Metaverse approaches can and should disrupt the way research is carried out

By Valerie Bounds, Co-founder, Chief Strategy & Creative Officer Calendar Icon 19 January 2023

This week I had the pleasure of joining a panel exploring the implications of the Metaverse for research and insight, as part of the MRS ‘Insights From The Metaverse Conference’. I was delighted to join research experts from Ipsos, Ebay, Nova MMR and BAMM to share our experiences so far, discuss the rapid evolution and opportunity this technology offers us.

Research for a new generation  

I believe Metaverse environments have the potential to disrupt market research completely. In fact, those digital spaces, and the audiences we can reach there, will actively impose that disruption. 

Metaverse approaches can and should disrupt the way research is carried out. They require a different, non-linear and fluid approach; somewhat alien to traditional research methods. In these spaces research can’t (necessarily) be time and location specific, and it must flex around the audience.

As one of my co-panelists, Anja Domres, Head of Customer Research, at eBay was keen to highlight, we need to be conducting research where our audiences are, and on their terms. For brands trying to engage with Gen Z and Alpha, for example, virtual worlds offer an unmatched opportunity for reach. They enable an incredible space through which to engage, test & prototype, to observe, to discuss, to capture feedback. But these generations have their own rules when it comes to engagement so we need to adapt, rather than trying to force traditional research approaches into this environment.


A deeper audience connection

We can layer onto this the disruptive opportunities Metaverses offer for much more immersive, far reaching and holistic research. 

We already see this happening in other fields such as training and mental health where Metaverse environments are being deployed because of their multi-sensory ability to replicate real-world experiences. These spaces have the potential to create much deeper, authentic connection with audiences, whilst allowing them to feel safe.

I say ‘Metaverse environments’ because, of course, we are a long way from having a single interoperable ‘Metaverse’ – although Meta, Alphabet and Microsoft are plowing huge amounts into driving that forward. But virtual community environments have been with us for decades, and the tech enabling more immersive experiences is mind boggling in the pace of its evolution. 


The concept of a Metaverse is not that new

An idea that traces back to the first mention of Virtual Reality by Antonin Artaud in the 1930s, and that has been repeatedly imagined through science fiction since then – the term ‘Metaverse’ itself was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his book Snow Crash in 1992.

This word Metaverse is now known, particularly in the marketing field, and is fueling huge hype with projections of astronomical growth. Bloomberg Investment expect to reach a value of $800 billion by 2025, and somewhat unbelievably to $2.5 trillion by 2050.


But, how are we defining the ‘Metaverse’ in the context of research? 

Right now, what we’re really talking about is virtual spaces where people can meet, communicate and move around as an avatar. Often these spaces are multi-layered with their own vast decentralized universes; they have their own economies, sometimes currencies. They enable audiences to create their own spaces and identities with them. The platforms must also have what Marty Resnick, vice president analyst at Gartner, refers to as the “feeling of presence, which is the idea of being there.” They are a digital layer replicating the physical World in many ways – but without physical limitations. 

You might enter these Metaverses via a mobile device like Roblox, on a gaming PC like Decentraland and The Sandbox, or in more immersive spaces with VR and Haptics like Meta Horizons. So, the definition is broad! 

The most prolific are the big game based platforms such as Roblox which has over 52 million daily active uses, 50% of which are under 14. Indeed, the global reach of these spaces is hard to fathom, but equally hard to ignore when defining strategies to reach Gens Z and Alpha in particular.

Virtual technologies present so many opportunities to upend research and drive incredible quality insight.


The challenges of research in Web 3.0

It’s very early days, still. In spite of the buzz this is a long way from a defined ‘channel’. It’s a Wild West born mostly out of gaming and a complex place for brands to enter, let alone conduct research within. 

But this is also what makes it so exciting. Each stage of the technical revolution we’re living through requires us to develop not only the tech itself, but all the tools and skills which surround it. This includes the ability to capture and interpret data; the metrics being different to traditional methodologies. So, we need to develop new tools and skills to support this.

Our great advantage now is that we’re not new to this. We’ve seen the evolution of the internet so far, the rise of Mobile, of social media, of global gaming – and the major rapid shift even more into digital driven by the pandemic. So, as we navigate the emergence of Web 3.0, we’re better equipped to enter the unknown, to handle the pace of change and to adapt.

From a research perspective, technology does pose a short-term barrier, particularly for the more immersive research. Decentraland essentially needs a Gaming PC to access it. VR, although going mass market, is still at a stage of early adoption. It has become more accessible through the likes of Meta’s Oculus but it’s far from commonplace. This is changing rapidly, and we’re moving towards more universal appeal however, for now, the audience is quite specific – and that means so are the research possibilities. 

Other challenges arise with the representativeness of audiences in some of those spaces. Currently the big platforms attract younger audiences, whilst the more mature Metaverse spaces don’t have the reach. There are, however, a diverse array of Metaverses, often appealing to different audiences – so it’s about selecting the right match between a Metaverse and a brand. 

Yet, the real disruptive possibility of Metaverse research is the removal of physical limitations combined with the immersive experience they can offer. Metaverses are a leveler. Metaverses can cut through geographical limitations with the potential for massive reach. 


People can be anything in a Metaverse; and so can the research space itself.

As panel chair, Stephen Johnson, Head of Qualitative Capabilities at Ipsos, explained these are unchartered waters when it comes to participant consent, and the validity and thesubsequent use of data. This was something Ipsos had first hand experience navigating in a recent major piece of research for Nokia.

But the infinite possiblity of the virtual space also opens up so many possibilities for better, deeper research by creating environments which support diversity & inclusion. 

Interestingly another fellow panelist, Anthony Martin, global CEO of BAMM, highlighted that their research showed people did follow social norms within Metaverses – and this was key to participation within any online group. Fairness and behaving well is important and is managed somewhat organically by the community within those spaces.


A route to more authentic research

Metaverse are fun, creative spaces which enable self expression. This can remove the pressure of directly interacting as yourself, helping people feel relaxed. 

All of this can enable a greater level of authenticity and honesty than when placed into a forced research situation in the Real World.

Another way this tech is disrupting research is by converging qual and quant. In the real World our interactions with brands, for example, are not separated in this way. Alexandra Kuzmina, Innovation Consultant, Nova MMR is working right at the forefront of this field. Alexandra spoke about how Metaverse research offers the opportunity to avoid that separation, gathering anecdotal and functional data at the same time through an immersive experience for the participant. 

Another vital part to research is in its delivery. A final thought from Anja, a qualified VR trainer and enthusiast, if we can disrupt how research is conducted, why not how it is presented, bringing out findings to life in the virtual World – and surely making them more meaningful and actionable?

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