In October 2021, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta to capitalise on a concept that was still an emergent idea in technology — the metaverse. Less than a year later, we are witnessing how the idea of the metaverse is reshaping the world, especially within the entertainment industry.
But before we look at how and why the metaverse is the future of the media and entertainment industry, we need to understand where the metaverse stands today.
Metaverse technology is now a major part of discussions on the internet and mainstream media. Several corporate giants have already marked their presence in the metaverse, while others are planning their entry into the space. These include fashion giants Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana, footwear majors Nike and Adidas, soft drink manufacturer Coca-Cola and South Korean automobile maker Hyundai, among others.
However, the metaverse still isn’t a well-defined concept. It is largely seen as something like a future of how people would interact with their environment and how the internet would evolve over the many years to come.
Yet, the metaverse is taking a more defined shape with each passing day. Several media companies and Big Tech names, such as Meta, Microsoft, Google and Apple, are shaping the metaverse by introducing new products or features to existing products and services.
The metaverse can be easily experienced via the personal computer. However, the proliferation of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices have played a key role in the metaverse’s growth. Oculus Quest, Microsoft HoloLens and Google Cardboard are just some of the numerous AR and VR devices through which people can gain the most immersive metaverse experiences and everything that it encompasses.
Further, social networking giants are letting users create their virtual selves, known as avatars, as a new way to express their identities and interactions with wider communities in metaversal settings. The avatars are increasingly becoming part of the everyday representation of their creators on social media, which, in turn, is expanding the scope of the metaverse.
As we can see, everything in the metaverse as of now is purely virtual reality. From video games to cinema and from fashion to theme parks, it is virtual reality which is at the heart of what can be called entertainment experiences on the metaverse.
And everything began with gaming.
How the metaverse in the entertainment industry is shaping up
Gaming in the metaverse
Gaming can be called the first entertainment avenue to enter the metaverse. As such, it is a cornerstone of everything the metaverse is about.
In fact, even though metaverse as a term came into origin in 1992 with Neal Stephenson’s dystopian novel Snow Crash, it was a game known as The Sims, which, in 2000, gave a glimpse into this virtual universe. Three years later, Second Life, another gaming franchise, technically gave birth to the metaverse by quite literally letting players lead a second life in a virtual world.
As we see, games have evolved tremendously in the last two decades, to a point where the graphics rendered by the engines are almost indistinguishable from live-action movies shot on 4K cameras.
Naturally, gaming and the metaverse have almost become synonymous. Games such as Roblox and Fortnite are seen as the frontrunners in delivering the best metaverse gaming experience to their users. And these platforms do not merely end with ‘missions’ or ‘battles’ or ‘side-quests’. By incorporating blockchain technology, they let players build a world of their imagination through the trade of digital assets such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Though a battle-royale game, where players shoot each other down, Fortnite also hosts music and dance events within its own virtual universe. On the other hand, Roblox lets its users build mini-games such as Adopt Me within the Roblox sphere. Players on Roblox can even engage in trading, which, under certain rules such as age, can be converted into real money.
More recent games such as Rec Room and Ember Sword have been praised for the expansive metaverse experience.
A role-playing NFT-based game named Illuvium is set for release on the Ethereum blockchain either in Q4 2022 or Q1 2023. The game lets its players explore a huge virtual world to acquire unique creatures known as the Illuvials. Though graphics in most metaverse games are cartoon-like, Illuvium has been praised for its high-end graphics as seen in trailers. And players get to earn cryptocurrency known as ILV, the game’s token, by playing it. Landowning is also a central tenet of the game.
The future is certainly packed and bright for fans of metaverse games.
Music concerts in the metaverse are termed virtual concerts. Anyone who has a VR/AR device or a computer which can access the metaverse has the means of watching their favourite music artists belting out numbers in a virtual setting where all participants are represented by their avatars.
Several prominent musicians are planning their performances on various platforms in the metaverse. Marshmello, Travis Scott, Ariana Grande and Indian singer Daler Mehndi are among the multiple artists who have already made a mark in the virtual world.
One of the more recent headline grabbers was Claire Elise Boucher, better known as Grimes, who performed on the final day of the Metaverse Fashion Week (MVFW) in March 2022 with a DJ set for all in attendance.
The MVFW was the first-ever fashion week in the metaverse, featuring several prominent fashion brands such as Bulova, Tommy Hilfiger and Dolce & Gabbana, among others. It was hosted on Decentraland, which is a platform where people can trade and build everything — from a humble store to an entire city — using virtual plots known as LAND.
Of course, everything at MVFW was digital — while Grimes’ hologram figure was a lady with two white ponytails, all others were attendees in their own stylised appearances.
Grimes wasn’t the only one performing at the MVFW. Argentinian rapper and singer Nicki Nicole and DJ Bob Sinclar also delivered performances. In fact, according to Sinclar, his DJ set marked the “first-ever dance competition in the metaverse.”
The Sandbox, a prominent virtual game platform for players to build their own world, is increasing its metaverse pull by hosting music concerts on the platform.
Rapper Snoop Dogg released an exclusive metaverse music video of his song “House I Built” from the album B.O.D.R on The Sandbox in April 2022. Also featuring DJs Steve Aoki and Blond:ish in their virtual avatars, the video is part of Snoop Dogg’s own virtual reality experience, known as Snoopverse, within The Sandbox.
The music video is a prelude to a metaverse concert that Snoop Dogg is set to hold on The Sandbox later in 2022.
The Sandbox also entered a partnership with Warner Music Group (WMG) in January 2022 to create the “first music-themed world” in the gaming platform’s metaverse.
According to a statement by WMG, the concerts and musical experiences starring artists on the roster of the company will feature in the WMG LAND in The Sandbox. The entire experience, according to WMG, will be a “combination of musical theme park and concert venue.”
Nothing else is known as of now about the partnership, but it is expected that artists such as Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran and Green Day — who are on WMG’s roster — might perform.
But one of the biggest leaps in metaverse concert experiences happened as recently as May 2022 with the ABBA Voyage. What makes this concert different from all others is that people can actually see it at the ABBA Arena in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London with no external device over their eyes or a computer.
The four ABBA stars perform but instead of their real selves, it is their virtual avatars, dubbed ‘ABBAtars’, on the stage. And, they appear as their younger selves, thanks to the maverick technology of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) — the George Lucas company which is behind the outstanding special effects of several blockbuster films, including those of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Star Wars franchise.
So, the ABBA Voyage concert is a unique amalgam of the virtual and the real worlds. The experience is quite like watching the hologram conversations from the MCU and Star Wars films in real life.
One of the biggest news connected to theme parks arrived in May 2022. AstroWorld, which was demolished in 2005, is returning as a virtual theme park in the metaverse in Q3 2022. Its map and the official website were launched in Q1 2022 while exchange listings and AstroWorld Beta unveilings were held in Q2 2022.
According to a press release, the virtual AstroWorld will be the first amusement park built entirely on the blockchain and will be similar to the real amusement park.
Visitors to the virtual park will be able to enter by purchasing tickets either with an AstroWorld NFT or an AstroWorld token. The AstroWorld NFT will let visitors get unlimited access to the virtual theme park.
Everything in the virtual park is modelled on the real AstroWorld. These include roller coasters such as the single-loop Viper, the suspended XLR-8 and the Texas Cyclone.
In December 2021, Walt Disney patented a technology that will help visitors to its theme park engage with Disney characters virtually while being physically present at the place. The “virtual-world simulator” patent lets people see 3D images and effects in physical spaces without the need for AR devices.
The idea for a metaverse experience for its guests is in line with Bob Chapek, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, who said at a fourth-quarter meeting that the company aims to connect physical and digital worlds for “storytelling without boundaries in our own Disney metaverse.”
As of now, there is no concrete information on how Disney is going to take its theme park into the metaverse.
Additionally, in late 2021, multiple media reports indicated that Universal Studios Hollywood will import a Mario Kart-themed ride from Japan, which lets all guests on a ride interact with virtual characters and objects in real time through AR using visor-like glasses.
Metaverse and cinema
Ready Player One (2018) is considered a landmark film because it is set in a future where people are connected to — and living in — the metaverse. Some of the others, which are set in a similar future or depict a metaverse-like world include Tron (1982), Tron: Legacy (2010) and the dystopian British anthology TV series Black Mirror (2011–2019).
However, if metaverse cinema is understood as only those immersive experiences which are made with an AR/VR device or watchable on one then none of the aforementioned can be called “metaverse cinema” as they have been produced in the traditional style of filmmaking with visual effects.
Yet, the combined technological advancements of video games and filmmaking, such as the ground-breaking achievements of ILM and the increasing use of motion capture, are reshaping the media industry and quickly turning the experience of watching cinema in the metaverse a reality. Thus, we have animated shorts made in VR, which can be best experienced with extended reality devices.
Even before Facebook’s re-branding made the term “metaverse” sound cool, animated VR experiences, such as The Line, were already famous. Created by game developer ARVORE, it is a love story focused on two characters in 1940s São Paulo.
The Line won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Programming in 2020. Unlike usual films, viewers can actually interact with the environment in The Line to help in the progression of the 20-minute-long story.
Moreover, prominent Hollywood actors are already into the VR experience. Kate Winslet, Daisy Ridley, Glenn Close and Jennifer Hudson were among the voice cast of Baobab Studios’ VR animated interactive story Baba Yaga. Colin Farrell narrated the English version of Gloomy Eyes — another famous VR film which tells the story of a human girl and a zombie boy.
Another fine example of metaverse filming is the animated series Lustration, whose trailer was released by Meta Quest in May 2022. The film lets viewers see the story from multiple angles and beyond the central plot. This means that viewers become a part of the film’s setting, like being present in the scene itself and watching the characters talk like we do in our real world.
In fact, more steps are being taken to introduce the overall experience of cinema into the metaverse. In July 2022, a company known as Meta Hollywood announced that it will build “a first-of-its-kind virtual Hollywood-themed backlot movie studio in the metaverse” in partnership with The Sandbox and the Planet Hollywood Group.
Like a real Hollywood backlot studio, visitors to Meta Hollywood’s LAND in The Sandbox will be able to tour themed sets such as those for action and horror, as well as see red carpet premiere events besides a memorabilia museum.
(Main image: Courtesy of ARVORE; Featured image: Lustration Series/@lustrationseries/Instagram)