To the disappointment of Metaverse visionaries, the Metaverse will never be a digital copy of the real world. In order to compel people to come to the Metaverse and “do things”, there is always some sort of “narrative” needed: you cannot just create some “digital city” and expect avatars to populate it and “do things”. 

One of the most unpleasant experiences on metaverses is entering rooms where there is basically nothing to do, except meeting other avatars. The best that can happen is that people show up to your face and start talking. It can be great as an experiment in cultural interaction, but it does not really work. Personally, in most of the (failed) experiments I did, I bumped into people that upon learning of my Italian heritage started talking about pizza and pasta: I guess there are better ways of spending time, or even to be entertained.

The question acquires a broader meaning if we consider communication plans aimed at creating “meta” versions of everything. Assume you are the owner of a gym chain: you could think about creating a meta-gym, where people could meet and mingle. It sounds like a good thing, yet the point is: why should people go to the virtual gym to meet and mingle?

A brief experience on the “Multiverse” metaverse on the Oculus system is quite eloquent on this point. If you make it through the rather cryptic log-on system, you may land into some meta-town where other lost soul wander around without an agenda. Oh, yes, you can also buy land and apartments – as in any “good” metaverse – but there is not really a purpose in doing so. 

It is not by chance that Fortnite has proven so far to be the most successful version of the Metaverse: it provides a strong narrative. It is not just the main one of “killing other people” (something that would make the NRA proud), but rather the whole universe represented by the “creative” modus. One should imagine it as a sort of paintball club that includes a disco, a library, a social club, a dating room, vacations, films and anything of the sort. If you want, you can play the “battle royale” killing game, but you are not forced to – you can chill on a digital beach talking to strangers, you can play escape games or hide and seek, or you can create new worlds.

Fortnite understood that a narrative does not just consist into going somewhere to “do things”. If there is a lot of toys at the party, you still need someone or something that ignites the process of playing with the toys. Take the experiment of the “Metajuku” shopping mall in the Decentraland metaverse: you can do things (buying NFT) and possibly interact with other avatars, but there is substantially no guidance, providing a rather boring metaverse experience.

If nothing happens – be it in the real or in the meta worlds – then there is a chance that the meta-experience is boring. We cannot overestimate the spirit of initiative of individuals, nor expect that people visiting the metaverse also define the narrative. They can “feed” the narrative in terms of performing certain actions, but these actions must be “motivated” by the narrative.

The first brands that appeared on the internet where very busy at creating web experiences where people could “live” the brand – only to realize that lacking some sort of “so what” people where not so eager to go and stay on the websites of the brands. The same happens in the Metaverse: a “branded house” is not enough.The freedom of action that avatars enjoy in the metaverse is both an opportunity and a limit: they are free to do anything, including getting bored. They need guidance, and guidance is the essence of the Metaverse narrative. They can follow a concert and dance; they can run through an experience while listening to music; they can play some game in a branded world: there shall be a sense of direction.

Still, creating a narrative  is a complex task. In social media any post can be a narrative: even photos of kittens (most frequently, photos of kittens). The Metaverse requires a set of decisions including user design, interactions, rewards, rules: a concept that goes beyond a simple “reply” or a “like”, as on Instagram or TikTok.

The success factor of socials has been opening up the possibility of content creation (and therefore of narrative creation) to all users. Just as an example: the website of the New York Times – an excellent magazine with proprietary content – attracts some 70 million unique monthly visitors , whereas Facebook – whose content is created by users – appeals 2.9 billion. As facts often prove, the New York Times provides information whose quality is dozen times better than Facebook, but quantity seem to prevail above quality.

We cannot expect that content creation on the Metaverse will ever become as accessible as on Facebook, but opening up the possibility to as many creators as possible is key. The main quest of the Metaverse is decentralizing the creation of the narrative. This is why Fortnite promotes the program “Support-a-Creator” to have indie creators receiving payment from the platform. The system is quite simple: players can elect a “developer of choice”, that will receive a certain percentage of all the revenue realized by Fortnite – specifically, 5% of the value of the purchases by the avatar.Still, we cannot imply that there will be only one kind of model prevailing. The Metaverse will provide space for independent creators, as well as professional ones – or even proprietary ones, meaning here experiences directly created by platforms. It will be a system based on the diversity of content sources – and on this case will truly resemble the analogic world.