Gateway to the Metaverse isn’t a game, it’s an augmented reality

As brands strive to claim their place in the metaverse, many are wondering: What is the quickest and most efficient way to get into this virtual space – gaming or augmented reality (AR)? Here’s why the latter is the best option.

Excitement about the metaverse continues to spread at a rapid pace, along with the idea that games and associated platforms, such as Roblox and Decentraland, are the keys to unlocking these truly forward-looking new digital frontiers. The future and a focus on innovation. There’s no doubt that the game has hit the mainstream, and of course, these platforms will play a huge role in landing us down the rabbit hole of the metaverse. However, focusing solely on these shiny new platforms puts brands at risk of overlooking another technology, already ingrained in our culture and evolving at an equally rapid pace: augmented reality (AR).

Augmented reality is already at the forefront of the game: in addition to its growing popularity, its familiarity with it is already well established, with many users already adopting this technology in their daily lives. Additionally, with a low barrier to entry through a wide range of access options that include social platforms, native apps, and browser-based experiences, using augmented reality as a basis for setting up and entering the metaverse can be a simple and user-friendly process. Tommy Hilfiger’s latest Snapchat filter, a clever blend of virtual experience paired with a surreal world lens optimized for LiDAR, is a prime example of how a brand has done just that — using social media as an entry point for an AR world-building experience.

The recent acquisition of the WebAR 8th Wall platform by real-world map designers Niantic is the strongest sign that augmented reality is on its way to becoming a mainstay in the metaverse. With Niantic — famous as a company inspired by GPS Pokémon Go — developing the world’s most accurate 3D map of the planet, rich graphics can now be superimposed over our physical world, allowing us to see the metaverse. Because it is built around us rather than relying on access through the original gaming platforms. With 5G, cloud processing, and WebAR access, these graphics can be instantly layered and effortlessly activated for the ultimate immersion.

Things get really interesting when we start to combine augmented reality capabilities with other core pillars, like avatars, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and the game itself. Custom interactive avatars, such as those in Ready Player Me, can now be seamlessly integrated into augmented reality experiences, as Charlie Cohen and Selfridges recently demonstrated by activating the electric/city “brand” that launched the new collection from the designer. Used as a device for individual expression in a digital space, avatar integration is key to transforming augmented reality visualization from a simple smartphone experience to a portal into a customizable virtual world that users can become a part of.

This gateway case is reinforced when we look at the potential of augmented reality as a tool for visualizing and experimenting with NFTs. The augmented reality expressions of NFTs – from artwork and digital products to one-of-a-kind performances captured at large volumes and takeaways to virtual concerts – will help bridge the gap between Web 3 and users’ physical environments. Here, augmented reality provides added value and an additional level of engagement, elevating blockchain activations into something more tangible using a more familiar technology.

Gamified AR technology, especially multiplayer, can also be used as a powerful metaverse primer. The innovative Connected Lens from Snapchat and Lego is a prime example, allowing users to connect and play the same game in a shared virtual space, even if they’re not together physically. This approach to connected play also works when making the most of a shared physical space. Activating EE’s multiplayer AR table tennis at Wembley Stadium allowed fans in the stands to compete head-to-head on the famous pitch, with both players facing the same gameplay as their viewpoint via their phone screens.

This integration with the physical world brings us back to the historical partnership between Niantic and 8th Wall. The new focus on geolocation in the WebAR toolkit means that users will be able to connect with each other and discover new places, with the augmented layer enhancing and changing their real-world locations. Assets can be seamlessly mapped to their environment and can unlock new experiences as they explore, encouraging regular use by rewarding curiosity. The richness and depth that this brings to AR gaming experiences is enormous. Think Pokémon Go, but at a browser scale, with seamless access and maximum freedom.

Needless to say, all of this is only made more compelling with the highly anticipated release of consumer wearables – like the infamous Apple eyeglasses – on the market. Until then, our smartphones and our current methods of augmented reality remain an incredibly powerful tool if applied with the right creativity. Game platforms have their value, but augmented reality is becoming the thing to watch for brands planning and executing campaigns in the metaverse. And forward-looking brands must build their AR arsenal to ensure they can bring their entire audience with them.

Adam Minjay is Chief Commercial Officer at Unit 9.

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