April 3, 2023

The Underlying Forces of the Metaverse Driving The Age of Imagination

By By Marc Beckman, Senior Fellow NYU SPS Metaverse Collaborative, Elizabeth Haas, Director NYU SPS Metaverse Collaborative, and Mathis Bitton, Associate NYU SPS Metaverse Collaborative

The Age of Imagination, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, has begun.  The creative class now has access to contemporary tools (AI)  that will help them become the next filmmaker, fashion designer, artist, singer, or writer.  The Metaverse is the link that connects creators with communities and is the engine enabling the age of imagination.

With little funding, a 14-year-old can contend with Hollywood on her own by using AI to develop characters, write screenplays, compose music, and produce movies from the comfort of her bedroom.  Using blockchain technology, smart contracts, and NFTs, this 14-year-old can also safeguard her intellectual property, release movies, and collect payment from fans, in perpetuity.  

The Age of Imagination heralds a turning point in which lone creatives will rebalance power away from legacy companies, and core business assumptions are being challenged.  

The challenge to business assumptions should not be taken lightly.  Assumptions shape organizational behavior, dictate decisions and define what organizations consider meaningful.. These assumptions are about: markets; customers and competitor and their values, and their behavior;  technology and its dynamics; and a company’s strengths and weaknesses.  These assumptions are what Peter F. Drucker called a company’s theory of business. And the validity of these theories is being challenged by the four forces of the metaverse.



The first force is the ability of the metaverse to create infinite availability and overcome scarcity. Consider event organizing as an example. There are only so many first-row tickets to concerts, sports games, and conferences in the real world. This limitation leads to higher prices and restricted experiences for many. In the metaverse, however, there are no such limitations. More broadly, there can be as many front-row seats – and premium experiences as necessary, a development that could mark the democratization of otherwise exclusive goods and services.

The second force is the ability of the metaverse to transcend time and space. For the first time, students will be able to visit the Louvre without going to Paris, attend events without being physically present, and travel to ancient Egypt to witness pre-modern civilizations in action. This lack of geographical and temporal restraints could change how schools and museums function. It could also change the way in which we think about historical memory, with states being able to re-create their past in virtual worlds.

The third force is the unparalleled engagement and connection that the metaverse brings. More immersive than the internet as it exists today, virtual and hybrid reality can gamify the most mundane of experiences and turn them into adventures. Shopping, tourism, and real estate can now craft customer and creator experiences that are more tailor-made than ever – with the unprecedented level of data collection that the Metaverse allows.  Put together, these new capabilities will make real and virtual worlds stimulating for all. For instance, the most popular consumer-facing loyalty reward programs, such as Nike, Starbucks, and InBev, have already expanded into Web3. They each create a continuity of experience between the physical and virtual realms. In the status quo, real-world stores try to create an experience that cements loyalty, but the same kind of content available online does not keep users engaged in the same manner, so they add to it in a way that fits with their brand and enhances the consumer’s engagement.  For example, Saks Fifth Avenue hosts events where shoppers can speak with designers on line rather than offering them a barista-based beverage. With more immersive experiences, companies not only get the opportunity to create new experiences for customers, but also the chance to create a more personal relationship. This trend will bring brand loyalty and interoperability to new heights.  

The final force is the transparency that could come with the internet of tomorrow. Blockchain technology allows every transaction to be recorded publicly, forever. Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (or DAOs) allow more decentralized forms of coordination for companies and social clubs. In cities like Reno, modifications to historic buildings are recorded and tracked in real time for the whole community to see – and influence.  More broadly, web3 is giving users more ownership and control over their data, and over the ecosystems in which they participate. In the long run, this could shift the structure of the internet from an oligarchic model in which a handful of players control most of the web, to a democratized architecture in which communities of users and creators determine their own rules and future.

Together, these four forces coalesce to build a different world, where imagination and scale reach new heights. To understand how, let’s turn to the story of Frank Stella, an 86-year-old iconic artist who, shocking the traditional art world, decided to take a first step into the metaverse ahead of many other, much younger, artists. Why would he take such a risk? 

Frank Stella’s art is abstract; his desire to render the canvas as an object, rather than a representative of an object, often bears no resemblance to influences found in nature or society. He is known to experiment with new mediums and techniques all the time, so it is not surprising, in a sense, that he is entering the world of digital art fearlessly. Still, his story represents a model for younger, less famous artists: unafraid of the potential loss from copyright infringement, and instead choosing to focus on what can be gained, Stella understood the opportunity to see his art in new ways and to create richer, more profound, and differentiating work. 

Stella recently made his Geometries collection available in digital form (as NFTs), thereby participating in an emergent visual art market that supports digital and conventional artists alike. In doing so, he found ways to experiment with his own portfolio, which spanned many mediums and decades, while protecting his rights as an artist. 

By being a first-mover in the metaverse, Stella created a tipping point of value that resonated across the art establishment. Value was certainly obvious in the $60 million sale of Beeple’s art as NFTs at Sotheby’s. But the real change came before the financial success, when Stella challenged the assumptions of the art establishment and paved the way for other artists to make money from their art in a digital age. 

Stella is the first to say his metaverse move was a leap of faith, albeit a wise one. For him, “iterating on other artists’ work is kind of how art history goes … it’s like copying a work in a museum to learn about it. I’m hoping it will be an educational experience and a jumping off point for people.” With his move into the metaverse, Stella‘s contributions will go a long way in cementing his legacy and creating an environment for younger artists to flourish.  

Two unique rights for “Geometries” collectors include the right to create derivatives of his work and the right to 3D-print the artwork. Collectors are not allowed to use Stella’s name in connection with the exploitation of any derivative, which is made possible by the traceability of NFTs.  In the end, Stella’s view of copyright strikes a perfect compromise between empowering users with real ownership, while remaining an artist-first platform that protects creators. Historically, artists have not been taking advantage of resale royalties. Showing the community how it could be done in the digital age, Stella connected with a new generation of artists who, precisely because they have not been as successful as he has, will benefit most from a market in which artists get remunerated as their art rises in value after the initial sale. Thanks to him and other early adopters, the gates have been opened. 

Stella always talks about the profound connection between the artist and the audience. Asnl Art, the company with which Stella partnered to launch his NFT connection,  invited fans to submit their work, offering to show it to Stella during their next visit. In twenty-four hours, they had over eighty submissions. This process, built around the digital ecosystem that Asnl and Stella built together, created new connections between Stella and his audience. Stella looked at the fan works and began a conversation with them.   His comments included, “you know, in a million years, I would never make something like this…But I can’t stop staring at it.”  The NFT collection thereby strengthened the bond between Stella and his community of his fans.

What can Stella’s story tell us about the metaverse? Well, it sits at the intersection of the four forces. 1) Infinite capacity: the metaverse allowed Stella to take existing collections, and sell them en masse to different kinds of art enthusiasts, in different forms. 2) Transcend time and space: for the first time, fans of Stella’s work were able to own a piece of it without traveling to physical art galleries or auction houses. 3) Unparalleled engagement: with this NFT collection, Stella both strengthened his connection to existing audiences and reached new demographics, including younger generations. 4) Transparency: the traceability of NFTs means that even if users own the art, they cannot sell it without Stella’s approval. 

Stella’s story thus showcases the ability of the metaverse to expand our capabilities across multiple dimensions at once. Artists, companies, and cities can push their creativity, their reach, their community-building, and their revenue to new levels. For Stella, the metaverse already is a world-making technology; soon, it will be that for the rest of us.

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