If you could be anything in the world… what would you be? Would you be the same person that your colleagues see at work, the person your friends know, or something completely different?

Since the internet was created, users have been able to experiment with their identity, and express themselves in ways that they previously couldn’t (or wouldn’t) in the real world. Usernames, bios, personas, and avatars have all been important ways for people to manage their online identities, whether it’s altering them slightly, or indulging in wild experiments.

In 2023, we’ll see this enter a new stage, as increasingly popular virtual worlds like Fortnite and Roblox provide more tools for identity play. Drawing on some clues from internet history, and insights about the people who currently use these spaces, here’s what you should know in the year ahead.

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A brief
history lesson

Let’s start by setting the scene. A purple-haired character with fairy wings dances in a nightclub on a virtual island, created to promote a TV show based in Los Angeles, known for its pioneering portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters. Soon after, the island will host a sponsored Pride event, and the show will eventually go on to win an Emmy. The show is The L Word, and the year is 2007.

The program forged a unique connection with its loyal and passionate fan base, moving beyond the traditional television experience, and embracing the possibilities of virtual worlds. It may be old in internet terms, but how its community operated is extra relevant now, with community being a standout motivation for those interested in the metaverse.

Disinterest in the metaverse stems from a lack of confidence online

% of Americans who are interested/uninterested in the metaverse and say the following describe them


Compared to the average American, those interested in the metaverse are over 3x more likely to buy products/services to access the community built around them, and over 4x more likely to buy tech products as soon as they’re available. They’re a confident, affluent, and risk-taking group who want to be the first to try new things. But for these reasons, attention needs to be paid to how the metaverse is beginning to take shape.

These interested Americans may be the first to take virtual steps in the metaverse, but they don’t represent all those who actually prefer to spend their time online, rather than in the real world. Consumers in that latter group are more likely to be low income, part of the LGBTQ+ community, and have a physical disability. Success in 2023 means ensuring their needs are catered for in virtual spaces.

New audiences
in the metaverse

Although no “true” metaverse exists yet, online 3D spaces are popular and already proving fruitful for brands to play around in.

In proto-metaverses like Roblox, you can display your identity through avatars and props of varying sizes and types. You can express, highlight, and develop particular interests and life experiences. It’s what Second Life brought to our attention all those years ago, where users could design and build their own experiences within a virtual world. The benefit of these environments is their open social design, where personal and group identities can draw on fantasy as much as reality.

American LGBTQ+ consumers stand out for the importance they place on diversity and inclusion, equal rights, and clothing/fashion choices. The LGBTQ+ communities on Roblox are some of the latest places to offer a safe space, with the combination of anonymity and reinvention that was less accessible in earlier web technologies. These spaces can act as a flexible testing ground for exploring all the traits that define who we are.

Teen players in virtual worlds have stronger social values

% of teen players of the following games who say protecting people from bullying is important to them


increase in teenagers who play Roblox since Q1 2021

Roblox has seen some of the biggest growth of any game played by kids in the US. Year-on-year, the number playing is up 56% among gamers aged 8-11, and 54% among teenagers. It’s little surprise brands are investing early and investing big in Roblox experiences and assets, fighting for the attention of this generation. But their intentions must be genuine, as this audience is not only highly engaged, but value-focused.

While 3 in 10 teen Roblox gamers say having the latest fashion/trends is important to them, they stand out for saying helping people is important, and are over 20% more likely to say protecting people from bullying is important. So while being on trend matters, creating experiences and products with wider benefits will go a long way in keeping them on side.

It’s what the likes of American Eagle have started to drive home. As of August 2022, its Roblox presence has seen 30 million unique visitors – a figure higher than the population of Texas. For brands, it’s about getting in front of users exploring these spaces, but by leading meaningful change.

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Appearance over apparel

Understanding users’ avatars may reveal a lot about the individual. Each represents a different part of the person's personality and lifestyle, whether it's a mood, an interest, a social role, or their beliefs and values. For Americans, customization is key to this, and it’s a main motivation for users to participate in the metaverse.

In fact, 62% of potential metaverse users say using the space to browse or shop for products is of interest to them, with clothing/outfits their priority, ranking above art/collectibles, real estate, and cosmetics.

Demand for avatars and personalization is high



This demand has been seen before. At its peak, Second Life had a vibrant economy, with millions of US dollars in monthly transactions and 230,000 user-made items being bought and sold each month. However, what brands need to consider in 2023 is that although interested Americans want to browse for products in the metaverse, when it comes to identity play, it’s not their priority.

Over three-quarters (76%) of Americans who are interested in creating an avatar claim they’d like to customize its physical appearance. It’s the country with the most interest in 12 markets studied, and a lesson learned from early proto-metaverses, where creating an avatar was serious business.

The stakes are too high in the metaverse to exclude representation from the equation, and its future will fundamentally change the way we interact with brands.

Physical appearance trumps apparel in the metaverse, with allyship the new hallmark for these spaces

Selling a branded t-shirt in a virtual world isn’t enough, but giving users the tools to become whoever they want to be, with the freedom to change, is the real currency.

Looking forward

Americans are taking advantage of the growing number of options to experiment with their identity online. Proto-metaverses provide immersive experiences for interaction and experimentation, and for many, playing with their identity online is a new form of entertainment.

What was first seen in chat rooms like The Palace, then popular virtual worlds like Second Life, is how users adopt online personas to better understand their own identity. With the huge growth of Roblox, especially among kids, proto-metaverses are bringing this to the masses. The development of these virtual worlds means there are more communities and opportunities for customization, especially among an audience of Americans who see strong social values as table stakes.

Ultimately, communities are complicated environments that need some guidance to provide them with identity and purpose. Their fate will be decided by the efforts of software developers and the influence of brands - but most of all, by the community itself. In 2023, the focus needs to be on the safety of these spaces and on creating worlds where all feel welcome, regardless of which version of themselves they choose to present.

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