Although we’ve been talking about transmedia for over a decade now, the form it takes keeps changing. Right now, it’s being reshaped—and resold—as the metaverse, an amorphous form billed by techcos and pundits as the future of how we will interact with media and brands. But does the term metaverse have resonance outside of entrepreneurs, media conglomerates and venture capitalists?
KidsKnowBest wanted to listen less to the grown-ups pitching the metaverse and more to the young people engaging in it. We asked more than 600 kids in the UK and US what they know about the metaverse (qualitatively) and polled thousands more. Their answers provide interesting, and often unexpected, insights about kids’ expectations on the ground, and also about the intersections where companies can meet them.
What they know
“I think it’s sort of like a central hub leading off into other places.” (boy, 16)
“Yes, I’ve heard of the metaverse. What the metaverse is, like, it’s kind of like a separate universe where it’s completely digital instead. A few games have already tried to dabble into the metaverse, like Roblox is a really good example. Well, what I like about the metaverse is that anyone can create something. You don’t need to pay in order to create something; you just create it.” (boy, 11)
“Metaverse is what Facebook is now doing, is it? With the VR headset.” (boy, 13)
Interestingly, this was the only mention of VR. While a lot of industry commentary focuses on VR and wearables as entrance points, kids are not making the same association.
What they think of it
Respondents who identified as gamers focused heavily on their avatars when defining the metaverse, which is hardly surprising given the top games kids play (see graph).
“First impressions, I think, are quite a big thing. So if you’ve got a high-quality avatar, I think you’re going to be respected more in a lobby.” (boy, 16)
Another 16-year-old boy went further, saying the metaverse allowed you to be in “a place where everything can exist as one. Your avatar can exist in different places.”
Much of what kids are focused on does not fit current adult interpretations of the metaverse—a virtual space in which animated figures interact. Instead, they are interested in the social, creative and competitive behaviors common to gaming communities. For example, the tone and narrative of responses shifted when it came to digital assets. Avatars remained constant, with kids of different ages discussing the expectations of assets and their desire for these assets to exist in multiple spaces.
The assets discussed included things that are attainable in real life (i.e. soccer shoes), as well as items that are largely inaccessible to kids IRL (i.e. luxury handbags). And while there was some recognition of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, these are still nascent concepts amongst younger audiences, and they’re not yet playing a large part in the purchase and collection of assets. Over half (58%) of six- to 16-year-olds claim they have an avatar that they buy clothes for.
“I wish I could play FIFA 22 and change my career character’s boots. I’d go for Adidas, like Messi.” (boy, 13)
“I really love kitting out my avatar with Gucci handbags.” (girl, 12)
Young people are already engaging with some brands in the metaverse, including fashion brands like Nike on Roblox, Gucci on Animal Crossing and Balenciaga on Fortnite. Respondents expected brands to be in the metaverse, and are interested in purchasing assets. “You could scan in your Converse, and then your avatar would be wearing them,” said one 11-year-old girl.
However, their comments also indicated they value authenticity and would identify and avoid content that did not improve the experience.
The evolution of the metaverse will rely on a mix of a digital personality and crossovers with the physical world. Perhaps one of the more interesting conversations was around Pinterest, a social media platform many might think of as older-skewing. But our research revealed Pinterest is being used as an inspiration and mood board for Minecraft creations. We have seen increasing engagement with Pinterest, which as a curation and inspiration platform, may be well suited to the expansion of the metaverse in creators’ lives (for examples of this, search “Minecraft builds” on Pinterest).
“I think that’s what got me into interior design on Minecraft. Mainly on Pinterest and YouTube, I type in Minecraft survival houses, because I guess it’s OK in creative, but my favorite is survival. I just built a house yesterday, but it had a farm next to it, crops, and an upstairs balcony. It was very cool.” (girl, 10)
“I built Naruto’s house from [Japanese manga series] Naruto. Took me forever. I sent a photo of it to my friend because she plays Minecraft as well, and she has this amazing creative world.” (girl, 13)
The future of the metaverse was perhaps seen best during the height of the pandemic. In our FriendsKnowBest research in 2021, we segmented six- to 16-year-olds by their personality and the personality of their best friend, uncovering the surprising revelation that 25% of respondents had a friend online who they’d never met. With millions of young people separated from their IRL friends, games like Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite, Animal Crossing, Among Us and Call of Duty became their playgrounds. But it also went beyond games, with typically shared experiences such as movies being discussed online.
Finally, parental concerns about issues such as safety, commercialization, screen time and data ownership in the metaverse seem limited at this time. Other studies have raised these concerns, sourcing school communications and parental peers as influences, but so far, these seem limited to more immediate media such as gaming or social platforms.
Peter Robinson is chief strategy officer at UK-based research strategy and ad agency KidsKnowBest. THe company will be presenting a session with LEGO at Kidscreen Summit 2022 on how to involve children meaningfully in research.