David Mattin: Navigating the Metaverse

Let's cut through the Metaverse hype: what do humans really want from it, and how can we facilitate that?

David Mattin is the founder of New World Same Humans, a weekly newsletter on trends, technology, and society.

These are liveblogged notes from David’s talk to NEXT Limited Edition in Hamburg on 24th September 2021.

You’ll be hearing a lot about the Metaverse in the coming years. David wants to give us a simple framework for understanding it, and cutting through the noise. 

The most fruitful way to think about the Metaverse, he suggests, is that it’s the emergence of synthetic and virtual worlds where people have experiences as meaningful as those they have in the physical world. 

Beyond the video game

These worlds have their roots in video games. Second Life launched nearly 20 years ago, and was a world people could “step into”. 

Two things have changed:

  1. The pandemic: while we were locked down, people went to Animal Crossing to meet their friends, or to Fortnite for music concerts.
  2. The technology is emerging for more immersive experiences, so the hype is now there. In fact, we might be over-hyped, right now. 

However, the Metaverse is not a flash in the pan. People saying that now will end up looking like those who said the same about the internet in the early 1990s. We’re still in the stage where we’re fixated on the shiny new technology — but there is a deeper truth. 

The Deeper Truth of the Metaverse

Here’s that truth:

As we step into these worlds, we’re the same old humans with the same old needs.

We’re building new worlds where people will quest for their fundamental human needs. Here are those needs: 

1. Community

Snap, as a company, disappeared off many people’s radar. But they’re building out whole city blocks virtually, and using that to build a persistent digital world mapped onto the physical one. When you make changes in that world, it stays changed. Right now, it’s on your phone. But AR is coming.

Up until now, online communities have had to exist in a “place” online. But now, they’ll be able to build a shared digital layer on top of the city. It’s a profound shift in the way people can share and experience physical spaces, as a community. 

2. Status

We know that humans are deeply status-driven animals. The old brand-centric status model feels dated. But it’s being reinvented. Companies are selling virtual goods — digital sneakers — that they can use in their social media. And this is enabled by NFTs, which allow ownership of digital objects. 

The quests for status and community will blend. Digital Ape NFTs have become a passport to an exclusive, high-value community — the Bored Ape Yacht Club.

Humans have always quested after status, and we’ll see that in the Metaverse, through ownership of high-value objects or access to exclusive communities. 

3. Identity

We’re entering a world of virtual humans: photo-realistic digital avatars. H&M and Mackevision worked together on this collection of digital humans and their clothes.

Millions of people are about to step into digital worlds, and they’re going to want to bring avatars with them. That’s going to launch a wave of creativity around these avatars. Epic has revealed its digital human creator

In Metaverses, you can present any identity you want. We will see an explosion of creativity in this space, as people seek to define who they are. Some people think that these avatars will become our primary online identities. 

Multiple Metaverses

There will be multiple, overlapping meta verses. There won’t be one Metaverse to rule them all. What fundamental human needs will your customers be questing after in these worlds? If you’re asking that question, you’re asking the right question.

But there’s one impulse we haven’t talked about:

4. Power

Who is going to control this? Facebook is lining up to lead this space. Facebook Horizon is on Oculus Rift. It has a work version of it. Are we OK with that?

In the early 90s, people dreamed of a democratising technology, but instead we got consolidation of power in a small number of unaccountable companies. Do we want that again? Can we do anything about it this time?

Let’s build virtual worlds that serve the needs of people above those of corporations. 

Then we might build a virtual world we actually want to live in.