5 Principles to Guide Design in the Metaverse

A leading metaverse designer from Roblox weighs in. This piece is part of CoinDesk's Metaverse Week.

AccessTimeIconMay 26, 2022 at 6:38 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 19, 2023 at 4:04 p.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconMay 26, 2022 at 6:38 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 19, 2023 at 4:04 p.m. UTCLayer 2
AccessTimeIconMay 26, 2022 at 6:38 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 19, 2023 at 4:04 p.m. UTCLayer 2

Want to ensure the metaverse lives up to its promise? That requires listening to and learning from your community, unleashing your imagination, and letting what’s worked, and hasn’t worked, guide us as we create new, immersive experiences.

While the metaverse is a term used in a variety of ways and even taking on different meanings, for us at Roblox (dubbed “the nearest and most expansive vision of the metaverse”) it’s about human co-experience – people sharing experiences in immersive 3D spaces.

Morgan Tucker is Head of Product, Music, Brands & Education at Roblox. This piece is part of CoinDesk's Metaverse Week.

Two key factors are critical. These experiences are social. You do them with other people, not on your own. And they’re immersive. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy expensive hardware or fancy headsets, but rather that your mind’s eye is in the experience. You feel immersed, like you are really there.

Instead of passively reading textbooks or watching videos about ancient Rome, you actively step into an immersive 3D recreation and explore the city and its culture with your friends. Or instead of shopping on a site to choose your next pair of Vans, you walk into a virtual Vans skatepark, quickly customize and put on your new virtual sneakers, and then have fun practicing skateboarding tricks with your friends and other like-minded skateboarders.

Having created a vast array of experiences, from concerts to Webby-award winning conceptual fashion exhibitions visited by millions, we’ve identified best practices to keep in mind. In addition to democratizing and broadening the reach of people’s favorite real-life experiences to a more global audience in the metaverse, we can improve on these experiences thanks to the power of collective creativity.

When approaching a new metaverse project, here are five core principles for designing memorable and truly immersive experiences:

The metaverse starts with the best parts of reality...

Then enhance them by creating things that have never been seen before. When imagining a new experience, we find it’s best to start with reality as a baseline, then immediately identify the possibilities if the constraints of space and time were lifted.

For example, when creating concepts for a concert, we stop and think about big moments that generate excitement in the real world. Think about that feeling you get when the jumbotron shows you in the audience, even for a moment. We could recreate that digitally, but why stop there? Why not transport the audience members onto the stage to join the artist, see how they are playing their instruments, or even join them by showing off your dance moves? Instead of changing the visuals or setting pieces on a stage, we can transport the audience to an entirely new world, where the laws of gravity are upended, creating surprise and delight. It’s not enough to just recreate reality, we must utilize the full potential of the metaverse to create a truly unique moment.

Give metaverse users agency and autonomy

The fastest path to creating surprising, one-of-a-kind experiences is to give power and control to the audience. As designers we are often looking for ways to curate the “perfect” experience, but that can sometimes feel a little soulless and inauthentic. Influence, don’t control the audience. This ensures that every experience is unique to the individual.

Don’t treat participants as passive observers, but rather empower them to truly engage in the experience. For example, during an IRL concert, people cheering generate energy as a crowd, which can absolutely sway the outcome of a performance. For us, in the Lil Nas X concert, the audience were considered as a part of the canvas from the outset. In these multi-sensory experiences people can participate in new ways, so take advantage of that.

Show, don't tell

Humans are innately visual creatures. Besides, verbal and written communication can be a barrier when you are dealing with a global audience in the metaverse. Experiences powered by visuals allow people to interact with one another without using words.

For example, encourage people to leverage their avatars as a vehicle for self-expression. By gesticulating, people can have emotionally resonant experiences with one another. This is why for musical experiences we build tools for users to wave at each other, show dance moves and meaningfully express themselves. The concert then becomes a vibrant, expressive environment as compared to a room full of avatars standing still.

In Bloom room_Gucci Garden on Roblox (3).jpg

Optimize for emotional impact

Emotion burns itself indelibly into our consciousness as memory. When done well, digital experiences can evoke strong enough emotions for the brain to remember these experiences as reality. Ultimately, with shared experiences in digital spaces, you want to be creating memorable experiences. That’s one of the great opportunities that the metaverse presents.

We think about virtual events as life experiences that are comparable to the real world. Dialing in the emotional impact of the things you are designing is critical. A word of caution though: it’s also the single most complex part of creating Metaverse experiences. How do you identify an emotion and translate it digitally?

When planning the 21 Pilots concert, we thought of key moments in songs and how to have the audience really feel the music, by focusing on the right things at the right time. The stage sent waves through the ground and into the crowd when the drummer hit the drums. And when all the musicians tore it up in one big moment in a song, the environment crumbled and sent frantic energy around the set.

Strong vision weathers technical adversity

We are forging new ground every day, and sometimes, we just don’t know if the ideas in our heads are technically feasible. But that’s okay. By leading a project with a clear creative vision, you will find ways to convey the most important parts of your experience regardless of the technical constraints. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details when using a multi-sensory canvas, but by focusing on your vision – how is this better than reality, how are we letting the user control the outcome, did we strip away unnecessary words, and do people really feel something – we can create something new and inspirational.

As architects of the metaverse, we are responsible for the broad strokes. Our digital citizens are the ones who will fill in the details, crafting their own narrative. By challenging the status quo, and giving power to the user, we are ensuring that every experience can be as unique as the individuals visiting them. I can’t wait to see what you’ll create!

More from Metaverse Week:

Rather than letting players port weapons or powers between games, non-fungible tokens will more likely serve as building blocks for new games and virtual worlds.

Fundamentally, the "metaverse" is a game – but one with real consequences and opportunities.

The future possibilities of the metaverse are presumably limitless, but is there anything you can do in the metaverse right now?

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Morgan  Tucker

Morgan Tucker heads up Product for Music, Brands & Education at Roblox, bringing cross-functional teams together through a shared vision for the future of collaborative experiences. He designed the world’s first TV streaming device, the world’s first Android wearable device and a cross-platform reimagining of the avatar-based social network IMVU.