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Meeting in the musical metaverse: Expectations vs. reality

July 11, 2022

tl;dr — Over the course of two months, the Water & Music research community demoed eight different metaverse platforms, ranging from established games to emerging startups, to gain an understanding of the general user experience provided by each of these platforms and how they might appear to everyday users and music fans. We took notes on our expectations going into these environments about what we could accomplish — informed by our own preconceptions of what the metaverse is and could be — alongside the realities of how our visit actually went in terms of user experience on the individual and social levels. We hope this breakdown successfully cuts through the hype and presents tangible, focused opportunities for growth and improvement around one of the most in-demand and fundamental use cases for musical metaverse experiences today: Having fun with friends.

This report is part of our Season 2 research on music in the metaverse, which will be rolling out from July 7 to 15, 2022. You can follow along with the report rollout at stream.waterandmusic.com.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Click directly to jump to a section of your choice.

Intro

Replication vs. escapism
Easy communication and wayfinding
Source of enjoyment (gamification vs. socializing)
Fluidity of avatar movement
Fluid consumption and discovery of music and events

Conclusion
Contributors


For our Season 2 research, a combination of early signals from Water & Music community members and repeated themes from our qualitative interviews with music-industry professionals convinced us that we needed to highlight community-building and social design in virtual worlds as a core tenet of a future musical metaverse.

In our very first brainstorm for Season 2, many of our members highlighted shared digital experiences online as a main value proposition they saw in the concept of a musical metaverse; some members were even excited at the possibility of hosting community events across virtual spaces as a way of engaging with metaverse concepts and opportunities in a more tangible way. Later on, in our industry interviews, we heard time and again that a major key to making metaverse experiences enjoyable over time for users involves cultivating community and optimizing for social stickiness. Moreover, in terms of the tools and channels available, superfan and fan-community engagement remain among the most accessible entry points to the metaverse for independent and emerging artists, in contrast to other entry points like bespoke licensing deals with gaming platforms that remain exclusive to major-label and established acts.

Hence, to gain as direct and representative a view as possible on the current state of social music/metaverse experiences, we knew we would need to move beyond just concepts, explainers, narratives, and whitepapers, and cultivate some firsthand experience of the metaverse as a community. In other words, we would need to enter the metaverse ourselves!

One of the core threads of our community research methodology took the form of weekly group visits to select metaverse platforms, dubbed internally as “metaverse meetups.” Over the course of two months, we visited and demoed eight different metaverse platforms, ranging from environments in some of the most popular, established platforms to more emerging startups and mixed-reality experiences:

  • Roblox’s Spotify Island (launched December 2021)
  • Second Life’s Ibiza Club and Glastonbelli Pyramid Stage
  • Nowhere (founded in 2020; has put on virtual events for music brands including Cash Money Records and Le Phoque OFF)
  • The Band Room in Decentraland (founded in 2015; one of the most active decentralized metaverse platforms, and a popular host of venues for online music/Web3 events and performances)
  • Popins (founded in 2021; augmented reality platform supporting virtual experiences and musical performances captured via volumetric video and viewed via mobile devices or VR headsets)
  • Dreamwave (bespoke world-building services arm of digital production studio Active Theory; has built custom worlds and livestreaming interfaces for the likes of Porter Robinson, Coachella, and Xbox)
  • a.live (browser- and mobile-accessible virtual world platform, where individual songs are treated as planetary ecosystems within a musical galaxy that also hosts supplementary musical and behind-the-scenes artist content)
  • Controlla (interactive mobile-based platform allowing fans to live-mix an individual song’s parameters and effects via mobile-device gyroscope, while exploring virtual outer space)

As many in our community were first-time metaverse/virtual-world explorers, we engaged with these worlds with a beginner’s mindset, explicitly approaching the experiences with an exploratory openness to learning how they work and why they function in the ways they do. Rather than focus on how we would answer specific research questions based on what we saw, our goal was to gain an understanding of the general user experience provided by each of these platforms and how they might appear to everyday users and music fans. 

This article provides some high-level takeaways of what our community saw and learned from these visits. We frame each of our takeaways in two parts: Our expectations going into these environments about what we could accomplish — informed by our own preconceptions of what the metaverse is and could be — alongside the realities of how our visit actually went in terms of user experience on the individual and social levels. Juxtaposed with Parts 1 and 2 of our research this season, which took a higher-level view on the music/metaverse landscape, we hope this breakdown successfully cuts through the hype and presents tangible, focused opportunities for growth and improvement around one of the most in-demand and fundamental use cases for music/metaverse experiences today: Having fun with friends. 

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REPLICATION VS. ESCAPISM: EXPECTATIONS 

The concept of the metaverse naturally lends itself to the notion of escapism (especially given the COVID pandemic) and sci-fi fantasies (the term “metaverse” itself comes from sci-fi, after all). Hence, we went into this season thinking that the platforms we demoed would be more focused on helping players and users act out scenarios that would otherwise not be possible in real life, instead of trying simply to be a mirror of reality in a virtual space. After all, treating the metaverse more as a new creative canvas where one can start from scratch arguably lends itself to a much broader range of design possibilities in terms of user experience.

REPLICATION VS. ESCAPISM: REALITY

To our surprise, while many of the metaverse platforms we visited and studied certainly had an out-of-this-world aesthetic and form factor (e.g. planets, galaxies, and neon colors), many of them also closely mimicked IRL interactions in terms of the default settings for how people could identify themselves and interact with each other — sometimes to a fault.

A relevant term in this context is skeuomorphism, a concept in design that refers to interfaces resembling their real-world counterparts. For instance, early versions of Apple’s Notes app were skeuomorphic in that they took the digital form factor of a physical, yellow legal pad, complete with leather binding.

Several recent discussions about the metaverse have pondered the immense computing power required to make a virtual world truly and wholly skeuomorphic — in the sense of being a perfect simulation of the environments and social situations we expect in the physical world, at the same fidelity but with seemingly infinite scale. Matthew Ball refers to this concept extensively throughout his 2021 Metaverse Primer as “mirrorworlds,” while other companies refer to the concept as a “digital twin”; in our interview, the team at metaverse dev company Simularent told us that many metaverse developers are using actual imaging and architectural modeling from real-world cities in building their custom virtual realms.

Importantly, it’s not just discrete content, assets, or entities that can have digital-twin replications in virtual worlds. One can also have digital twins of systems and processes, which involve interactions among said assets and entities — including social interactions among people. This expansive definition of digital twinning has direct implications for the musical metaverse, much of which is inherently social in its nature and in its value proposition to users and fans.

Starting from one of the most popular use cases in the musical metaverse, the very concept of a “virtual concert” is inherently skeuomorphic, in its implied ambitions to mimic the visual spectacle, social bonding, and/or geographic boundedness of a physical concert experience. What this means for many music/metaverse events, including those in major games like Roblox and Fortnite, is that they not only remain bounded in time (i.e. happening only temporarily) and/or virtual space (i.e. only happening in a discrete venue), but also limit the kinds of social interactions that attendees can have. Later on this piece, we discuss how proximity-based voice chat — while natural and necessary in IRL spaces — can feel confusing or disorienting in virtual spaces where there is an expectation of both more fluid movement and ongoing connection with a given social group.

Of course, in practice, more fantastical worlds aren’t necessarily more straightforward or seamless from an onboarding perspective, especially if they lead to rapid run-ins with current computing and network limitations when it comes to real-time rendering of 3D worlds and assets. For instance, our collective experience in the metaverse platform Nowhere ranged from “went to the edge of map and just felt lost” to “accidentally launched myself out of a space mid-conversation because I clicked on a cherry” — making us realize that we may have benefited from a proper walkthrough or practice of the platform’s functionality first before jumping around.

It’s incredibly hard to predict what future music/metaverse experiences will look like, and humans at large are notoriously bad at making predictions about future technology advancements. (Consider the late automobile titan Henry Ford’s famous quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”) So for now, perhaps more skeuomorphic “proto-metaverse” experiences are the best we can work with, in terms of addressing immediate needs and making people feel comfortable and welcome in these worlds based on their everyday lived experiences. That said, as we’ll explore in more depth throughout this piece, an individual metaverse platform’s philosophical stance around whether to mimic or escape IRL has a tangible influence over their design choices for specific features such as avatar appearance/movement, social communication and wayfinding, and world/content discovery, which then can have a significant impact (positive or negative) on user feedback and adoption.

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EASY COMMUNICATION AND WAYFINDING: EXPECTATIONS

If socialization is a key to metaverse experiences, then our expectation was the ability to find and communicate with each other within these virtual worlds would be relatively easy. We assumed that we would be able to effortlessly find our way into the same platform servers in the first place (in line with the sense of synchronicity that we discussed in part one of our Season 2 research), and then be able to locate each other and easily converse via in-world communication protocols once we were in the same world. 

EASY COMMUNICATION AND WAYFINDING: REALITY

What we found when visiting these worlds was that initially finding our way into the same server and then locating each other as a group within each world tended to be rather difficult, especially as first time users of many of these platforms.

In our Roblox Spotify Island meetup, for instance, finding our way into the same game server as everyone else was not intuitive at all, and took extensive group coordination via off-platform methods. (In our case, we spent extensive time messaging with each other as a group via Discord simply to ensure that we all landed in the same place to begin with.) Roblox does allow users to add friends on their account and see which servers these friends are currently playing in, but we found this process to be unintuitive. It ultimately felt easier to simply text-message in Discord to locate each other, a point supported by the existence of the many “how to find your friends in Roblox” tutorials that exist via third-party channels. Once we all made it on to the platform, it was not at all intuitive to find each other within; one simply had to explore until we bumped into each other. To their credit, Roblox did recently announce a new “Friends Locator” developer tool that individual developers can incorporate within their games. However, its availability is determined by which individual developers implement it within their games, rather than being a standard feature across the entire platform. 

Locating our friends was only the first step to being able to communicate and socialize together. Once we had found each other, ease of communication within metaverse platforms themselves was generally quite difficult, especially with respect to more intimate forms of communication like voice chat. In most of the platforms we visited, text chat was fairly simple to use and access, via dedicated windows in-game (Nowhere was the lone virtual world style metaverse we explored that had no interactive text chat functionally. On the other hand, they did have the most consistent, advanced, and flexible voice chat). Across the other virtual world platforms our community of testers found that voice conversations were not user-friendly. Voice chat was largely enabled using spatial or proximity-based chat functionality, where users are only able to converse using audio if they are within a certain distance of each other in-world. In Roblox, we were surprised to discover that spatial voice chat is actually a relatively new feature, having only been enabled in fall of 2021. In Second Life, there were more voice options including proximity-based chat, direct chat (aka voice calls), or friend-group voice chats. However, our community of testers found, similar to adding friends, that the UI for accessing voice chat features was opaque and difficult to navigate, and we ultimately opted, again, to chat using Discord.

A screenshot from our visit to Ibiza Club in Second Life, showing the popup style menus used to search for and communicate with others.

On the whole, our community felt that the implementation of proximity-based voice chat as the main mode of audio communication in metaverse platforms, though trying to mimic IRL communication, made them feel lonely as users and disconnected from others. This may be one area where aiming for an experience that perfectly mimics reality (by favoring the ability to speak to those within physical distance) is not the optimal UX design choice, despite it seeming intuitive and familiar to users. (It is also probably a major factor behind Discord’s skyrocketing popularity across multiple online communities, not just gamers.)

Altogether, we see communication within metaverse platforms as essential for catalyzing positive social experiences, and ultimately related to the oft-employed metric of “time-to-fun” for virtual experiences. The longer it takes for a user to have fun within a metaverse experience, the less likely they are to stick around or return. Applying this to communication, if a user can’t easily find or communicate with their friends then they’re likely to begin feeling lonely within the virtual world, and when a user is feeling lonely they definitely are not going to have fun. 

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SOURCES OF ENJOYMENT: EXPECTATIONS

Some of our specific expectations for the metaverse were directly influenced by the demographic makeup of our group of community explorers, which included individuals between the ages of 20 to 50 years old and notably did not include any adolescents or persons in early adulthood. We know from our research that the users for many of the most popular metaverse platforms skew young. Roblox, for example, has 54.1 million daily active users, with 67% of its users under the age of 16, and only 14% over the age of 25. Our community of testers, it would seem, does not reflect the average age of users of metaverse platforms. While this is certainly a limitation in terms of the perspectives we were able to glean from our meetups, it’s also true that platforms like Roblox are looking to age up their user base in order to access a larger part of the total market, and so our group of testers might also be considered the ideal future users of metaverse platforms. We also did our best to fill in our gaps in perspective by interviewing several younger kids and gamers about their experiences in these platforms, courtesy of introductions from W&M members themselves.

We also know that the adoption of technology is influenced by lifecycle effects, where a person’s likelihood of adopting new technologies decreases as they age. With this information in mind, many of our community testers who had not previously experienced virtual worlds were unsure of what to expect from the experience, and were not confident in the purpose of visiting the metaverse in the first place. Is the purpose to play specific games and achieve in-world objectives? Or is the metaverse simply a place to hangout together akin to other social media platforms like Discord?  

SOURCES OF ENJOYMENT: REALITY

Across the majority of our metaverse meetups, the reality experienced by our community explorers was a level of surprise in just how enjoyable it could be to hang out together in the metaverse. Though many of the testers still left some of the meetups wondering what the purpose of the specific experiences were at large, they broadly enjoyed most of the experiences, and in many cases lost track of time and ended up staying longer than they had planned in order to enjoy the social experience of being there with friends and peers. Notably, though, we did not return as a group to any of the platforms.

A good example of this comes from our visit to Spotify Island in Roblox, a virtual world experience that is nominally oriented around in-world gamification mechanisms. On Roblox Island, users traverse a virtual landscape collecting hearts (which unlock access to other parts of the island) and engaging with interactive features that often involve musical elements. By and large, our testers found the gamified elements of Roblox Island to be very confusing and not fun or engaging enough on their own to justify the trip. If it was a game to be played by one’s self, it would not be enough to retain user interest. However, there was plenty of joy and delight being experienced through the process of exploring the virtual island in multiplayer, as a community, and learning together how things work and where the most fun engagement could be had. (As in many other social gaming contexts, we used Discord to chat via text and voice in real-time during our Spotify Island visit.)

The Dreamwave demo offers another illustration of a world with lackluster interactive features, but that was enjoyable when explored as a communal activity. The Dreamwave experience offers multiple bounded virtual landscapes to explore, including an obstacle course, a virtual NFT gallery and a pastoral landscape. While none of these worlds included games or objectives, the experience of exploring them together and uncovering their unique nooks and crannies in a communal manner was enjoyable. Our group traversed all of the available worlds, marveling at the rich graphics of each world (including noting the beautifully rendered grass that swayed with the virtual winds), and took frequent breaks to dance together and share emotes as a group. 

A screenshot from our metaverse meetup in the Dreamwave demo, where we were able to have our characters dance (née Twerk!) together in a realistic manner. 

These experiences reflect what we heard across our interviews with everyone from artists to metaverse venue builders to platform founders: Experiences that allow for strong social connections to form and manifest are the stickiest and most delightful ones for users. While gamified user interfaces can potentially drive users to keep playing for rewards, providing an environment where individuals can easily meet, hang out, converse, and maybe complete some form of activity together arguably engenders user stickiness more effectively in the long term. In our interviews with younger visitors of virtual worlds, we heard that metaverse platforms often “function as any other social media,” allowing individuals to spend time with their friends. One young user (8 y.o.) explained how they are “all about having fun with friends, and texting [in-game] is the same as a hang at this point IRL.”

Ultimately, our advice for users who may think they are “too old” or don’t understand the metaverse is simply to try it with a few other people. (We recommend going to see or create some music at the TRU Band Room in Decentraland, The Playground in Voxels, Robeats in Roblox, or the Glastonbelli Pyramid Stage in Second Life to start.) You may find that you like it more than you think. 

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FLUIDITY OF AVATAR MOVEMENT: EXPECTATIONS

Given the futuristic language and concepts employed in discourses around the metaverse, our expectation as a group when visiting metaverse platforms was that they were going to be natural to navigate. The imagery and promise around immersive headsets and haptic suits had us thinking it may even feel freeing to move around as virtual avatars in ways not possible IRL. Setting aside the laws of Earth-physics, the hope was that different worlds would test our mental models of what it means to move through space and that we would be able to intuitively use our personal hardware (mobile and laptop devices, primarily) to explore the new law-less worlds of our imaginations. 

We also had an expectation that avatar/user movement within virtual worlds would be generally fluid, with the experience feeling unencumbered and movement taking place in as close to real-time as possible. As we noted in our music metaverse design principles report, smoothness of experience can “be a make-or-break proposition for whether audiences actually enjoy music-focused events in the metaverse.” When avatar movement gets choppy or slow, it can take the user out of the states of embodied presence and suspended disbelief that make these virtual experiences enjoyable, and right back into the room or office from where they are accessing the metaverse.

FLUIDITY OF AVATAR MOVEMENT: REALITY

With the caveat that experiences differed by platform (NOTE: this caveat applies across this full analysis), our community explorations generally found that many of today’s metaverse platforms failed to produce a fluid experience around avatar movement. 

The different approaches various platforms took to presenting individual avatars — including the nature of movement across the virtual landscape and the sense of customization around identity and appearance — often meant that as new users, we spent a lot of time learning to adjust how our avatars appear amongst others in the metaverse, as well as deciphering how to move around in the space. Cosmetic freedom with one’s avatar is a major value proposition of many virtual worlds, so this makes sense, though the processes for avatar customization on some platforms (see: Roblox) were decidedly opaque to new users.

In the virtual world Nowhere, avatars appear as floating hexagonal heads that utilize the user’s laptop camera to show their IRL appearance. But the view is first-person, such that you cannot see your own avatar unless you make an intentional settings change. In addition, the webcam feed is only viewable from one side of the hexagonal head, such that when you are oriented “behind” another user’s avatar, there was no way of knowing whom that individual was, unless you hover your cursor over their avatar or looked out for other clues such as live voice chat. Still, Nowhere did provide a sense of presence and personal space owing to the fact that an individual’s hexagon avatar takes up virtual space and can interfere directly with what another avatar can see in the metaverse.

In other platforms where avatars were anthropomorphic (i.e. resembling the physical form of humans IRL), our testers generally found the visual rendering to be dated, and movement to be stilted. When exploring Spotify Island in Roblox, one community member noted how little graphics quality had changed over the last 15 years. The same was true of Decentraland, where avatar movements were not particularly compelling, despite the platform placing a massive load on user CPUs (partially to support high-quality graphic rendering). 

Behold, the world of Roblox Spotify Island! Notably, this W&M community tester paused the forgettable “muzak” that is fed into the game.

While our expectation for avatars was of next-level visuals and realistic movement, we actually heard from some of our Season 2 interviewees (especially artists and virtual venue builders) that they preferred the lo-fi aesthetics of certain platforms like Voxels — where avatars are humanoid in nature, but based in block-y, pixelated forms using voxels as their base unit. Coldie, a prolific metaverse builder and artist, told us that when considering where to build artistic experiences in the metaverse, they chose Voxels despite its lo-fi nature because of its ease of use for fans to access and explore. This relates to the observation that the metaverse is primarily a place for people to make social connections; if the community interaction aspect is done well, it can ultimately compensate for visuals that are otherwise lacking.

A screenshot of a very busy opening evening at the artist Mighty33’s Crypto Music History 2008-2022 exhibit hosted at the Genius Corp Records parcel in Voxels.

The one virtual world platform that we did find hyper-realistic and very enjoyable with respect to avatar appearance and movement was Dreamwave, a company that builds custom virtual-world environments (or “microverses”) for clients including Porter Robinson and Xbox. In Dreamwave, our humanistic avatars moved fluidly, with both walking and running appearing similar to how one would carry out those actions IRL. We were even able to perform dance moves (including but not limited to twerking) that were impressively styled and rendered, making the movement feel fun and exciting. Though this experience was exceptional, it was also available only as a demo, showing off the capabilities of Dreamwave for potential clients. Unlike the other virtual platforms we tested, Dreamwave is not an open world itself, but rather a service-oriented business for virtual world-building run by the digital production studio Active Theory. One possible reason that the demo is able to enable impressive avatar rendering and movement is that it does not have to cater to the needs of a large-scale user-base or support heaps of user-generated content like other platforms (and when it does, it can sometimes feel like a self-described fire). As a result, the Dreamwave demo can optimize for visuals and movement, while other platforms need to put resources elsewhere.

Platforms like Controlla and Popins that relied on mobile devices for users to augment their own reality offered a convenient way to access the metaverse, but were as relatively unwieldy in the short term as they might be promising in the long term. Controlla, a platform that allows users to fly through space in the form of a rocket, uses one’s phone gyroscope to steer their rocket, while simultaneously controlling specific audio effects being applied to the song being played via in-game audio. There was also the opportunity to steer one’s ship to collect brightly colored asteroids scattered throughout space as an added gamification challenge (although there were no redemption mechanics at the time we demoed). In practice, though, it was difficult to remix the audio actively in a creative manner (the primary in-game task) while also seeking out and collecting the colored asteroids (a secondary gamification element of the platform).

Popins was a more traditional AR experience, allowing users to project a real-time musical performance (captured via volumetric video) onto whatever surface they point their camera at. The user experience across our community testers varied, possibly owing to the different network connections and surfaces at which our cameras were pointed. For some of our testers the visuals provided a strong depth of visuals, with the 3D element of the video really coming through, while others found the visuals to be spotty, pixelated and sometimes distorted (though we all agreed that the live audio was exceptional). 

Screenshots from our community demo of Popins, an AR-based metaverse experience.

Bringing it back to music, generally clunky avatar and movement experiences ultimately mean that music-based experiences in the metaverse remain limited in terms of the amount of embodied realism they can provide for audiences. On the one hand, this can certainly take away from the immersion and believability of virtual concerts with significant visual components. If you’re looking for a virtual concert experience that mimics the feeling of actually attending Coachella — and that does not involve the resources of a major game developer like Epic Games or a publicly-traded company like Roblox — then you are sadly out of luck. On the other hand, we heard from several artists and metaverse event promoters who told us that this clunkiness doesn’t matter. Despite the poor avatar movement, audiences are still twerking or boogying their asses off at virtual concerts in platforms like Decentraland, with the social experience and connection with other users providing the glue that holds it all together.

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FLUID CONSUMPTION AND DISCOVERY: EXPECTATIONS

Given the significant hype (and real capital investment) around music/metaverse experiences, we also expected there to be a base level of music discovery opportunities across the platforms we demoed. Second Life in particular has a long history of being the platform of choice for major-label listening parties and fan meet-and-greets, while Roblox has been host to several virtual concerts, branded islands (like Spotify’s), and even homegrown genres like Robloxcore. At large, the bespoke soundtracks for major game franchises like Grand Theft Auto, FIFA, and Tony Hawk Pro Skater have proven track records of breaking artists across genres to new, captive audiences, through radio- and playlist-style interfaces that facilitate the customization of a given player’s in-game music experience. Beyond identifying music related games, places, and events, we expected similar interfaces within these metaverse worlds. Perhaps there would be a little text at the bottom of the screen to let us know what we were listening to — or at the very least some playlist viewing options.

For events, with considerations like Roblox’s younger-leaning demographic, Second Life’s decades-long history, and Decentraland’s principles of decentralized, bottom-up ownership and development, we also expected the platforms we demoed to have a fluid, intuitive search functionality for events where one might want to go, and to get there easily with friends.

FLUID CONSUMPTION AND DISCOVERY: REALITY

In reality, during our specifically explored experiences, we found almost no opportunities for meaningful music or content discovery. 

In Second Life, we ported around from a mock Ibiza club to a faux Glastonbury festival grounds. In Roblox, we frolicked around a musical forest wonderland created bespoke for the platform by Spotify, one of the biggest streaming platforms in the world. And yet, at no point during any of these sessions did any of us discover a song or artist. If there were credits or playlists available, they were incredibly cumbersome to find, in a way that required us to avert our attention away completely from the immediate gameplay experience.

There was also a noticeable lack of clear wayfinding in terms of how to control our audio experience (individual or collective) to our own liking. Ironically, when we first arrived in the Second Life Ibiza club, there was random music blasting in our headphones, such that the first comment ringing out from our group voice chat was, “How do we turn the music off?” The 90s house remixes eventually inspired a big, synchronized digital dance party — but still, we had no idea what we listened and danced to. The Glastonbury festival grounds mockup similarly left us with many unexpected visual memories – someone lost their digital shirt and ended up topless for a while – but with no new artists to listen to.

Spotify Island in Roblox was just playing lo-fi beats-type music in the background without an easily identifiable artist, which triggered one of our community members to comment: “World’s biggest music platform [is] feeding us muzak.” We are unsure what fueled this decision – perhaps rights complications, or maybe even internal data showing that this is what users wanted to listen to in-world. It’s worth noting that searching for music games in Roblox does result in a ton of options for users, such as Robeats and Splash. But as we explored in the previous chapter of this report, getting one’s music into the Creator Marketplace such that other developers can incorporate it into their games is another inaccessible can of worms entirely.

A screenshot from one of our researcher’s forays into Roblox’s Robeats game.

Ironically, this gap is replicated across many of the other platforms we demoed, including Roblox and Second Life: Music-related places, games, and/or events were easily searchable across these more open platforms, but we could not actually search for information about the featured music itself. (Even still, content and event curation are still quite rudimentary in these worlds; for instance, Decentraland notably has NO search capability for places — only for specific events, which are promoted based on the number of people currently attending. This was very surprising to us that we could not simply type in the name of popular Decentraland music room “The Band Room,” for instance, and get there directly.) This drives home a crucial theme across our interviews and analysis in Season 2 so far — namely, that many of these platforms treat music as an ancillary accessory to drive user engagement primarily towards the virtual world or game as a whole. 

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Coming away from visiting a diversity of different metaverse platforms and experiences, we found broad variation in how well each of the above elements were executed. However, what was exciting to us is the variety of platforms that exist, and the different approaches they are taking to experimenting with how to make the  metaverse a place for immersive, interactive, and exciting musical experiences to flourish.

Regardless of the future paths that these platforms pursue, our initial exploratory experiences highlighted several fundamental elements at the core of any fun musical metaverse experience online, especially one that traverses multiple different environments:

  • The ability to find where you want to go;
  • The ability to find whom you want to go there with;
  • The ability to chat easily with the people in your group — even if you’re not all in the same place in virtual space; and
  • The ability to curate, discover, and/or customize your own music and media — which, in the case of a musical metaverse experience, is often the social glue or motivation bringing people together in the first place.

The research from our music metaverse design principles report also showed that many of the limitations of current metaverse platforms are the result of systems-level challenges around the technical infrastructure that supports the metaverse (e.g. graphics rendering and compute power), which is not limited to any single group of industry stakeholders and will need ample time to get ironed out.  The as-yet steep learning curve around metaverse platforms, which ultimately influences its social outcomes, is also influenced by the fact that none of the existing platforms are interoperable with each other and that user data is not portable across platforms. If users could use one login and identity and freely wander across platforms, for instance, initial user friction would be greatly reduced, as would user “time to fun.”

Speaking of interoperability in a different sense: From the perspective of the Water & Music community, a major takeaway for us is that we never felt compelled as a group to return a second time to any of the environments we visited — not even the most persistent and ongoing ones like Second Life, Roblox, or Nowhere. As we discussed above, the power of the social dynamics within these worlds in general were certainly clear to us. But as an established community with an already-entrenched place of congregation online (especially Discord), nothing crossed the threshold for any of us to return habitually, individually or collectively, outside of further research purposes.

A real-time revelation in our Discord server during our demo of Second Life.

Ultimately, for metaverse platforms to thrive into the future they will need to continue onboarding users in droves, which takes creating experiences that are interesting and sticky enough to move users from the existing ways that they choose to spend their time. Tim Exile, the founder of metaverse music creation platform Endlesss summed this up well, noting that their “biggest challenge is basically behavior change – some artists think Endlesss is a ‘cool tool’ and go back to their DAWs.” The same lesson holds across the evolving metaverse. The ultimate challenge for new metaverse companies is to facilitate socially and community-oriented experiences not just within the confines of a given virtual space, but in a way that reflects the increasing fluidity of how we cross the URL<>IRL bridge — allowing for us to stretch our imagination creatively in a way that would not be possible in the physical world, while also enabling us to forge and strengthen connections with others that are just as meaningful as their IRL counterparts.

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SEASON 2 CONTRIBUTORS

👑 🧠 🎙️ 🔎 Brodie Conley, Chrissy Greco, Cherie Hu, Yung Spielburg, Tom Vieira
👑 🧠 💻 🔎 Alexander Flores
🧠 🎙️ 🔎 Katherine Rodgers, Kristin Juel, Lindsey Lonadier, Maarten Walraven
🧠 🤝 🔎 Panther Modern
🧠 🔎 Chinua Green, Julie Kwak, Mat Ombler, Tony Rovello, Demi Wu
🤝 🔎 Abhijit Nath, Christina Calio
🎙️ Dorothée Parent-Roy, Brooke Jackson, Cosmin Gafta, Diana Gremore, Duncan Byrne, Eric Peterson, JhennyArt, Josh Dalton, Mary Maguire, Muñeca Diaz
🔎 Natalie Crue, Robin Lynn, Chris Nunes, Gabriel Appleton, Jonathan Larson, Yanti
💻 Ana Carolina
🤝 Alex Kane, Anne McKinnon, Coldie, Dan Radin, Dani Balcells, Daouda Leonard, Deborah Mannis-Gardner, Dylan Marcus, Ernest Lee, EZ, Gavin Johnson, Greg LoPiccolo, Ian Prebo, Jacqueline Bosnjak, Jaguar Twin, Jillian Jones, Jon Vlassopulos, Jonathan Mann, Josh Hubberman, Keatly Haldeman, Margaret Link, Meredith Gardner, Mike Darlington, Peacenode, Portrait XO, Rohan Paul, Roman Rappak, Shawn Ullman, Shelley Van, Soundromeda, Spinkick.eth, Stacey Haber, Tim Exile, Tropix, Vandal, Wackozacco, Wagner James Au
🎮 Alexander (15), Jackson (15), Vondell (18), Ava (8), Noah (14), Olivia (6), Toma Zaharia (10), Valentina (14), Luca Zaharia (14)

👑 Project leads
🧠 Meta-synthesis analysts + writers + editors
🎙️ Interviewers
💻 Tech + visual design
🔎 Project development + background research
🤝 Interviewees + meetup/demo guides
🎮 Young gamer interviewees — all connected to us through W&M members 🙂