Starburst has launched its Juicyverse experience inside the metaverse mall known as TheMall, and it’s accessible via any device on the web.
The Starburst Juicyverse enables people to visit the virtual mall and engage in virtual entertainment using the MetaVRse Engine 2.0, which lets people connect from any device over a web browser.
Alan Smithson and Julie Smithson’s MetaVRse company has been working on TheMall for eight years, though the latest stretch of work on the mall’s core infrastructure has taken place over the past year. It’s been open for a week or so, with very little publicity.
The first major brand partner is Mars-Wrigley, and it has launched the Starburst Juicyverse on the second floor of the mall. In an interview with GamesBeat, Alan Smithson said his company wants to build a 100-story mall with about a million square feet of space on each floor.
What it’s like in the Juicyverse
The Juicyverse features a virtual Starburst store where a QR code brings the guests into the virtual experience. I went into the experience with Alan Smithson. I logged in via my desktop computer and joined the experience in about 30 seconds. No download was necessary. I had to opt in to a few things, register my avatar name, and then create my avatar, which took about another minute or so.
Then we visited the Starburst Juicyverse by going into a spinning vortex. Once we were in, I used my keyboard and mouse to walk around the experience. There was an animation playing on the wall and Juicyverse logos. Visitors can collect a free virtual Starburst T-shirt to wear on their avatars. I picked a red shirt for my avatar, and I wound up matching Alan Smithson’s outfit.
We went to the Starcade experience first on the left of three available experiences. It was a kind of disco with music playing from buttons on the walls. You can go to a photobooth and take your picture. On mobile, you can share the image via social.
You can then engage in a 3D scavenger hunt for a loyalty non-fungible token (NFT). When you get that, it becomes a coupon for an instant discount that you can use to purchase candy in real-life stores including Walmarts. The NFTs are minted on the Hedera blockchain.
Alan Smithson said the MetaVRse Engine 2.0 renders 3D objects with better quality than in the past, though I found it moved a little sluggishly. The aim is to draw millions of guests to the experience across any device, with the visitors coming in via the QR codes in the real world.
It uses BambuMeta’s NFT system to access NFTs via an Apple or Google wallet. Guests can get the loyalty NFT via the wallet they already have and trust on the phone. MetaVRse tried this experience out at the South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas, in March and now it’s opening it up on the mall’s second floor.
“You have the world’s first IRL coupon from an NFT in your mobile wallet,” he said. “We think this will be the next level forloyalty programs.”
In the next part of the experience, we went into the gallery. There’s a game, Lost in Space, where you try to find a missing alien or duck or other various objects among a sea of asteroids. The navigating was a bit slow so I backed out of it.
In addition to the above, there is a Studio feature in the Juicyverse that allows creators to build their own 3D model out of Starburst candies in a 20x20x20 space. In this experience, you lay down Lego-like bricks and use your mouse to change the direction of the line. It’s kind of like an etch-a-sketch in 3D.
Once you’re done with your creation, you can share it as your own user-generated content. Alan Smithson hopes the Starburst Juicyverse will open a new frontier in the world of marketing and retail. The winner of the art contest can get a prize. And the winner can have the art minted as an NFT. Alan Smithson said he spent four hours making a Star Wars Tie Fighter.
Taking a place in TheMall
The first floor of the mall will consist of a bunch of stores for a variety of companies, whereas the levels above that will be custom metaverse experiences owned by brands. Alan Smithson said that floor will likely be accessible without advance registration, as there is a considerable drop off when you ask people to register right when they enter the experience.
”We’re going to address that for when we open the first floor of the mall,” he said. “We’re going to let people wander around before having to register because I think it’s only fair that people get to try it first.
The company sold the first five floors for about $250,000 each. That gave the company some funding to get off the ground. Eventually each floor will cost about $1 million for a million square feet, though Starburst’s activation uses about 200,000 square feet of virtual space. You’ll also be able to lease smaller storefronts for annual fees.
How will it go over?
When Alan Smithson announced the project a year ago, the project of TheMall was unveiled at the height of the metaverse craze, with consultants predicting the market would be worth trillions. But since that time, the crypto market has collapsed a couple of times and an economic downturn has taken hold. The scams around the metaverse and blockchain were highlighted and turned some people off to the ideas.
TheMall project itself raised eyebrows and some chuckles from people who wondered if he could fool people into paying $1 million for virtual real estate that could be infinitely reproduced. Those who found fault with it said it made the mistake of importing the shopping experience from the physical world and replicating it in the digital world, even though what’s fun in real life isn’t always fun in digital life.
The NFTs and metaverse have been taking a beating lately, with Insider recently declaring “The metaverse is dead.” That’s debatable, but Alan Smithson says he’s in this for the long haul.
“We’ve been focused on getting the first few brands in,” Smithson said. “We see this as a way to fund this infinite virtual world. We’re not really interested in the quick bucks. We’re not a crypto play. We’re not trying to drive up a coin price or something like that. It will be a loyalty program rather than a crypto coin. We didn’t spend seven years building something to scam people.”
In its present state, it wasn’t all that impressive in terms of metaverse experiences, as you could see much better experiences in the aging Second Life virtual world. The avatars are lifeless, the experience is pretty simple, and the movement is kind of slow.
Hardcore gamers like me aren’t going to spend a lot of time in here. But the question is whether one day the experience will be so good that I would rather spend time here than on Amazon.com.
It was interesting to see how all of it was accessible via a web browser with no lengthy download. The question is whether that technology is going to move forward fast enough to make shopping in the virtual mall into a zippy and seamless experience. That kind of thing might work with casual folks.
Alan Smithson has confidence in it.
“I’ll remind you that this is just running in a browser, and it runs on all devices equally,” Alan Smithson said.
He added, “To critics who say shopping in a digital mall is no fun, I would say that they are right. Current ecommerce platforms are not shopping. They are ruthless procurement of goods and no one ever says ‘Hey let’s go shopping together on Amazon’.”
Smithson said he is attempting to build is a new type of social retail that allows the billions of gamers around the world to get together virtually and explore brands.
“We are working closely with brands to avoid making this just another ecommerce website, but rather an experience center for social fun and exploration,” Smithson said. “I would have to agree that spending money on virtual real estate is probably foolish if you are not a major brand or investor with money to invest in building something of value to guests. This is why we only sell property in TheMall to accredited investors and bonafide brands.”
Building out TheMall
By combining the physical and virtual worlds, brands can now create immersive experiences that engage customers in a more meaningful way. The use of blockchain technology in this activation not only provides a secure and transparent way to manage loyalty programs but also opens up new revenue streams through the creation and sale of NFTs, he said.
TheMall is built on MetaVRse Engine 2.0, a low-code 3D creation platform on the web. The ability to deliver a seamless 3D multiplayer virtual world experience across all devices without the need for app downloads, is a game-changer, Alan Smithson said.
This accessibility ensures that brands can connect with consumers on a global scale, without the need for any technical expertise on the part of the consumer.
Eventually visitors will be able to make their own private rooms and send each other links so they can have video chats. But in the main Juicyverse, you can’t communicate with other avatars. That’s a recognition of the trust and safety issues for metaverse experiences.
The launch of TheMall will allow for multiple brand partners to come together and create an interconnected virtual shopping experience. MetaVRse.com worked with Starburst and Mars, as well as The Mars Agency, BambuMeta and Hedera.
The mall takes fiat (U.S. dollar) currency payments as well as cryptocurrency and it is Khronos 3D compliant. It connects to back-end systems and has real-time analyitcs and photorealistic graphics.
Over time, TheMall will likely host concerts, comedy shows, clubs, billboards, conventions and influencer drops.
Alan Smithson said the firm is working on a deal to bring 1,400 brands into the mall. They won’t come in all at once, as it takes a while to build the experiences. The company has about a half-dozen templates that brands can use. The company has built an electronics store already. There will be virtual car configurations and medical device simulators.
“It’s super, super dope,” he said. “You’re going to love it.”
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