“Gaming and virtual spaces are the future of storytelling:” POC Lab co-founder Akbar Hamid.
How to successfully engage Gen-Z is high on the agenda for any marketeer and fashion and beauty brands from Gucci to L’Occitane are increasingly turning to metaverse and gaming platforms to meet the Gen-Z audience where they are.
The Shorty Impact Awards celebrate the year’s most impactful social and short form content. The 2023 event which took place this week in Los Angeles, introduced Gaming as a new category, honoring the Metaverse Pride Campaign—a partnership between People of Crypto (POC) Lab, NYX Professional Makeup and The 5th Column— with its Audience Award. The campaign also scooped a Silver Award in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion category.
The campaign played out summer 2022 on The Sandbox gaming platform via The Valley of Belonging. As Yasmin Dastmalchi, General Manager Nyx Professional Makeup told Forbes,“diversity is deeply embedded within our brand and community. Our community is the driving force in everything we do. We wanted to celebrate with the LGBTQIA+ community and create a safe space encouraging self-expression and allyship, while increasing representation virtually and IRL.”
Central to the concept was a voxelized nonfungible token (NFT) avatar collection which launched just prior to the experience. The sellout 8,430 drop was representative of the estimated 84.3% global majority population of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities with traits incorporating over 36 skin shades, different abilities such as prosthetic limbs alongside cultural identifiers like the hijab. It featured NYX Cosmetics makeup looks for each group represented in the Progress Pride flag and all proceeds were donated to the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
These avatars were playable in the Valley of Belonging which was also peopled by non player characters (NPCs) from drag queens and avatars in wheelchairs who guided visitors through the experience. It culminated in a sky party with illuminated dance floor featuring the words ‘Say Gay.’
“There are so many places in the world where Pride does not exist and where it is illegal to be gay, the objective was to make Pride universal,” PoC Lab co-founder Akbar Hamid, told Forbes. Hamid identifies as a gay South Asian Muslim.
The experience was informed by insights from the Pew Research Center, which found that almost 40% of Millennials and Gen-Z in the U.S. identify as LGBTQIA+. Likewise those from Intel which reported that 81% of Gen-Z actively engage in gaming.
Putting these together, the team found a gap. “We didn’t see the diversity of the gaming community reflected in the games produced,” said Hamid. Hence, the idea for a “diverse, inclusive, safe and celebratory environment where members of BIPOC, disabled and LGBTQIA+ gaming communities could be represented in the worlds they regularly engaged with.”
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential in a truly open metaverse,” said Sebastien Borget, COO and co-founder of The Sandbox. “Rather than replicating the biases and inequality of the real world, the metaverse must break barriers and forge an inclusive, welcoming global community.”
“Our vision for The Sandbox,” he said, “is to create a continuous shared digital space where worlds and brands collide to make a place where everyone is invited to participate, engage, create, and play.”
STORYTELLING IN THE METAVERSE
Where NYX Cosmetics’ participation was concerned, the absence of specific product was notable. This focus on brand ethos rather than pushing product resonates with the digital native Gen-Z which favors brands that share their values.
“Brands should not lead with product-first driven strategies for metaverse and virtual worlds, said Hamid. “Gen-Z audiences are not looking to be sold products within gaming environments. Brands should use these rich, creative and immersive environments to storytell.”
He said that such worlds present “opportunities to educate and entertain, to uplift and celebrate the communities and causes you stand for. Let these audiences feel like they are part of your brand, they are part of your mission, so they deeply connect and feel like they are understood.”
While he acknowledged the continuing appeal of Web2 platforms like Instagram and TikTok, he contended that “none of them create a custom environment where a consumer can enter, immerse, explore, interact and actually feel like they are truly part of a brand.”
“Gaming and virtual spaces are the future of storytelling,” he said, citing Metaverse Pride alongside Cultureverse with Walmart—another POC initiative which celebrated 50 years of Hip Hop in the Spatial metaverse.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s telling that the experience garnered some 730 million impressions with 17 million visitors and 360 thousand players.
“What we did with metaverse pride with NYX Cosmetics within The Sandbox is a perfect example of celebrating a community that NYX Cosmetics stands for everyday,” Hamid said, “taking a cultural moment and building a gamified experience filled with joy and connection that speaks to the brands mission, with brand affinity and loyalty that encourages purchase in IRL.”
“We showcased how consumer brands can successfully lead with culture,” agreed Simone Berry, the Black and neurodiverse co-founder of POC Lab. “Culture drives commerce. Black and brown, women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community have an immense combined spending power and unprecedented cultural influence.”
Hamid added that the Metaverse Pride experience also served as a pathway for other brands within the space. For example World of Women joined The Sandbox’s subsequent Belonging Week with an art exhibition that celebrated inclusivity.
Most recently e.l.f. beauty’s e.l.f. UP! experience on Roblox sought to gamify social impact. With a focus on edutainment, it encouraged users to create their dream start-up—gamifying the acquisition of entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy while also raising awareness of social issues.