Metaverse-Like Experiences: Is Novelty Enough? A Look At ESPN’s Fifty/50 World
I finally found a 3D environment that appealed to me. ESPN Edge (an innovation arm within ESPN) built the experience Fifty/50 World — an interactive 3D environment with content to celebrate 50 years of Title IX. The company called it an immersive digital platform (thank you for not calling it the metaverse), and it offered scheduled programming with new content daily over the course of two weeks, ending June 30.
My take: I loved the content but would have preferred it in an environment with less friction. At the end of the day, I was observing 2D content — it’s just easier to view it online rather than moving around a 3D immersive environment. That said, I totally understand the reasons to trial new mediums — overall, good stuff.
I offer two perspectives below: 1) a Gen X consumer (me) who is a huge fan of Title IX; and 2) a sophisticated 13-year-old gamer. We both had similar perceptions of the experience.
As a Gen X consumer, here’s what I liked about the experience:
- ESPN’s focus on important and compelling content. I’m a beneficiary of Title IX and am beyond grateful for those women who came before me. I appreciate all that ESPN is doing to raise awareness of Title IX and share the history.
- Daily content updates. Two weeks of programming created reasons to return to the experience.
- Usability of the interface. Despite being a 3D immersive environment newbie, I managed to customize an avatar and move it around.
Here’s what ESPN did right from a digital experience perspective (again, from a Gen X consumer perspective) — it:
- Built the experience with a browser. Less than half of online adults surveyed by Forrester in April 2022 had spent time in an immersive digital platform in the past month. With 54.1 million daily active users (DAUs), Roblox is one of the largest online 3D gaming and entertainment environments. However, according to McKinsey, young adults comprise two-thirds of the participants. ESPN was smart to use a platform (a browser) that everyone uses. This also gave access to any type of device.
- Kept the experience space small. The digital space consisted of a garden, an entry to a stadium, and a stadium. (At least these are the spaces that I found.) I was able to easily track where I was and could easily retrace my steps. I could also easily find the content. I gained confidence as I spent time in the immersive environment. Importantly, I didn’t feel lost or overwhelmed.
- Offered customization, but with limited options. I was able to add my name. ESPN gave me two options for my face, design, and suit color. The options were just enough to let me dabble in customization without overwhelming me. I was also able to choose the UI theme (e.g., light or dark) and camera POV (e.g., third or first person).
I spent 5 to 10 minutes in the Fifty/50 experience before I got a bit bored and started to wish that there were a website with content. Once I started watching and listening to the content, I wanted more — in the moment. I didn’t want to circle back the next day. I was amused, and then the novelty wore off.
Here’s what I wish the experience had done better:
- Offered more programming. The friction-to-reward ratio was too high for me. I spent time finding the environment, personalizing my avatar, and learning to navigate the space. I wish there had been more content — i.e., that I could have browsed more content from previous days.
- Allowed me to set up alerts to remind me to visit. I forgot to check in — too often. I would have liked notifications to alert me to fresh content.
- Handled occlusion better. This may have been a technical limitation of the browser or graphics processor, but the 3D images struggled to keep up with what should have been in the foreground versus the background. For example, I could walk into the large ball as I tried to push it. This is a minor issue, but it felt glitchy.
- Given me instructions to play with the balls. I didn’t know what to make of the large balls on the field. I pushed them around a couple of times. Moving them demonstrated some potential of the platform — but overall it fell a bit short for me.
I next handed the Fifty/50 World experience to a sophisticated 13-year-old user of online 3D immersive gaming and entertainment platforms. Here’s what he had to say on:
- Content: Enjoyable. “The experience validates its own experience by virtues of a celebration of Title IX.” And he found the videos and editing playing in the background enjoyable.
- Controls: Horrible, but not the point. “The character controls are horrible. The character spazzes out when they jump, and the movement is generally unsatisfying. The camera is also horrible with a low-sensitivity click-and-drag system, but this is forgivable in service of a mobile version.” However, he finished with, “It seems reductive to attack character controls when the point appears to be the impact of Title IX.” He also explained to me that it is common to allow a user to change control schemes and modify graphical settings.
- Physics. “You can easily phase into objects.”
His final take: “This combined sparseness of activities and locations makes me feel that the game should be more of a slideshow of all their great videos. That is how I feel the experience should be judged — a series of videos honoring Title IX as opposed to something intended to be a playable experience (as gameplay was clearly never a priority here.) Ultimately, it kept me entertained for 3 to 5 minutes.”
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