‘Metaverse? What Metaverse?’

A video replay of my presentation at the recent BIMA Beyond: The Conference.

On June 29th, 2022 I was invited to speak at the BIMA Beyond Conference at Ministry of Sound, London. The talk itself, titled ‘Metaverse? What Metaverse?’ sparked a fair bit of interest (with one slide in-particular catching a fair amount of attention on LinkedIn – lol) and so, with BIMA’s permission, I’ve re-recorded the talk to camera for those that were unable to make it on the day.

If it’s at all helpful, I’ve also made the slides available on Google Slides (with additional speaker notes) so if you don’t want to watch the video, you can read along at home instead 🙂

The central premise is simple: the metaverse doesn’t exist.

The online virtual spaces that people are calling The Metaverse today are either dead and empty 3D spaces OR they’re simply video games, where hundreds of millions of players are already gaming day in, day out.

Why lean into a meaningless word when you can just do something cool in gaming instead?

‘The Metaverse doesn’t exist, you’re talking about gaming.’

This article was first published on The Drum – 17th May 2022 and is reproduced here with permission.

Depending on what you read, who you believe or what colour wool is being pulled over your eyes this week (it’s blue, it’s always blue), the metaverse could literally be any number of things, so let’s set some ground rules:

Rule 1: The metaverse does not exist. This is abundantly true. Whether you look it up on Wikipedia, read up on the dictionary definition or simply look at a briefing from Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy, they all say the same thing: the metaverse does not exist.

Rule 2: People that say the metaverse exists have no idea what they are talking about. Anybody that tells you they’re doing something ‘in the metaverse’ either has no idea what they’re talking about or is being willfully misleading about something cool in video games.

‘But what about Nikeland in Roblox?’ you might ask. Well, Roblox is not The Metaverse. Fortnite is not The Metaverse. Animal Crossing is not The Metaverse. Minecraft is not The Metaverse.

Mr Bean selling NFTs of his face is not the bloody metaverse.

(I wish I was making this one up)

I’ll say it again for the people at the back, the metaverse does not exist.

The things I’ve listed above are video games (well, all bar one of them). Great video games at that. With pre-existing communities of players of all ages and generational cohorts who are used to socialising, exploring and gaming together in the virtual online worlds and spaces where these games take place.

The metaverse is not a thing. Online virtual spaces where people have been hanging out to achieve things together have been around for decades. And if we just call things what they are, these things are video games.


These are not dirty words. It’s OK to say them out loud. They shouldn’t be frowned upon in the marketing dept (although metaverse should be) and in fact they should be held up and embraced. Sure, the metaverse sounds sexy and yes, I’m certain you all read about Gucci this and Balenciaga that in your Substack of choice last month, but these things are (mostly – but we’ll come back to that) just good video games partnerships.

And that’s OK.

So what if your Facebook/Instagram rep has been trying to sell you on just how much Meta are all building towards the metaverse (although how long for remains to be seen – quick, pivot to video!), just because they say tell you brands should all ‘GET READY! For! The! Metaverse!‘ it doesn’t make it real.

A 3D interconnected version of the internet where we all trade T-shirts as NFTs as seamlessly as we move around from one platform to another is about as realistic as the science-fiction movies rolled out in the opening slides of every single presentation you’ve ever seen on the topic (just add Snowcrash or Ready Player One to your next marketing conference bingo card, see what happens).

It ain’t happening this financial year, bud.
I highly doubt it’ll be in for next year either.

But hey, I tell you what. Let’s change track for a moment. Why not let’s indulge it for a second? Let’s imagine the metaverse did exist:

Are you tired of spending every waking hour on Zoom/Teams/Google looking at real people?
Why not do the same but with virtual people!
Imagine what you’ll do there…

Yes, actually. What will you do there?

In 2005, tech founder and investor Jyri Engeström coined the term ‘social object theory’. Building on the work of sociologist Karin Knorr Cetina, Engeström came up with – and subsequently implemented (we miss you, Jaiku) – this theory as part of his explanation as to why some social media networks succeed and some fail.

Social media networks need objects. Or, as Jyri put it: ‘Social network theory fails to recognize such real-world dynamics because its notion of sociality is limited to just people.’

Simply ‘connecting people’ is not enough. For example, Engeström argued at the time that much of the success of Flickr (remember Flickr?) was because user-generated photography served as social objects around which conversations of social networks could form.

And he was right.

This perhaps goes a long way to explain the success of Instagram (and, if we had more time, would no doubt provide a decent foundational argument for the vacant pornography of trauma that you see displayed on LinkedIn every day). But we’re not here to talk about that.

The point is: when online, people need something to talk about. They need ‘object centered sociality’. If you’re gathering, then the reason you gather needs to have purpose. On Instagram, it’s that amazing photo you took at Coachella. On Facebook, it’s your nan’s birthday. In Whatsapp, it’s the memed version of your best mate’s most recent terrible opinion. Posting images, videos, links, news stories, the latest misinformation from your Next Door community… it’s all what brings us together.

Without that reason, that thing to do or discuss, hanging out online is boring – meaningless, even. At best, this manifests itself as doom scrolling. At worst, it’s the endless monotony of over-filtered BS that fundamentally has no real meaning on real life except perhaps for the people desperately trying to present a version of themselves that people might like or talk about.

Which brings us back to our make-believe friend, the metaverse. If the metaverse ever did exist in any meaningful or successful way, then at the heart of it would need to be a reason for people to come together – a reason for people to converse, socialise and to play. A social object.

Or… a video game.

The good news is video games are already here. And they’re huge!

Understanding the audience – the communities – at the heart of this brave new world is key to any brand success in the future. But this brave new world is older than I am. And if you ask any of the inhabitants if they’ve been to the metaverse, they’ll laugh you out of group chat and kick you from the Discord server before you’ve even had a chance to show your logo in the first three seconds.

My point is, the metaverse and its inhabitants are all hypothetical. Gamers and players are real. And they’re already here.

So stop being afraid of the ’G’ word, drop the metaverse-hype, and come play.

A closer look at LEGO’s plan for a kid-friendly ‘metaverse’

Last week – and in light of the Epic x Lego partnership announcement – the nice people at Adweek asked me to comment asked me for some opinion on it all.

The Epic x Lego partnership (or ‘team up’ as they wonderfully call it) is one of the most interesting things to happen in the ‘metaverse’ space to date.


First, the announcement itself sets a clear agenda for Lego’s future in digital spaces. Second, it underlines Epic’s commitment to building safer online spaces for children to interact. This can only be a good thing.

If you look at online spaces worlds where children currently interact, you’re looking at Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite. Epic already has Fortnite but Epic does not have a Roblox or a Minecraft (aka: a platform that skews younger and for imaginations and builder to run wild).

So it’s a win/win.

Epic gets its own Roblox (and a phenomenal, globally-trusted kid-friendly brand to match), and Lego gets to start building something incredible with a respected partner that they know can live (and hold) to their brand values.

The deepening of the partnership with the further announcement that Epic have received $2 billion round of funding from existing investor Sony Group Corporation – as well as KIRKBI, the family-owned holding and investment company behind The LEGO Group, is a one two punch that very much cements Epic’s longer-term ambitions.

They mean business.

Which can only be a good thing for all of us. Because if you remove the marketing hype around the metaverse (and there’s a lot – so it might take a while) and look at this announcement for what it is, I believe we’re looking at the early beginnings of what could grow into a new persistent online gaming-led social space.

One that’s child-friendly, endorsed and built with digital Lego, powered by the powerful technology and talent at Epic, and almost certainly free to play.

It’s a way off, I’m sure. But if you take the even longer view on this, and look ahead to metaverse building companies being pulled in front of the DCMS, the European Commission, or even the US Senate. …who are legislators going to listen to when it comes to the safety of our children online? Mark Zuckerberg or Lego?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

An edited down version of this commentary was originally published on Adweek, April 11th, 2022.

On Gaming.

At the end of last year I made the decision to actively take a step back from “Strategy Twitter“. The White Male Opinions™️ can get tiresome – and they nearly always follow the same pattern. It’s telling that the last – I think five? – muted accounts on Twitter all fall under that description. There’s nothing quite like opening Twitter, seeing something decent, you click to open the thread, and before you know it there are three white male opinions arguing over the semantics or, y’know, ‘playing devil’s advocate’. Y-a-w-n. So this year I made the choice to lean into my passion, and tweet/write about gaming instead.

So here’s some stuff on that.

I’m not sure when it started.

Well, that’s not true. I do know when it actually started. The Atari 5200 was when it started. Specifically, this model (because I can just about make out the far reaches of my memory the overlay cards for the joysticks).

They were fascinating.

I barely remember the games. I think we had ET (who didn’t?), a tank game as well, definitely. It was my sister’s machine, not mine, but that’s when it started.

No, I mean leaning in to gaming and making it more of who I am and what I put out into the world.

Three things maybe.

First: I’ve always been a gamer. Atari 5200. Nintendo Entertainment System (the ‘NES’), then the SNES, GameCube (this was when the online fun started – finding friends on forums that had bought an Action Replay, subsequently imported Animal Crossing and then got themselves banned from the official Nintendo forums for trading pink sofas on a game not out in the UK – you know who you are), then the Wii, Xbox 360 (I was a signed up Wii60er), then the PS4 – my first PlayStation – and up to now, where I’m old enough and earn enough for it to be: ‘yeah, just about everything but PC’.

But that brief history is a) not why we’re here and b) a longer post for another day. The point is: I’ve always been a gamer.

Second: It’s true to say that the arrival of the PS4 unlocked a new community of gaming and gamers for me. From forums to Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats to annual IRL meetups – the community of people I game with are second to none. This is helpful because it’s also true to say that a mental health problem a few years back gave me time to explore and dive into spending more time with and understanding myself. Gaming – and the friends I found there – was a part of that too.

Fast forward to today and I have a solid clan of good people, a healthy rhythm of play, and access to amazing games with challenges and gameplay loops that forge long-lasting friendships and memories.

But what else of today? Well, in case you’ve missed it (or frankly, just simply been unable to get your hands on one yet) there’s the next generation of consoles arriving. Hella useful when there’s a global requirement for something to do when you can’t go outside.

Combine that with [the rest of the world waking up to] “GAMING” as an entertainment format coming of age – which leads me to my third thing – it means there’s a level of social acceptance that comes with owning up to being ‘a gamer’.

I mean, there’s ‘I play a bit of FIFA at the weekend’ levels of being a gamer, and then there’s ‘I play so much Destiny that I’ve got a dedicated game night, a handful of real-life medals, and a raid jacket‘. It’s all gaming. From a skillset perspective, I would still argue I’m bang average but on the spectrum of casual-hardcore, I’m definitely to the right of centre.

But it doesn’t matter where you sit, it’s all gaming. And that’s the point. People that gatekeep on streaming, on communities, on ‘hardcore’ vs ‘casuals’ can all get in the bin.

In short: Gaming is fun. Online play mean it’s more sociable than ever; yes couch co-op games are still great (albeit uncommon) but the abundance of online play/chat/team games means you can jump on at any time of the day and find people to play with.

Gaming is more accessible than ever. Yes, we’re in the middle (tail end? – Ed) of a global chip shortage, and yes the new consoles aren’t exactly cheap but there are options available for everyone. Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Now, cheap Ps4s the Xbox Series S, hell, even Google Stadia – are all different/accessible (read: cheap) ways to dip your toes in and try it. The days of spending hundreds and hundreds of pounds on consoles and games to play on them are – if you want them to be – long gone.

And Gaming is more acceptable than ever. I read this great quote in the FT a few months back, from game designer Jenova Chen:

“You don’t ask someone, ‘Do you watch movies?’ or ‘Do you listen to music?’ You just ask what kind they like. One day, we will simply ask each other: ‘What kind of games do you play?’ This day now seems closer than ever.”

I talk about gaming to friends, family, and colleagues. The eye rolls still happen, yes – and that’s fine – but not as often as they used to. Social acceptance is growing. Hurrah! Although, hilariously, if you’d asked me what I thought of ‘the casual gamer’ and the popularity of gaming growing massively (broadly I would argue thanks to PlayStation making it cool) 20 years ago, I probably would’ve growled something grumpy like ‘Rah rah rah, Nintendo is the best’. Thankfully I’m past that now.

For me, the popularity of gaming means I can embrace my passion and talk about it freely and openly.

And the best part? Very occasionally, I get to overlap it with my other my passion: my day job.

Writing is thinking. And being asked* to write – to think – about the thing I enjoy most in my spare time is ace.

Be that wanging on about the popularity of Animal Crossing OR deep-diving and celebrating what passionate gaming communities can do when they put their hearts and minds to it OR having a long look at why Xbox vs PlayStation is about to be more exciting than it’s ever been OR examining who has what edge when it comes to the forthcoming game-streaming wars OR simply sharing my gaming exploits with my friends and followers – it all floats my boat.

My point is: this isn’t one of those articles about ‘What games mean for brands’, or ‘top ten things marketers can learn from gaming’ (There are loads of those and if you look hard enough, you might actually find a good one – no promises though).

Far from it.

This is simply a call to arms for you. If you’ve never tried gaming before, now is the perfect time to give it a go.

If you’re a lapsed gamer, it’s time to get back in again.

The water has never been better.

See you there? x

*I don’t always have to be asked.

3D Printing THORN from Destiny

What’s that? 3D printing a gun from a video game? HOW NERDY DO YOU GET, WHATLEY?!

This is a super-nerdy post that encompasses online gaming, 3D-printing, and one awesome kick-ass summer project for one awesome kick-ass gamer.

You have been warned.

Still here? OK!

There’s a game I play on my PlayStation 4.

It’s called DESTINY.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 20.14.50

It’s a team game and it is awesome to play online with friends. There was a gun in the previous version (aka ‘year one’/vanilla Destiny, we’re now into year two, The Taken King (which is awesome btw, you should get it)) that everybody hated.

It was called THORN.

It looks like this:


The weapon still exists in-game (but was nerfed for year two) and was, for most of the first year of Destiny, the bane of many a player. If you completed the epic quest to get said gun (and used it when playing other people online) you were not liked at all.

Why? It was a two hit kill, with a sniper-rifle-like range and poison-laced bullets.

It was a horrid, horrid gun.

My friends hated it.

I hated it.

So, when you really want to say a proper cheeky but really massive thank you to someone you play with online for being an awesome Destiny gamer over the past year or so, what better gift to get them than the 3D-printed model of the gun they hate most?


This is how it happened.

I work at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising and, fortunately for me, as part of Ogilvy Group UK, we get access to the awesome people that work at Ogilvy Labs.

Ogilvy Labs just so happen to have a 3D printer.

An Ultimaker 2, to be precise.

This one, in fact.


After chasing it down in the building (things can wander) it transpired that my mate Jon just so happened to be looking after it.

‘Could you do me a favour, Jon?’

‘Sure man, send me the files and let me have a look and we’ll see.’

Fortunately, 3D print files can be found relatively easily online (why charge for something that you need a £2,000 machine to print in the first place, right?) and so after a short spot of Googling, I found the files on My Mini Factory (free sign up to download but if you’re REALLY lazy, I’ve saved them for you right here).

Jon reckoned he could do it but asked that I bought my own plastic. The exact type required for our machine was 3mm PLA 100m coil. Faberdashery is a pretty good website for this kinda stuff and for £24, it had exactly what I needed.

A few days later, we were in business.


And Jon (and his man, Lorenzo) got to work.

A few weeks later… this appeared.


This is the barrel of the gun known as THORN.

It took a few hours and the other parts, according to the experts, were definitely going to take longer. That is, if they worked out at all. The printer was used to much smaller jobs you see and they’d never put it through its paces like this before.

But the thing about Ogilvy folk, they’re a tad determined…

Two weeks later, I had a call from Jon.

‘Can you pop down, mate. I wanna show you something.’

And he did.


Amazing, right?


The whole thing looked fantastic and, to top it off (and something I didn’t spot when I downloaded the files) you could put an elastic band inside so that the trigger would actually work with the hammer as a faux firing mechanism.


Eleven separate parts, two of which can move together, printed over several days and we were almost there.

OK, so maybe only halfway there.

The other thing that you need to create something like this is access to some artistic talent. Someone who could turn their hand to a project like this and be almost guaranteed outstanding results.

I happen to know that someone.

And this is what she did…

Step one: disassemble and spray paint the base layer.


Step two: reassemble and admire handy work.


Step three: apply black paint.


Step four: scratch black paint away (to get the rugged, worn away / grubby look the gun sports in-game).


Step five: Add a dash of green to the ‘eyes’ for the poison and…


You may now sit back and admire your handy work.



Isn’t it gorgeous?

It made me very, very happy.

Thank you to Jon, Lorenzo, and Annabelle. You have made a gamer named Phil very, very happy indeed.

That My Mini Factory link above has this gun, fully printed and painted for $299. It cost me £24 and two fairly large favours [pending].

Yeah, I’d say that worked out alright.



If you have a PS4 and play Destiny, feel free to add me on PSN. ‘Whatleydude’ is the handle (of course) and you should definitely, definitely seek out the gaming clan ‘MidlifeGamer’ – a nicer bunch of gaming men and women I never did meet.

The Good Old Days

When I was a kid we had a thing called Video City.

My friend Roger inadvertently shared this with me.

And I like it (in a sad yet nostalgic-totally-on-point kinda way).


– via Neatorama

When I was a kid we had a thing called Video City. I remember renting things like The Never Ending Story, They Live, and Transformers: The Movie. When Blockbuster opened in my home town it was like all my Christmases had come at once; not only could you rent videos but you could get video games as well!

Weekends would never be the same again.

Bodger will remember these great days. Tony will too.

Tecmo World Wrestling for the NES.

Mortal Kombat for the MegaDrive.

The good old days.


Five things on Friday #76

Things of note for the weekend ending June 13th, 2014.


Tons of video stuff this week. If you’re reading this in a newsletter, I’ve thrown in the links to the videos along the way so you TOO can enjoy teh awesomez.

1. Silent Crickets
On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Marlene Zuk has been studying crickets. Between 1991 and 2000, the crickets got more and more quiet and in 2001, Zuk heard only a single calling male cricket. The volume had decreased, but had the volume actually decreased?

The crickets hadn’t disappeared. Zuk would go for nighttime walks and see multitudes of the insects in the light of her headlamp. If anything, there were more of them than before. They just weren’t calling out. When she dissected them, Zuk found out why.

Male crickets call with two structures on the backs of their wings—a vein with several evenly spaced teeth (the file) and a raised ridge (the scraper). When the cricket rubs these together, the effect is like running your nail along the teeth of a comb—you get a thrrrrrrrrrrrp sound. But on all the silent Kauai crickets, the file was growing at a weird angle and had all but disappeared. Their wings were flat.

The reason?

The crickets were targeted by a parasitic fly, whose larvae burrow inside them and devour them alive. The flies finds the crickets by listening out for their songs and they’re so effective that, in the early 90s, they had parasitised a third of the males.

But the silent males escaped the attention of the fly. As they bred and spread, they carried the flatwing mutation with them. By 2003, the cricket population had rebounded. And in fewer than 20 generations, they had gone from almost all-singing to almost all-silent. The crickets have become a classic textbook example of rapid evolution.

Nature is awesome. Via.

2. Slow motion Ballet

slow mo ballet

In this video, six members of the Washington Ballet demonstrate their most challenging moves.

Worth watching.

3. What day is it Sunday?

Video link.

4. The best of E3
I am a gamer. If you’ve listened to this past week’s Voicemail podcast, you’d know that I confessed to not reading anything about mobile technology over the last seven days because, thanks to the Electronic Entertainment Expos – aka ‘E3’ – I’ve been totally and utterly bingeing on game trailers at almost every opportunity. The three stand outs?

The fourth third* game in the Arkham series, this final part of the Rocksteady trilogy looks IMMENSE.

The one thing need to know? You get to drive the Batmobile.

*Batman: Arkham Origins, though officially part of the Arkham games canon, is widely accepted to ‘not count’ as it wasn’t built by Rocksteady Studios and, as a result, is a poor imitation of what makes a good Arkham game.

[video link]

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Assassin’s Creed series is probably my favourite set of games of recent years. AC: Black Flag was a day one purchase for me and this latest iteration looks like it might be the same.

The one thing need to know? In the video the commentary mentions that certain parts of Paris have been built at a 1:1 scale. That’s awesome.

[video link]

This one very nearly passed me by completely (so big love to Matt for making sure I didn’t miss it), No Man’s Sky is a simple science-fiction game about exploration and survival. It looks stunning.

The one thing you need to know? Your character exists in an infinite procedurally generated universe. In. Sane.

[video link]

5. Clickhole
This is everywhere right now.

The Onion is a satirical take on American news. In a post-listicle world, where click-bait and headlines such as ‘Seven things Nigel Farage could learn from Vladimir Putin‘ are commonplace, you could read this as some kind of post-modern take on what ‘news’, or news delivery, has become.

Or you could read it as The Onion not-that-subtly trolling the hell out of Buzzfeed. Either way, they uploaded 16 pictures of Beyonce not sicking in quicksand yesterday, and you won’t believe what happened next.

And that’s it, we’re done.


We’re not.

Bonus items for your oculars this week are:

  • The Calvin & Hobbs story
    If you missed this, read the write up. I must confess, I’ve never been a huge C&H fan (sorry), but this story made me smile from ear to ear.
  • Winging it
    Everyone is totally winging it, all the time. A great read.
  • Articulated TMNT
    The concept of ‘arty images of 80s pop-culture accompanied with deep and meaningful thoughts’ is not new to me however the mutant turtles are going through a bit a revival at the moment, so this seems timely.

See you next week.