THE COMPANY MAKES THE LOCATION
There are several initiatives to bring a ‘metaverse to fruition. So far none have hit critical mass.
There are several reasons for this, such as the need for firsthand experience: It’s hard to convey the immersive experience of VR without first having direct experience of the qualia of it. Still, it’s not hard to borrow a device from a friend, or have a go for 10 minutes at the mall. Of course, a lot of folks are sensitive to VR and get queasy easily, and there are no ideal solutions for them.
Technical limitations and expense are another factor. For some reason, most of the advertisements for Metaverse type experiences I have seen look like barely more realistic than Second Life. I guess that they must be aiming at the lowest rung of fidelity in order to reach a broader audience. However, the likes of Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge on Quest and PS:VR shows that technology is already perfectly capable of immersive experiences.
The greatest drag factor is simply a general lack of interest. The ‘What's in it for me’ factor is crucial. Cajoling people to join along in ‘mandatory fun’ is pushing a string, and bound to failure. The Metaverse is cringe, and everyone knows it.
People need to feel captivated enough to buy in first. How? Enhanced Parasocial relationships.
Parasocial relationships are where one party knows the other, at least superficially, but that is not returned. We have parasocial relationships with celebrities, artists, politicians, and YouTubers. Every other day they have a presence in our mind, but that’s a one-way street.
People can feel a desperate need to validate their parasociality. In the world of camming and streaming, people pay huge sums just to be mentioned in some way, or to have some very small credit within a piece of content crowd-sponsored by Patreon or Twitch.
This very powerful impulse to connect with those we admire is the secret to making the Metaverse work. There are two main ways to accomplish this:
1 – Intimate Concerts
Concerts suck. They are expensive, the artist is frequently late, with a limited selection of rip-off food and beverages, and often disgusting toilet and hygiene facilities, and a lack of seating or proper shelter. They are also crowded and views may be occluded. They can be dangerous also, and getting home from a concert with a throng of others with the same goal can be a nightmare. Moreover, one may need to travel a great distance to see an artist, especially if one lives in a relative backwater. Yet we are willing to endure all of these negative factors because we respect the artists, and appreciate the shared experience with other enthusiasts.
Virtual concerts could be a real accessible gamechanger for those seeking a closer sense of parasocial relationship with stars they admire. Imagine bringing your favorite artist to your living room, except even better, because the acoustics and logistics would be a nightmare. Some companies are already offering platforms for virtual concerts, though I think they can go a lot further by improving camera facilities and bidirectional communication.
How about virtual backstage tours and opportunities to briefly ‘meet’ celebrities, algorithmically shooed away after a while? What fan wouldn’t be interested in that?
2 – Intimate Set Visits
Some sets from The Expanse were offered to the public for 360 degree viewing, which is nice, but they could have gone a lot further, with interactable and zoom-in elements. Plentopic cameras, like those by Lytro can add a whole other layer of experience. The 3D depth info generated from such cameras can used to enhance the ability to walk around a virtual scene. Fans can literally walk around a virtual reconstruction of a real 3D set, and examine anything they wish to in detail. All kinds of easter eggs can be hidden there, or even interacted with as discrete objects. These same sets can be transposed directly into games also.
Scenes can even be shot using this system to create a virtual holographic theater, for fans to watch the action (and join in) within the set itself, creating a deeply vicarious experience – a rich traditional narrative made personally meaningful.
These two methods are powerful ways to pull people into wanting to participate in these experiences, especially as it hits those parasociality buttons.
I reckon that Apple is well-positioned to crack the cool factor for the Metaverse. The company has a long history of co-opting celebrity cool factor as part of their brand, and cultivating a sense of distinction or eliteness in their customers.
Fundamentally, the value of any club comes from who is in it, and by extension who isn’t. The Metaverse needs to start as an invite-only private club, and gradually open up wider. The first venture to crack the formula with those aforementioned forms of parasocial engagement will win the battle for the virtual domain.
This article was originally featured on my blog.
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