Dear future, How do we relate to games and digital worlds?

Photos by: Camiel van de Wijdeven
To read this article in Dutch, click here.

For Silicon Valley, you no longer have to get on a plane, you can just land around the corner. This is because Spoorzone Tilburg offers plenty of space to visionaries, the connoisseurs of the future. With them, we cast a glance into the crystal ball and uncover inspiring quotes, wild ideas, cutting edge innovations and downright utopian perspectives. 

Joris Verhaak is a partner and director of innovation and strategy at marketing communications agency Fama Volat, based in Plan-T. As a student, he briefly envisioned a career as an astronaut. Now, he does not travel to the moon, but to digital worlds - also known as metaverse - and immerses himself in the possibilities of creative artificial intelligence (AI) for the advertising profession. High time to put Joris to the test about his future expectations for the year 2035.

Prediction #1 THE HUMAN - "Physical and digital worlds are increasingly complementary"

For oldskool concertgoers - you sit or stand in a hall, the artist on stage - it might be hard to imagine, but still: with bated breath, millions of children and young people watched their idol perform from behind a screen in a world they share together: Fortnite. We are talking about Grammy-winning pop star Ariana Grande, who toured the popular online game with five shows last year. It was talked about for weeks to come. So how so: digitalisation strengthens anonymity and individualism? Joris: "Technology actually serves social interaction, at least, if you use it well. That applies to websites, to metaverses (online worlds, such as Second Life in the past, and now Sandbox, Fornite and Axie Infinity, ed.), but equally to companies and brands." 

Children and young people who grow up with this see that digital world as an extension of what happens offline. "They come home from school, turn on their Xbox and there are their friends again. That blends seamlessly." That connection between the physical world and digital worlds will only get stronger in the coming years. "Fortnite shows very well how important that social piece is. Of course it is a game. It has an entertainment value, but it also plays on a craving. Why kids keep coming back is because that's where they meet. That's what triggers them." Not for nothing are companies and brands already experimenting with the use of NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens, a kind of digital certificates), games and metaverses. Popular dance event Tomorrowland is also trying to connect visitors outside the festival with digital collectibles, which they can buy via NFTs. And sports brand Nike created a true 'Nikeland' in the popular metaverse Roblox, with games you can play online and offline in shops. Joris: "A brand like that creates added value, cleverly connects to what's going on with that target group. That's where the future lies."

What exactly is a metaverse?

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Prediction #2 The Society - "Creative AIs are capable of radically transforming our economy"

There is money to be made with creativity, and good money at that. The generation growing up now doesn't know any better. Just look at the hordes of vloggers, TikTokkers, and influencers who are boundlessly popular just because of the great content they create. The emergence of metaverses and NFT platforms gives that development another big push: within these, without the intervention of retailers and merchants, you find a market for your digital art, games, music, digital land et cetera. It is an economy in itself, within which each can trade "freely". "Creativity is no longer the preserve of an artist or advertising agency, in fact, marketing creativity is accessible to everyone."

The rise of creative AIs - algorithms capable of creating texts or designs, for example - only accelerates that development, according to Joris. You no longer need to go to a copywriter for ten variations of a social post, AI will take care of that just fine. So what is the added value of humans in this story? "A lot of communication is in the nuance, in what you read between the lines. A computer can't do anything with that." Right now, the role of creation, the role of an advertising agency, is partly in production. That will eventually disappear, Joris predicts, simply because you can automate that. "The added value is then more in consultancy, in behavioural science, and especially in feeding all those AI systems. After all, the output of an algorithm is only as good as the input you give it. So I don't think it's that we're suddenly sidelining ourselves. But I do think our role, along with the economy, is changing a lot."

Prediction #3 THE WORLD - "Digital worlds encourage equality"

Remember the fun of collecting football cards? What you had in duplicate, you swapped with friends. If you were the first to fill your book, you felt like a boss. Collecting pictures was not just for yourself, but mainly with each other. This bonding and uniting is also strong in online gaming and metaverse, Joris observes. Just look at a game like Pokémon GO, where you swap the cheerful dolls you have in duplicate with friends all over the world in no time. The online saving and swapping of basketball badges with NBA Top Shots is immensely popular in the US. The reason is simple: playing and collecting together fraternises. But there is something else. Value also comes into play: the intrinsic value - you are a fan of something - but also definitely the financial value. An NBA Top Shot is an NFT, which can be resold. The digital economy behind these metaverses and games thanks to blockchain is different from a decade ago. Joris: "You can bet your life that the KNVB, Formula 1 and all the other sports parties will also jump on this. And from that angle, it is also inevitable that a Disney will set up its own metaverse." They own the rights to the most iconic brands - Star Wars, Frozen, the Marvel universe, to name a few. "All with hundreds of millions of fans around the world, bound together by the love of Star Wars, for example. Accessible to everyone: young, old, poor and rich. That's what I like about gaming: there's a kind of universal freedom in it."

Note, Joris warns, that behind this kind of virtual world, money is always the driving force. Disney really does not set up such a world out of charity. Moreover, within metaverses, richer people have access to more privileges: nicer skins or better attributes, for example. Joris: "There is a difference, for sure. But at the bottom line, I think participating is much more attainable for more people in society. I think that's what ultimately prevails: that you participate in a game together, sharing something cool. So that fraternisation, just like with football cards. Only then worldwide."

Prediction #4 TILBURG - "The love of tech and behaviour in this city, helps build the future"

The social, the working-class city, the 'feet in the clay and go', the eye for people: that is Tilburg. But also: the underdog: the city that doesn't necessarily have to rely on external beauty, which makes residents and entrepreneurs look for new opportunities, innovations and new techniques. That mix is incredibly strong here, in our city. At least, if you ask Joris. It was not for nothing that Fama Volat, completely new in town about two and a half years ago, immediately joined The Tailors, a partnership with Building Blocks, LiveWall Group, Boxplosive, Freshheads, First Impression, Duodeka and Basic Fit Tech. A club of entrepreneurs that exchanges knowledge, collaborates, and gives start-ups a business boost with support and a workplace.

Joris worked in Eindhoven for a long time, and there, he says, you saw that technology came before people. "Here, that has been turned around. Here we look at: what do we want someone to do, or what do we want to do with someone, and what technology fits that?" This so-called earned media strategy is indicative of Fama Volat, the company in which he is a partner. In a nutshell: instead of shoving something down people's throats that they don't want, the company provides cool content and campaigns on behalf of its clients that get people talking about those brands as a matter of course. See, for example, the infectious #carnavalvrij campaign for Bavaria, which hit the national media. "That way of thinking suits this city well. Nice and pragmatic, looking at what is needed, what people want, and responding to that. Because of the shared love for tech and people, we are able to build the future from here."

Spoorzone Tilburg

Spoorzone Tilburg is the Netherlands' new and pioneering talent and innovation district. Adjacent to the railway station and well connected to city, region and country, it offers the ideal base for your business or satellite establishment. This raw industrial area full of culture, catering and history in the city centre is working hard for the future. It is a knowledge-driven biodome built for and by creative entrepreneurs with interactive technologies and behaviour as its basis. The presence of Tilburg University, ROC and Fontys Hogescholen ensures knowledge, talent and vision. The area itself is compact and sustainably developed and offers a life-long stay for entrepreneurs from startup to scale-up and beyond.

Spoorzone Tilburg