How to spot the real experts in the metaverse — and avoid the BS

As a potential recession approaches, brands are still enthusiastic about the future promise of the metaverse as a social media and marketing channel. But an influx of brand dollars into the metaverse has spurred the rise of a host of snake oil salesmen claiming undue expertise in the space, making it more difficult than ever to determine who the actual metaverse experts are.

Given the nascent state of the metaverse, there remains significant disagreement about exactly what it is and how it works, even among legitimate experts with years of experience building virtual spaces. To learn how to determine whether a so-called metaverse expert really knows what they’re talking about, Digiday spoke to five metaverse mavens across the worlds of marketing, gaming and Web3.

Red Flag No. 1: They insist on a narrow definition for the metaverse

Right now, marketers are using the word “metaverse” to describe several overlapping concepts. To some people, the word “metaverse” describes a three-dimensional game world accessed through a two-dimensional screen, such as Roblox or Fortnite; to some, the metaverse is a virtual reality experience accessed through a headset; and to others, it’s a network of virtual collectibles powered by blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens.

To some extent, all of these definitions fit into the original vision for the metaverse outlined by science fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash” — and so a genuine metaverse expert must be familiar with all of them. If someone claims to be a metaverse expert but denies the existence or future potential of any one of these competing visions, then they don’t truly understand the space.

“If people talk about the metaverse as a single format or medium, I think they don’t get what it’s about,” said Sol Rogers, global director of innovation at the technology and production company Magnopus. “You can have a metaverse expert in a specific industry, with a specific type of content — if you then back it up with a longer vision.”

Red Flag No. 2: They don’t ask the right questions

Real metaverse experts understand the half-baked nature of the space as it currently stands. For now, the correct way to approach the metaverse is with a healthy dose of pragmatism — and if a purported metaverse builder or expert goes all-in on a brand’s plans to enter virtual space without asking properly informed or even skeptical questions, it could indicate a focus on short-term wins over long-term sustainability.

“All these companies are still trying to figure out how it works, from an interoperability perspective and a business model perspective,” said Justin Hulog, chief studio officer at ImmutableX, a Web3 game developer. “Is it play-and-earn? Is it play-to-earn? Is it play-and-own, play-to-own? I think that anybody who’s like ‘I know the answer’ right away — frankly, it’s a load of BS.”

Red Flag No. 3: They don’t have the right experience and background

The “metaverse industry” did not exist a decade ago, so it can be difficult to tell whether someone is an actual metaverse expert from their LinkedIn page alone. After all, the word “metaverse” is unlikely to be found in many executives’ past job titles. But today’s metaverse space represents the confluence of a number of long-standing industries — gaming, marketing, virtual reality and blockchain tech — and brands should look for experience in those areas when hiring their metaverse experts. Beware so-called metaverse consultants whose involvement in the space seems to have materialized out of nowhere in October 2021.

“At the end of the day, if you had a position in innovation at a big company in the past, then you likely know what you’re talking about. If you had experience in a video game company, you likely know what you’re talking about, in terms of the gaming metaverse,” said Margot Rodde, founder of the Fortnite Creative studio Creators Corp. “Brands really need to do some research around that and be very careful about the people in the space that claim being experts on LinkedIn.”

Red Flag No. 4: They talk about metaverses, not the metaverse

If you ask some experts, there are no such thing as “metaverses,” much like there are no “internets” out there; ”the metaverse” is a singular virtual world made up of interwoven platforms, just as the internet is a singular entity composed of many disparate websites. This is, at least, the view of metaverse inventor Neal Stephenson, who shared his POV on the matter at CodeCon 2022 in September.

Not all of the experts Digiday reached for this story agreed about this red flag — some, like Rodde, said that Stephenson’s statement was more a reflection of his pie-in-the-sky vision for the future of the metaverse rather than of the current state of affairs — but, since it comes directly from the horse’s mouth, it’s worth mentioning. 

To avoid such potential debates or confusion, some experts in the space have started eschewing the word “metaverse” entirely. 

“We’ve tried not to use the word ‘metaverse’ for a long time, and we’re still trying not to,” Rogers said. “But if a client comes to us, a brand comes to us, and they say ‘we’d like to talk about creating a metaverse space or some metaverse content,’ then we say, ‘okay, that’s great.’”

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