From e-commerce to g-commerce in the Metaverse

03 Mar,2022

The Metaverse Gallery in Second Life. Picture by Dean Terry (Creative Commons Licence)

 

 

By Ashoke Agarrwal

 

Ashoke Agarrwal

Technology forecasting has always fascinated me. I am an avid follower of the modern gurus of technology forecasting – Ray Kurzweil and Amy Webb, who focus on the near future. In addition, I lapped up Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and Frank Herbert’s nuanced takes on the distant future.

 

Lately, AI’s impact on the world at large and, in particular, in the areas of marketing and communication has fascinated me.

 

My blog (hardraincafe. wordpress.com) stands testimony, with more than half of the posts dedicated to the subject over the past three years.

 

I was delighted when literary giants like Kazuo Ishiguro with “Klara and The Sun” and Ian Mcewan with “Machines Like Us” wove brilliant, though somewhat disquieting, narratives around the emergence of sentient AI in day-to-day life.

 

A couple of months ago, another technology area caught my attention – the Metaverse. Metaverse is a word coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash”. Metaverses are rich virtual worlds driven by VR, AR and AI, in which a person as an avatar can spend hours doing all that she does in the real world – working, playing, socializing, travelling and shopping.

 

“Second Life”, an online multimedia platform where one enters as an avatar, is a first-generation Multiverse. However, many purists dismiss it as a later generation multiplayer, multimedia game.

 

Facebook’s entry into the area portends the possible emergence of Metaverse as a technology platform whose impact on the future can be immense.

 

As a result, Metaverse has become a part of my musing on the future of commerce, marketing, and communication.

 

Technology forecasting is the disciple of looking for nodes where socio-cultural, economic and technological trends converge.

 

The Metaverse phenomenon is likely to take a decade or more to mature. Metaverses can come in many flavours. For example, some Metaverses can give their inhabitants the power to fly! Or even suspend the laws of physics as we know them! Others could locate themselves on a Mars-like planet or the universe as imagined by Star Trek! And many others could be replicas of the natural world with a twist or two mixed in.

 

The upshot is that as Metaverse technology matures, there will be a slew of Metaverses competing for market share.

 

And like any other brand, they will compete based on consumer insight.

 

In the first phase, the bulk of consumers of Metaverses will come from today’s tweens and teens.

 

Research across the world among today’s teens and tweens has indicated that a critical psychological trait of this segment is an inclination to experiment and explore a variety of identities. This need drives them to be open to the world, curious and positive of various modes and mores of sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.

 

The Generation Z need to explore various identities is likely to be great news for the gaming industry.

 

In his book, “Games. Agency As Art” C, Thi Nguyen, a professor of philosophy, offers a deep insight into the role of games in human life. He posits that playing games are a motivational inversion of life. In ordinary practical life, we usually take the means for the sake of the ends. But in games, we take up an end for the sake of the means.

 

According to Nguyen, the characteristics of a game are:

:: It tells us to take up a particular goal

:: It designates abilities with which we can strive for achieving this goal

:: It finally packages all that up with a set of obstacles crafted to fit these goals and abilities.

 

In sum, we play games to sculpt an alternate form of “agency” – that is, identity! Thus games answer a critical need of today’s tweens and teens, provided they are inventive and varied enough to offer an array of widely different identities in the natural world and in the Metaverses to come.

 

Further, the need for experimentation with identity also manifests itself in the consumption habits of Generation Z. They range widely in what they consume and actively seek new experiences while they shop. Consequently, they despise the sameness of the big-box shopping experience, whether offline or online.

 

Metaverses, whatever their form, will all need to drive the consumption of goods and services for them to become viable businesses. Some of these goods and services will be unique to a given Metaverse. Beyond this, they will need to allow, within the Metaverse, the buying of brands of products and services from the real world.

 

I forecast that every Metaverse will compete to provide a shopping experience that is unique to it and caters uniquely to the needs of its consumers. A happy synergy of the shopping and gaming experience will drive this uniqueness. In the Metaverse, world shopping will become a game that allows the consumer to take on a set of abilities and thus a new identity to purchase a particular brand of product or service. This identity (or agency) will be a layer atop the avatar’s identity the consumer has adapted within the Metaverse. The obstacles built into the game’s design will adhere to the overall environment of the Metaverse.

 

I like to think of this version as g-commerce as in gamed-commerce. It will be a generational leap from the era of e-commerce and will be a crucial feature of Metaverses.

 

The game’s sponsor could be a product or service category whereby the player decides among a set of participating brands. It could also be exclusive to a brand where the end is to achieve the best possible price.

 

The creative possibilities are immense, and to guess them now would be akin to guessing the forms advertising has taken in the 21st century based on what it was, say, in the age of radio.

 

Just think of the possibilities, say with the product category of sports shoes. Could it be a game in a low-gravity Mars-like Metaverse where our avatar can split into three and race a 10 km race wearing three competing brands? Or could it be a brand-sponsored event where our avatar races with other avatars and gets a discount commensurate with his achievement?

 

In the age of g-commerce, Amazon will need to ramp up its inventiveness manifold if it wants to continue with its growing dominance of consumer commerce. So perhaps it should look to leverage its market value today to buy up gaming companies and drop its current austere Bania avatar for a freewheeling creative culture.

 

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