The vision of the metaverse is to create a virtual world that’s welcoming to people of all backgrounds. One that connects people and opportunities across borders, and creates new forms of entertainment. No “true” metaverse exists yet, but consumers and brands are exploring and experimenting in online gaming spaces like Roblox, Fortnite, and The Sandbox. Together, they’re helping us understand what the metaverse could eventually be, and its huge disruptive potential.

But to create a truly open world means creating an environment for self-expression, and early metaverse adopters play a key role in defining the shape of this landscape. So, what exactly should brands know in 2023?

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The role of early adopters


In the last ten years, our research has shown us just how much leading platforms help shape their users’ identities. Instagram has helped Gen Z become lovers of food, art, and photography, while TikTok may well do something similar for books, where interest among US Gen Z has grown by 11% since 2020.

In 2023 we’ll start to see what sort of cultural ripple effects come from immersive 3D spaces becoming more popular. Our research among kids tells us that young Roblox players are more likely to be interested in coding and adventure, but the impact will be even more profound as users get more freedom to experiment with self-expression and identity play.

Early metaverse adopters don't represent wider populations

% of consumers who prefer to spend their time online/are interested in the metaverse, and fall within the following groups



Early adopters in the metaverse are more likely to identify as male, white, heterosexual, from high-income households, and tech-driven – but people who prefer to spend their time online are a much more diverse group.

Minority groups may not have equal representation so far, so brands can help further the opportunities that social media first pioneered to unite communities online. It’s why it’s so important to welcome aboard those who might not be engaged yet in virtual spaces.

Gaming’s open world

We’ve seen a host of brands exploring proto-metaverses, with a wide range of activities and interests to engage users. 2022 saw the first ever mixed reality drag show and virtual broadcast of a football match. The opportunities are huge, but they need to be planned with all potential users in mind.

The likes of Roblox and Fortnite have brought user-generated content in gaming to the mainstream and are continuing to grow. In fact, the number of adult gamers playing Roblox has increased by 32% in the last year, and they play an important role when it comes to digital identities.

Roblox and Fortnite players want to stand out, but with more control over how they're perceived

% of Roblox and Fortnite players who say their personality is different online for the following reasons, sorted by over-index



We know that many consumers adopt different personalities when they’re online, citing reasons like being able to express themselves in a different way, and interacting with people they usually wouldn’t as main motivations. But among players of Fortnite and Roblox, they’re set apart by citing reasons like being able to stand out, and having more control over how people think of them.

This isn’t the first time people have gone online into immersive worlds to experiment with aspects of their identity. Second Life, which was released in 2003, is widely considered to be one of the first proto-metaverses and an important space for many to understand themselves better through avatars. In its heyday, brands got involved too, with Dell, IBM, and Reuters all having a presence.

It has given members of the LGBTQ+ community new experiences to learn how they could express themselves online, interacting with other members of their communities in safe spaces, with regions and celebrations. It’s been a space where people could reflect on their personalities, adopt new identities, and observe how others interact with their avatar.

These early lessons around identity are key to the success of the metaverse, giving users the opportunity to experiment, interact, and reflect

Unlike broadcast-based social media platforms, these digital spaces give people somewhere to hang out with their communities, and create a sense of shared identity. It’s a change from follower count to community, and brands are becoming more aware of this shift.

The likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Gap opened virtual offerings in Roblox with community-oriented experiences, championing individual style and expression. It’s something that future metaverse audiences value, notably, Gen Alpha. Gaming is one of their favorite pastimes, and they’re also socially conscious, with teen players of Fortnite, Minecraft, or Roblox standing out from their peers for saying that protecting people from bullying, and seeing all types of people in ads, TV shows, or movies are important to them.

This generation could be a major wave of metaverse users, and brands need to have their attitudes in mind when contributing to this virtual world. Among this generation these sorts of values are an expectation, not an exception.

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The key is customiza­tion

If open world gaming has taught us anything, it’s the importance of customization. Virtual worlds are both a social playground and a place for community, where users can connect and collaborate on common interests.

Early studies showed customization is an important feature for increasing play satisfaction and autonomy, like having more choices, and being able to explore. It’s little wonder that with increasing virtual opportunities, 47% of consumers say they’re interested in creating an avatar.

For the LGBTQ+ community, character personalization is a priority

% of consumers who are interested in creating an avatar and say they’d like to customize the following



The physical appearance of the character (e.g. hair color), and the identity of the character (e.g. age, gender), are the most important customization options.

It shows just how important identity play is. Users want to change their appearance more than their wardrobe, underlining the need to allow users to be themselves in a different way online.

All of this can only flourish in safe spaces, and safety should be paramount for brands and developers

Take Meta, for example. It offers more than a quintillion different attribute combinations for Meta avatars, from skin tones and facial shapes, to assistive devices like hearing aids, so that more people can feel represented and included. But the benefit of the metaverse is that creating customization options doesn’t just lie with major tech companies, but many startups also have a growing influence.

Major brands and startups are acknowledging the need for choice, and to create an environment where users are free to express themselves.

What’s next in 2023?

Virtual worlds have long given users anonymity and independence from their everyday lives, allowing them to adopt new personas without fear of disapproval from their real-life social circles. It’s a pattern we’ve seen through the internet’s history on bulletin boards, forums, and social media. Now the focus is on the metaverse to create new experiences and environments where users feel welcome.

Consumers want to experiment and interact in new ways that they can’t in the real world, or existing digital offerings can’t provide. Businesses will need to step up their efforts to build inclusive settings and products, enabling users to be creative, express their digital identity, and discover their unique style – all while having fun.

The future of the metaverse has the opportunity to weave this into the very fabric with which it's developed, and not be an afterthought. The question for brands is if they feel they can make a difference in this space, and you can expect more names to stake their claim as we begin to understand what this virtual future will hold.

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