As digital escapes and experiences become not only the norm but a central part of lockdown living, interest in the creation of a digital world outside and alongside our own has begun to grow. Ideas once confined to the realms of science fiction are now knocking hard on the (virtual) door. The metaverse is well and truly here – are you ready for it? Because Gen Z certainly are.

But why now? Why Gen Z? And where next for these masters of the metaverse?

Gaming as a means of entertainment is nothing new. But what was once the reserve of nerdier fringes now takes centre stage in many a Gen Z social group. No longer the late-night sessions of Dungeons and Dragons that Millennial minds fall fondly back to, interactive online games have developed into something far far bigger. From wholly immersive universes where storytelling rivals the most expansive Hollywood epic to virtual and augmented reality headsets and arcades, the gaming industry has become not just a $160bn industry but a way forward for innovation and technology as a whole. The metaverse is here to push horizons further.

In these times of need, gaming and being online aren’t just ways of passing time but have proven to be a crucial social and emotional lifeline. It’s only natural that 40% of Gen Z already use gaming primarily as a means to connect with their peers (Newzoo, 2021). As these virtual communities begin to blossom, so too will the opportunities for brands to expand their offerings within this digital world. Some brands are already taking note.

From high end fashion houses to fine art and finance, investment by some of the world’s most established companies into digital commodities or ‘Non-Fungible Tokens’ (NFTs) continues at pace.

The likes of Gucci are collaborating with gaming platform Roblox to create the first ever Gucci online wearables, some of which sell at over $4,000 a piece. Meanwhile, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs have invested roughly $640million into crypto currencies and blockchain technologies. Christie’s auction house confirmed the sale of artist Beeple’s ‘First 5000 days’ piece for $69million. A big step up for one of the fathers of digital art whose highest grossing non-digital print sold for just $100 6 months previous. While it’s mainly high-end brands getting involved now, the mainstreamification of the metaverse can’t be far behind.

So what makes the metaverse so attractive, especially to Gen Z?

The appeal of concepts like the metaverse to Gen Z should come as no surprise – they are the first generation of true digital natives after all.  And in one fell swoop this generation lost almost all means of connection with friends and family. As the physical world around them seems ever more chaotic and crisis-filled, why wouldn’t Gen Z dive ever deeper into a world where things might not need to be tangible to exist? With the metaverse, Gen Z have found a new way of experiencing life itself, where they can connect, invent and reinvent the world and themselves as they see fit, again and again and again. Want to give yourself a makeover? Choose a new filter. Need the latest trainers that you can’t quite afford in real life? Get some augmented reality ones. Want to meet with your friends or collaborate with your teammates in ways that Zoom can’t quite let you do? The metaverse is calling… and brands need to listen.

The question for brands will be how to offer experiences, innovations, products and services that remain authentic, relevant, and drive emotional reactions in this new world. How to truly connect in a world where the potential to connect is endless. It seems that Gen Z have been building a virtual ark from this real-world storm… What will your brand need to do to get on board?