Remember when you were a kid and something stopped being cool the minute too many people started saying it, using it, or doing it? Welcome to the shiny new corporate metaverse brought to you by all the brands your grandparents grew up with, like Pepsi and Budweiser.
Is the Metaverse in danger of becoming uncool?
Giant corporations are buying up digital land and scrambling to buy NFTs or create their own in an attempt to dominate the metaverse just as they created and then dominated American consumer culture in the 50s and 60s. McDonalds now has an NFT. Would you like fries with that? Are corporations fast making the metaverse uncool? Or are these comfortable and familiar icons of consumer culture just what we need to speed acceptance and integration?
Pepsi, the soft drink and snack food behemoth recently released its first NFT collection, a bunch of digitally rendered microphones with Pepsi branding. While the connection between a microphone and Pepsi is unclear, it is clear what Pepsi wants to accomplish.
There was nothing groundbreaking or provocative with these NFTs-just cartoon microphones with Pepsi logo noses meant to keep driving sales of carbonated sugar water to the masses.
Budweiser purchased an NFT this past summer along with an Ethereum domain name and changed its Twitter handle to beer.eth.
“This is going to look great in the metaverse,” Facebook, which renamed itself Meta in October, tweeted to Pepsi.
To say many are not happy with this rolling corporate takeover is an understatement.
A three stripe Bored Ape
Adidas purchased a Bored Ape NFT and promptly branded it with an Adidas tracksuit. Nike, not to be outdone, purchased RTFKT, a metaverse sneaker studio. White Castle purchased an NFT as well as an Ethereum domain name.
Starbucks, Burger King, even countries are buying up digital space, driving up prices and pricing out the average consumer with dreams of his own meta house with white picket fence.
Nike’s move, in particular, sparked outrage among crypto enthusiasts. DIGITALAX‘s Emma-Jane MacKinnon-Lee tweeted to RTFKT, “Congratulations on your departure from Web3. It’s a shame you didn’t stick around for the long haul. There is still much to be done to revolutionize fashion and break free from legacy brand control.” There were numerous “rip rtfkt” responses.
A conflict is brewing. Much like the many recent examples of gamers becoming enraged by cryptocurrency invading their platforms, outrage can be flung in the opposite direction: crypto people can see that brands are rushing into the metaverse and making it uncool in the process.
When a corporation tweets “WAGMI” (we are going to make it), this crypto slang could die a quick death.
Is it too late?
Is watching a beautiful metaverse future being hijacked by corporations the price we have to pay to get wider adoption and perhaps relief from constant threats of regulation or outright bans?
Let’s be real, corporations have the power to buy elected representatives and get rid of any legislation that is going to hamper their (or our) ability to make money in the metaverse.
But do we really want to become the thing we ostensibly set out to destroy? Should we just blow up this nascent metaverse and start over, no corporations allowed?
What’s the point of the Metaverse?
Brands are tripping over each other to stake claims in the metaverse, in addition to their cringe-worthy adoption of crypto language. Yet, the concept of gated areas owned by centralized corporations contradicts the entire point of the metaverse.
Animoca Brands chairman Yat Siu believes that tech behemoths like Facebook and Tencent pose the greatest threat to an open metaverse, whereas Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney believes that no single company can own the metaverse.
Yet, with 2.5 billion daily users and a trillion dollar market cap, Meta seems bent on doing just that. They recently paid a South Dakota-based financial services company $60 million for exclusive rights to the name “Meta”.
It conjures memories of the 2018 “blockchain, not bitcoin” hype cycle, when banks and other financial institutions began claiming they were developing their own blockchains. Blockchain’s entire proposition is that it is permissionless, open, peer-to-peer, and decentralized.
JPMorgan’s closed, permissioned blockchain misses the point.
Just as in the dot.com era companies that have nothing to do with blockchain see value in adding blockchain to their name or domain.
Could all of the brands snatching up.eth domain names or plastering NFTs with corporate logos to sell more stuff make owning one of those names less cool? Will the metaverse just morph into a 3d version of our present day, Google-dominated internet?
On the flip side, if you believe the metaverse, Bitcoin, DeFi and NFT aren’t going anywhere, is there any harm in brands taking the metaverse mainstream?
Investors in Decentraland, Enjin, The Sandbox and other metaverse projects probably wouldn’t mind a few Pepsi logos or the golden arches of McDonalds in their virtual neighborhoods, especially if it means wider adoption and a 10x increase in their investments. How cool would that be? Stay tuned.
The author is invested in Decentraland and Enjin and has no problem seeing these projects skyrocket, even if it means having a virtual Starbucks on every corner. This is not investment advice. Always do your research and talk to your trusted financial advisor before investing.
Jay Speakman is a technology writer based in San Francisco, California. He writes on the topics of blockchain, cryptocurrency, DeFi and other disruptive technologies. Clients include Avalanche, Be[in]Crypto, Trust Machines and several blogs devoted to blockchain gaming. He will not rest until fiat currency is defeated.