Virtual reality’s technological advancements are ushering in a revolutionary era for metaverse gaming and are reshaping how brands engage, with two notable shifts for brands to heed, says Jasmine Lai of We Are Social’s .XYZ future strategy and innovation arm.

Virtual reality (VR) dates back to the 1990s, especially in gaming. Oculus Rift's Kickstarter campaign in 2012 marked a pivotal moment for VR, raising US$2.4 million. Its acquisition by Meta has only supercharged the VR momentum, igniting widespread enthusiasm for the promise of the “metaverse”.

Since the acquisition, Meta has bought seven of the most successful VR development studios and now has one of the largest virtual reality content catalogues. With Apple’s latest announcement of VisionPro, the competition has just begun.

Shift 1 – Storytelling: From gameplay to game realism

Storytelling is an art form that has evolved over millennia. From ancient cave drawings to modern-day films, stories have captivated our imagination and transported us to new worlds. 

In gaming, storytelling has evolved from linear narratives to “strings of pearls” and “branching” narratives, making gameplay even more alluring. But these narratives take on a new dimension of immersion with VR technology and the metaverse.

The metaverse brings game worlds to life by integrating cutting-edge 3D graphics and photorealistic imagery that enhance the visual allure of gaming scenes, making them hyper-realistic and captivating players and gameplay experiences like never before.

 VR technology can enhance, scale and quantify these experiences and take them to new heights by enabling seamless control and interaction with game characters through simple physical imitation such as running, jumping and punching, drawing players deeper into the game narrative. This effectively bridges the divide between one’s familiar physical space and the game’s digital environment, creating a new era of game realism.

source: Lone Echo

Lone Echo is a compelling example of a narrative-focused role-playing game that exemplifies the power of VR storytelling. Beyond photorealistic visuals, freeform movement and precise VR controls, the game offers interactive dialogue options that shape the narrative based on player choices.

With the latest development in VR technologies, there is a notable shift from merely storytelling gameplay to truly immersive, hyper-realistic game realism. Brands must leverage and explore new ways to bring to life compelling brand narratives that engage and involve players on both intellectual and emotional levels, making them feel naturally and realistically connected to the virtual world and invested in the brand experience. 

An example is KFC's "The Hard Way". Designed initially as a KFC staff training tool, it is now available on the Meta Quest VR library. The experience allows millions of consumers to immerse themselves in the captivating world of KFC's handcrafted process for making Original Recipe fried chicken. By incorporating these sensory elements, brands can craft a more immersive and stimulating game realism experience.

Shift 2 – Social gaming: From competition to collaboration

Gaming is inherently a social act. In fact, we believe it is the lifeblood of gaming.

In a traditional gaming setting, players are often pitted against each other in various forms and social interaction usually takes place through online platforms. It has since evolved to multiplayer modes. Think of co-op games like “It takes two” or multiplayer games like the iconic “Counter-Strike”. 

However, with VR and gaming in the metaverse, it takes on a whole new meaning. VR headsets allow players to figuratively step into a shared virtual space where they can see each other, explore and join forces, strategise, tackle challenging obstacles and interact, enabling seamless teamwork and coordination within virtual worlds as if they were physically present. This level of immersion and realism (that VR adds) fosters a sense of camaraderie between players and the community, moving from merely game competition to amplifying social gaming and collaboration. 

The 3D nature of the metaverse, coupled with the latest and highly responsive “haptic feedback” development and spatial audio in VR tech, will undoubtedly amplify any scene’s presence, allowing players to feel and experience the virtual world together, more realistically and engagingly.

source: Dead and Buried II

It doesn’t matter if you are duelling in a mixed reality setting likeBlaston” or in a fully action-packed experience and environment like “Dead and Buried”, VR will send you on an intense and highly immersive, multi-sensory journey where you can be an active participant in the game narrative and narrative development along with other players.

As VR continues to evolve, it is set to reshape the social fabric of gaming. Brands must embrace new avenues for engagement, such as social collaboration and in-game interactions. 

An example of this shift in social gaming is the Wendyverse, a virtual world where Wendy's has transformed how fans interact with the brand, its offerings and each other. Within this immersive restaurant chain experience, users can "walk behind the counter, interact with friends and embark on a mouth-watering adventure".

A non-in-game example is the prototype developed by .XYZ for a sports lifestyle brand. Through VR technology, this brand has pioneered a collaborative space with its users, allowing them to co-create personalised phygital products. Users not only retain the NFT representation but also receive a tangible customised product in real life, forging a novel connection between the digital and physical realms.

How brands can craft their stories in this space

  1. Immersive storytelling at the heart of gaming

Captivate the audience through the art of storytelling and gamification. In today’s experience economy, VR is not just a product for gaming – it is an instrument that extends and amplifies a brand’s narrative in gaming. It is a powerful tool to engage beyond the gaming community and induct them into your brand in new and unexplored ways that captivate and connect on a deeper level.

Case in point: Mercedez-Benz leveraged Second Life as an educational platform that allowed users to experience and learn about the brand’s rich history and design process. Similarly, many brands have leveraged the metaverse platforms to re-introduce themselves to the new generation of consumers, such as Ralph Lauren on Roblox and French designer brand AMI with Zepeto.

source: Mercedes-Benz on Second Life and Ralph Lauren on Roblox

  1. Show up authentically

In the incredibly dynamic landscape of the experience economy, trends evolve quickly, demanding brands to stay attuned and actively participate in the culture to foster meaningful connections with VR gamers. Being in sync with the pulse of the VR gaming community allows brands to establish authentic relationships and seize opportunities for meaningful interaction.

Last year, DBS Singapore announced a partnership with The Sandbox to create an interactive metaverse experience for collaborators and communities to jointly shape a blueprint for a better world, highlighting the pressing issue of global food wastage. In another case, teaming up with leading digital AI-R content creator Karen X Cheng helped McDonald's show up authentically during the Lunar New Year.

source: McDonald’s Lunar New Year Experience | Spatial and DBS Singapore: Better World

  1. Think value exchange

Lastly, in the world of exciting VR/immersive experiences, brands should also remember to focus on fostering value exchange with audiences, be it co-creating narratives, enabling active personalised participation or even tangible rewards. Brands can inspire loyalty and enrich lasting engagement within the VR gaming community.

KFC performed well in this space with its latest Super QQ campaign in China. Users earn virtual "Drumstick coins" by interacting with a digital Colonel Sanders, which they can redeem for virtual decor or real-world items.

source: KFC China Super QQ Campaign