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Dubit’s David Kleeman, WildBrain’s Anne Loi on the Metaverse

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Dubit’s David Kleeman outlined how IP owners can extend their brands into the metaverse before catching up with WildBrain’s Anne Loi on how that indie giant is exploring this new landscape at the TV Kids Summer Festival.

You can watch the session featuring Kleeman, senior VP of global trends at research and strategy consultancy and digital studio Dubit, and Loi, executive VP for M&A and chief commercial officer at WildBrain, in its entirety here.

Kleeman noted at the outset that “there are as many definitions of the metaverse as there are people talking about it.”

He continued: “There is as yet no real metaverse. There are little pieces of it. You may have heard the expression that the future is here, it’s just not equally distributed. Well, the metaverse is here, but it’s in pieces, and we need to put it together. The great thing about that is that we can envision the metaverse that we want, not just take the one handed by the big companies or anyone like that. We can build a metaverse that is great for kids, building on the brand equity that we as television executives have built over the years.”

At its most basic definition, the metaverse describes “immersive, virtual, global, always-on spaces,” Kleeman explained. “The real idea is that it lowers frustration barriers to people doing the things they want to do. You can be a gamer—you can play a game or make a game. You can tell stories. You can be part of somebody else’s stories. You can learn. You can teach. We mostly find people are using it right now for socializing, communicating, gameplay, and they’re becoming creators. Shopping is emerging in it. It’s more about brand awareness and affinity than about actual shopping.”

Roblox, Kleeman said, is an “emerging metaverse,” noting, “You can play any or all of the games on the platform with just one download. You can attend special events. We’re producing concerts in the metaverse, but also kids themselves were having their birthday parties in the metaverse during the pandemic. It’s a place to hang out with friends. You can customize gear, customize your avatar, do a lot of self-expression and earn and spend in-game currency. How popular is it? Over 50 percent of U.S. 9- to 12-year-olds play on Roblox at least weekly, and they’re spending their money there right now.”

Kleeman offered four key takeaways of Dubit’s thinking about the metaverse. First, “no child will use the term ‘metaverse,’” Kleeman noted. “For them, it means they just get to play the way they want to play.” Metaverse experiences done well “will blend communication, socializing, play and learning—you’ll be able to do all those things all at once. And you’ll have a more consistent experience when you put down your smartphone and pick up your laptop or tablet. You won’t have to hack solutions. The other thing about the metaverse is, if you don’t find what you want, create it. Today’s young people are creators on these platforms. There are millions and millions of Roblox games, and substantially, they are made by the users themselves. And finally, we can ensure safety and privacy from the start. With the metaverse, because it’s not here yet, we hope to create it from the start as a safe, engaging, fun place for kids where they can do what they want.”

Why should kids’ IP owners care about the metaverse? Because that is where kids are, Kleeman said, spurred in part by so much time at home during the pandemic. “Kids who could no longer be together in person were using metaverse-like platforms—Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft, Core, Discord—to replace the socializing that they couldn’t do in person. As a television company, you need to be thinking about how kids are going to discover you: through a game or the TV? And finally, this is a generation that considers authenticity and connection with their favorite brands to be really important. They need to sense that you’re listening to them. And an immersive space in the metaverse is a really good way to have that two-way exchange with your fans.”

IP owners with limited budgets should not despair about the level of investment required, Kleeman noted. “You don’t need to build a really big, deep, always-on, long-term game to be present in the metaverse. We’re doing a lot of short-term activations. Or you can integrate with an existing game.”

Kleeman went on to discuss the idea of “fanatomy” and how that might require IP owners to be a little less controlling over how their brand appears in the metaverse. “You serve up your IP the way you want it to be, and fans come back to you and say, Yeah, but wouldn’t it be cool if? If you respond to that, even if you don’t do what they suggest, if you just show that you’re listening, you deepen that fan’s experience, and you make them want to go and share it with their friends, and you make them think, This is a place for me because they listen to me. Fanatomy, in the case of the metaverse, is going to mean letting go of your brand a little bit. It’s the hardest thing for IP owners to do, but we’re seeing some compelling reasons for doing it. Young people chase their favorite brands across all the platforms that they use. If they love something, they will pursue it in toys, products, clothes and games, on television, or wherever they can find it. And they now come to expect it to be multiplatform. They want to be creators. They want to share their way of thinking about their favorite content, and they deeply want that authenticity—that idea that a brand is speaking to them.”

There are various approaches brand owners can take, Kleeman explained. “Some of them are just licensing assets to be where their audiences are—so selling T-shirts in Roblox, for example. We’re also finding that brands are open now to allowing user-generated content as long as it doesn’t violate the brand principles. There are 2,000 LEGO games in Roblox, none of them created by LEGO. A month after Squid Game debuted on Netflix, there were 100,000 Squid Game games created by users. Netflix said, This is great, we are not only expanding our audience with these games, but we’re also learning how our audience saw the program and how they want to engage with the program for future seasons.”

Thinking about the metaverse can begin at any time in an IP’s lifecycle, Kleeman stated. “If you are in the creative development phase, you can create playable concept testing that’s going to be much less expensive than producing a pilot. You can watch how your fans play with your characters, play with your settings, what they like, what they don’t like, and use that in your development. We had an experience with a brand-new television IP where we launched a very small Roblox experience—you could live in the setting of the program—and spent about £1,000 ($1,250) to promote it. We got tens of thousands of views in the first weekend at an acquisition cost of about $0.04 per user. Now compare that to the App Store, where it’s multiple dollars per user. Some fans made videos because no one had seen this IP before. Free promotion via the fans.”

Kleeman then engaged in a conversation with Loi at WildBrain about how that company is approaching metaverse opportunities. “Internally, we talk less about metaverse in general and more about how kids are engaging in the various platforms. At WildBrain, our origin is really about storytelling. What form of storytelling is this versus other ways of getting our content out there?”

When determining which IPs are suited for digital activation, the process starts with looking at the characters and thinking about if they are best suited to longer- or shorter-form storytelling, Loi said. “I don’t think there is a very specific type of content that is only good for short-form or only good for long-form. I think the skill set is really about how you tell the story with those characters.”

Loi continued, “I think people are still trying to figure out how to tell stories in the metaverse because so much interactivity happens. It’s not that different from back when we were making mobile games or online web games. There’s always that challenge of, when you hand control over to the player, how do you create the world where they can tell the story their own way? A lot of our content development people tend to look at that as one form of telling, not the only form of telling stories.”

WildBrain is allowing some latitude in how its brands are being used by fans in the metaverse. “It used to be the hotbed of plagiarizing, counterfeits and whatnot, both digitally and physically. We spent all of our time trying to squash those things. Now it’s like, great, the more the better. That’s really changed the way people feel about authenticity in developing IP.”

Loi also discussed the challenges of discoverability on Roblox. “There’s what, 40 million games on Roblox? Discoverability will be an issue. It’s a very democratized platform. If your game is not good, people just simply won’t come. You don’t need anybody else to tell you that you have to do better. We love that, but it’s challenging as a company wanting to take risks on these things. Six to eight months ago, our thinking was that an individual stand-alone game is the way to do it. Now we’ve evolved. If you are looking for your brand itself to get noticed, we see a lot of success with in-game collaboration with another very well-known game. We will create experiences as part of that bigger game, but that’s very brand specific. We’re doing testing with kids who have played it—before and after. Do they have a higher awareness level of that brand? Our thinking has shifted back and forth on where do you actually want to create a stand-alone experience? There has to be some pretty special reason to do that. [You can] collaborate with where the big eyeballs already are and try to take advantage of that.”






About Mansha Daswani

Mansha Daswani is the editor and associate publisher of World Screen. She can be reached on mdaswani@worldscreen.com.

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