As the first truly digitally native generation, Generation Z’s relationship with their digital lives looks different than that of older generations.
In fact, according to Quynh Mai, founder and chief executive officer of Moving Image & Content, the Gen Z-centric digital marketing consultancy, Gen Zs consider their digital lives as important as their physical ones, where the metaverse is not “another life” but an extension of the current one. Gen Z often spends eight or more hours online a day and is more immersed in digital culture than any other generation.
Moreover, as the metaverse expands, it’s also a life with the potential to be creative and build a community of friends that they know only digitally.
“The metaverse is a natural extension of the world they already live online with gaming (creating a collective of gamers they play with on a regular basis that they have never met), shopping (where they mine #TikTokmademebuyit hashtags for inspiration) or education (YouTube tutorial videos for everything),” said Mai. “They already see digital goods as valuable, if not more, than physical ones, so the metaverse will be a natural and organic extension of their digital lives.”
The promise of the metaverse to this generation? To buy digital goods that can be used across platforms to “signal status and cultural cool.”
Whether it’s through gaming profiles or Instagram finsta accounts, Gen Z’s sense of ownership often stretches into the metaverse more deeply than in the real world. Digital goods are coveted just as much as real-world items — so it makes sense that there is a huge potential for fashion and beauty in the metaverse where Gen Z can dress up a digital profile in skins or collectible profile picture NFT avatars to share virtually.
Here, Mai breaks down the relationship between Gen Z and the metaverse — including cryptocurrency and NFTs — and shares her insights into how these consumers will shape a new digital reality.
WWD: How would a Gen Z consumer describe the Metaverse?
Quynh Mai: Most Gen Z consumers would first and foremost describe the Metaverse as a place where they can be anyone or anything they want. This freedom to interact socially, unshackled by the limitations of gender, race, location, or physicality, empowers them to express themselves in ways simply not possible IRL.
As an extension of their gaming world, Gen Z consumers see the Metaverse as a way to live out their digital lives more fully, where they can shop, play, learn, create, develop friendships, attend concerts and even make money in games like Fortnite and Roblox. This level of independence is something older generations could only dream of. As the metaverse evolves beyond closed platforms into a series of interconnected, immersive worlds where users can maintain any identity they desire, the appeal for a digital-based reality will only grow.
WWD: As the first digitally native generation, how has Gen Z been conditioned to be more accepting of the metaverse and what it means?
Q.M.: They have been living most of their lives digitally since birth: making “friends” through social media, discovering music through Spotify algorithms, building games in Roblox, and buying and selling products literally off the backs of strangers on DePop. They are so comfortable maneuvering in the digital world as it’s built on shared trust and reputation. They understand the importance of nurturing their digital identity, whether it’s their TikTok account or a leaderboard score in a game.
Gen Z, more than any other generation, values community and peers online. The metaverse gives them the opportunity to live these values beyond flat message boards into 3D, immersive environments that mimic the real world. Here they are forming friendships that mean just as much to them as their IRL peers and joining communities that unlock their confidence to be who they want to be without any fear of bullying or judgement. TikTok has provided early forms of this through niche communities that celebrate individuality carving out safe spaces for Gen Z to belong.
WWD: How does the metaverse provide Gen Z with a community?
Q.M.: Gen Z has been able to find like-minded souls online for the last decade, through YouTube influencers that they have followed intimately for years, now to TikTok creators who provide a steady stream on entertainment and education. They have looked for, found and cultivated niches and interest groups in deeper ways due to the fact that COVID-19 had them homebound for over a year, so they went in search for their tribe online.
Platforms like VR Chat with portals to a myriad of worlds with real-time spatial audio and immersive 3D navigation are creating entirely new forms of an open community that empower Gen Z to freely explore, collaborate and communicate in ways that go beyond what’s possible in the real world. In the metaverse, they have none of the social constraints associated with their physical identities, something unthinkable to every previous generation in history. The implications of this from a sociological perspective will likely prove to be quite profound in their personal development and the development of the metaverse as a whole.
WWD: Are Gen Z consumers looking at NFTS and Crypto differently than other generations?
Q.M.: Gen Z has seen how their older generation (Millennials) have been burdened with debt and see NFTs and Crypto as a new way to make money that is as digitally native as they are.
NFTs and Crypto fit neatly into the digital world that Gen Z is already comfortable with — where most of life’s interactions happen online like making friends through social, buying and selling goods through anonymous dealers online. They trust this digital world and see great value in it already, so do not hesitate to invest in NFTs as collectibles and Crypto as the currency of the internet.
Gen Z sees NFTs as extensions of the things that they already value online — their identities (Instagram and TikTok accounts), their reputation (where they sit on a Leaderboard) and their most prized possessions (a diary of their lives through photos and posts). NFTs provide them with the opportunity for true, verifiable ownership, something unattainable in every other form of the digital asset to date. This ownership also provides them with a financial opportunity to sell their NFTs on secondary markets at a profit, a new-world version of what previous generations experienced selling physical baseball cards or comic books.
WWD: For this cohort, how does “culture” play into how they feel about NFTs and the greater Metaverse?
Q.M.: This generation is pushing for an open metaverse where one corporation, in this case Meta, doesn’t own and control the entire digital ecosystem. They wish for a series of open worlds where one can travel freely and safely as their own avatars without being followed, monitored or advertised to. Known as the loneliest generation (having lived online since birth and through COVID-19 during their youth) Gen Z craves community and the Metaverse delivers exactly that in ways that transcend what’s possible in the real world.
WWD: What would you say Gen Z wants from the Metaverse as it grows?
Q.M.: Gen Z is pushing for an independent metaverse made by a collection of people and companies that will allow them to roam freely from one world to the next. Here, they want to be able to control their identity (through a personal avatar), own and sell items they can take from world to world (clothes, cars, accessories, etc.) and shape the way they learn, work and play.
A recent concert by 21 Pilots attended by millions in Roblox for example gave players the ability to control the order of the setlist with instantaneous voting and embark on an interactive scavenger hunt with other fans. Most importantly, however, Gen Z wants to cultivate a world that is built on shared value and interests of the community that allows them to escape the chaos of our current reality.
WWD: How is Gen Z likely to shape the Metaverse?
Q.M.: Gen Z has been carefully cultivating passionate and active communities around shared interests and values on Twitch, TikTok and Discord for years. Unbeknownst to them, this sociological training ground has armed them with the skills they need to shape the Metaverse into a democratized universe of worlds that celebrate individuality over conformity and community over corporations. Here, the wisdom of the group rules and the members regulate themselves for the betterment of all.
To be clear, the Metaverse as presented to us by Mark Zuckerberg or in films like Ready Player One does not yet exist. We are in the early days with signs of what’s to come all around us. NFTs are evolving from 2D profile pictures to 3D avatars we can take with us across immersive, social digital environments like Decentraland and The Sandbox. Games are transforming into serious businesses as millions are now “working” in the metaverse playing games they love and creating new livelihoods for those in developing countries. Gen Z is in control of what the metaverse will become, the rest of us are just along for the ride.