During last week’s episode of Metaverse, I was joined by Adipat Virdi, immersive storyteller and former global creative product lead at Facebook. Over the last two decades, Adipat has combined his career as an architect with his love for writing and production to apply the strategic power of narrative to immersive production. Whilst at Facebook, Adipat led the ‘Emerging Platforms’ team’s exploration of XR and immersive experiences – and he has also worked for brands such as Charlotte Tilbury and the BBC. With a keen interest in using stories for social justice, he is a leading thinker in delivering narratives that provide a framework for real world social change.
Given Facebook’s central role in pushing forward the development of the metaverse, I was eager to gain the insights of someone who was instrumental in helping the company develop their position on VR, and to learn where he believes the metaverse and its development are headed. Adipat had three major takeaways about the future of the metaverse. First, he notes that it marks us moving away from passive online engagement to first-person participatory engagement, which has huge implications for how we can relate, as well as how brands and consumers will interact. Within this type of participatory experience, storytelling becomes paramount, as brands will need to enroll us in their vision. As opposed to being “sold” something, we will engage with brands, and narrative will form the basis of our engagement. Brands will have to work to align their values with the values of those who buy their products, making the entire relationship between brands and consumers much more nuanced. Here, money would become a byproduct of values, and rather than consumers, we will become advocates of a brand.
Presently, the metaverse is being built by a few big players, such as Facebook. This is out of necessity – at the very beginning of this type of journey, Adipat explains it’s necessary for big companies to take the lead in development, as it’s a massive undertaking that requires a lot of resources and R&D. Yet after the metaverse is established, Adipat believes we will see it become open source, at which point we’ll be faced with the next big question in the space: virtual real estate. Essentially, we’ll need to figure out the question of ownership online, and how we build within the metaverse. Adipat sees NFTs as the “building blocks” of creating virtual real estate, allowing us to create our own virtual properties outside of the main branded experiences we’ll see at first.
Adipat also believes another major development in the metaverse will be the emergence of “v-commerce,” or the next evolution of e-commerce in the virtual world. He’s excited to see how immersive tech and XR evolve to enhance our experience in virtual spaces by creating an immersive “layer” on top of the physical, “gameifying” the way we experience different things in VR. For instance, with technologies working to map touch, taste, and smell, it very well may be possible to one day step into a virtual store and “pick up” an object and feel its weight and texture. So if you want to pick out a new bicycle, for example, you would be able to feel the difference between an aluminum frame versus a steel one just as if you were in the real world.
Whilst some might fear VR as in danger of replacing real life, Adipat is firm in his belief that it is a tool to enhance our real world, giving us more insights and sensory engagement, and breaking down barriers to allow us to tell better stories and connect to one another. As such, his creative work focuses on the transformative power of immersive, engaged storytelling to create meaningful, real world change. It is Adipat’s goal to “gameify advocacy” and build what Chris Milk called an “empathy machine.” Recently, to call awareness to forced marriages, he’s created a body of work on the subject informed by research and focus groups that includes a feature film, immersive theater piece, and documentary all centered on the core question of choice. By allowing multiple vantage points into the issue and teaming up with three charities dedicated to tackling it, Adipat believes he will be able to truly galvanise people to take action and eradicate this issue in the real world.
Looking forward, Adipat believes we’re heading for a lot of changes in the next ten years, from 360 movies being the norm to the audience itself playing a character in IP – though naturally it depends on how quickly technology advances and how ubiquitous tools for accessing the metaverse become. Ultimately, if used correctly, Adipat believes the metaverse is a powerful tool for good, where we can show people multiple sides of a story, encouraging empathy and action, through nuanced storytelling.
To hear more of our exciting and informative conversation, you can listen to the podcast episode here.