is a growing understanding that platforms like Roblox and Fortnite are limited in the value proposition they can offer to brands: on them, brands cannot shape the look and feel of the platform to match brand identity, add bespoke functionality to suit their commercial needs, nor keep hold of the data generated by their world. This all prevents them from seamlessly tying activations on these platforms into campaigns taking place on other digital channels or in the physical world. On the other, brands have historically faced an uphill battle in developing their own virtual platforms with confidence, lacking the know-how or technical resources needed to do so.
Nevertheless, the metaverse hype cycle shows both the drive towards more experiential digital engagement, based on a verifiable shift in entertainment preferences amongst younger generations, and the mainstream commercial world’s willingness to adopt it. So, while talk of ‘the metaverse’ has tempered, brands continue to explore the utility of community-driven virtual worlds, and more specifically, how they can not only form an intuitive extension to existing digital engagements but also start to blend that more intuitively with their real-world engagements too.
The headline-topping emergence of spatial computing and AI signals a new approach to this opportunity – one that, with the right help, puts brands in a great position to develop a virtual engagement strategy that really moves the needle.
AI and Spatial Computing: fulfilling the promise of the metaverse
In Cathy Hackl’s article, she explains spatial computing as “an evolving form of computing that blends our physical world and virtual experiences using a wide range of technologies, thus enabling humans to interact and communicate in new ways with each other and with machines, as well as giving machines the capabilities to navigate and understand our physical environment in new ways.
From a business perspective, it will allow people to create new content, products, experiences, and services that have purpose in both physical and virtual environments, expanding computing into everything you can see, touch, and know.”
If that sounds similar to what the metaverse was promising, that’s because it is.
Andrew Schwartz, Director of Metaverse Engineering at Nike, puts it this way:
“If the organizing principle of the internet is that information wants to be shared, and the organizing principle of the metaverse is that information wants to be experienced, spatial computing brings together the tools necessary to create those experiences.”
New breakthroughs in spatial computing are offering brands a powerful tool for creating branded virtual content that not only has a real bearing on consumers’ lives but also fits intuitively into omnichannel customer journeys spanning from digital platforms into the physical world.
And this is not happening in isolation. The recent breakout of AI also has a huge impact on how virtual worlds can be built, shared, and enjoyed. Tools that make it easy to create and manipulate virtual assets using simplified prompts, as well as new capabilities for enabling hyper-personalised experiences for every user, will give brands a strong leg up for developing bespoke virtual experiences that delight their target audiences and yield considerable ROI.
With spatial computing and AI tools coming into maturity, then, brands are in good stead to fulfil the promise of the metaverse strategy – generating real value for customers and their own businesses through virtual experiences that bridge with the physical world and are tailor-made for their use case.
Conclusion and looking ahead
At Hadean, we’re passionate about enabling brands to develop AI-powered spatial computing applications that provide real value to large numbers of connected users.
In the next article in this series, we’ll dive into a crash course for brands looking to harness virtual worlds for digital engagement, community building, and enhanced customer journeys, including:
- An overview of the aims and benefits of brands engaging with virtual worlds.
- A comparison of existing options for brands looking to invest in virtual experiences, including gaming platforms, metaverse platforms, and self-hosted platforms.
- Questions for brand managers to take into consideration when seeking to craft a virtual engagement strategy that achieves long-term ROI.
Bonus content: Listen to our Global CTO, Royal O’Brien, break down the connection between spatial computing, the metaverse, and other emerging technologies in his recent appearance on the Building with Rubber Ducks podcast.
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