It wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of using gaming aspects to shop, learn, and work more effectively would have sounded ludicrous; now gamification is recognized as one of the most powerful tools in attracting, engaging, and retaining consumers in virtually every arena. More recently, the word metaverse is increasingly being bandied about, the buzz fueled by our shifting habits due to the pandemic and enormous investments made by Facebook and other companies.

For those in the tech world, the metaverse is the natural progression in our collective digital experience, allowing us to harness the power of AI and avatars to interact in environments we wouldn’t be able to access in real life;  the rest of us, however, are left wondering what, exactly, it is and what it means for our future.  Is the metaverse the next step in our evolution, or the stuff of a scary science fiction novel?

Virtual and Mixed Reality Worlds

Kristi Woolsey, tech guru and Associate Direction of BCG Platinion, has one of the clearer definitions, which was quoted in Forbes as “the combination of the virtual reality and mixed reality worlds accessed through a browser or headset, which allows people to have real-time interactions and experiences across distance.”  Woosley goes on to explain that similar to the internet, which linked once separate networks, the growing number of individual metaverses will eventually come together in one other-worldly place we can all pop in and out of to enhance our lives, or perhaps live several at once.  For example, instead of staring at your family members on a Zoom screen, you could gather together in a tropical environment and enjoy activities just as you would in a physical space.

Virtual Objects

Intimately connected with the metaverse – and, many say, even more puzzling – is the market for virtual objects, ranging from artwork and clothes to real estate for one’s avatar, creating potentially limitless sources of revenue. For evidence of this we need look no further than recent NFT auctions, including artwork like Beeple’s Everydays: The first 5000 Days, which sold for $69 million in March 2021.  NFTs or, non-fungible tokens, are also redefining the music industry, creating new income streams for artists and unique experiences for fans.

Nike: The Gamification Pioneers

Nike is perhaps the best example of a gamification pioneer that is now leading the charge into the metaverse.  In 2006, long before gamification was a household word, the sneaker giant launched its Nike+iPod Sports Kit, in which a device in the sneaker communicated with a wristband, iPhone or iPod to record the speed and length of a workout. Later iterations included celebrity shout-outs when the user hit a new milestone.

This was followed in 2010 by the Nike Runners Club, which was leaps and bounds ahead of the Sports Kit, as well as any other gamification fitness product on the scene. Designed to help runners overcome the waning motivation that keeps them from reaching their fitness goals, the NRC includes guided workouts and coaching to keep things fresh and interesting. Perhaps its most important feature, however, is the ability of runners to create their own tribe, with members serving as both competitors and cheerleaders for each other.

Given this trajectory, it seemed inevitable that the company would create an entire virtual world, which it did, in collaboration with gaming platform Roblox, in November 2021. As per usual, Nike has pulled out all the stops with Nikeland, providing a space where avatars can shop, work out, and socialize with others. They have even contracted Lebron James, one of the NBA’s biggest stars and currently with the Los Angeles Lakers, to interact with fans and give them a basketball lesson. James has even trademarked a line of virtual merchandise, from sneakers and trading cards to jewelry and furnishings for the home. As of spring 2022, Nikeland has had seven million visitors.

Future of the Metaverse

Though the future of the metaverse is yet unclear, it is already creating real and tangible change in the world of work. Not surprisingly, Nike has been actively building their team for their Technology Innovation Office, with roles including 3D game designers and other alternate reality visionaries to take things from concept to prototype and eventually, market.  They are not alone, however; other employers are exploring how they can create virtual doubles of their workplace environment in which workers’ avatars can work out real-life problems without the risk or the cost. As mentioned above, it is essentially taking the benefits of gamification to a whole new level.

Escapism or Exploration?

On the flip side is the argument that people will use the metaverse as a form of escapism, preferring to disappear into alternate realities rather than dealing with this one.  That is certainly a legitimate concern, and one we have been facing since the appearance of the first video game. Indeed, navigating the metaverse may prove to be our greatest challenge.  Right now, however, we are in the exciting position of exploring how alternate worlds can improve the way we work, play, and impact each other’s lives.

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