The Metaverse can elicit strong imagery. Maybe you think of avatars of all shapes and sizes walking down a digital superhighway. Or Travis Scott scaled up to planetary scale performing his latest album. Or perhaps an endless neon grid extending in all directions. Undoubtedly, the Metaverse is a visual phenomenon, which is why we need screens or headsets for it to truly come alive.
But true immersion doesn’t come from sight alone. We need to build Metaverse audio alongside the visuals to achieve the ultimate user experience. It’s easy to dismiss the rapid improvement that digital technology has brought to audio — whether that’s cheap mobile streaming of high-quality music, surround sound systems for your home cinema, or the increasing intelligence of home assistants like Alexa or Google Home.
We may take audio for granted, but its development is just as important as displays and fancy visuals. Even with familiar favorites like Zoom, a minimal amount of lag or a stuffy microphone can ruin a meeting. On the flip side, high-quality audio streaming drove the mass adoption of Airpods, whose ubiquity is a key stepping stone into the Metaverse.
Key Considerations for Building Metaverse Audio:
1. Defining Your Audio Identity
As we move into the era of immersive marketing, brands must craft a consistent audio identity.
This is more comfortable for those who have built mobile applications, games, and semi-immersive content like videos before. A user experience is defined not only by what users see but what they hear. This becomes even more true in immersive experiences in the Metaverse. In the same way that brands carefully select the music played in their retail stores, brands moving into the Metaverse have to carefully select not only music but also interaction sound effects, avatar voices, and spatial audio in their Metaverse experiences. More on that later.
Start by aligning your audio strategy with your overall brand. What does your brand sound like? What values and emotions do you want to support when users engage in your experiences? Build out a team and plan of attack to implement this strategy.
2. AI Is Making Brands Better Conversationalists
Since brands can’t place well-trained, real people behind every avatar representing them in the Metaverse, companies will have to invest in artificial intelligence- (AI-) powered speech. At the core of that are natural language processing (NLP) models like OpenAI’s GPT-n series, which can generate natural-sounding text and speech and can navigate conversations with humans. Integrating the newest models and hiring audio engineers for your Metaverse project will give your users an experience they won’t forget, even if they don’t realize it consciously. That’s the power of good sound.
A word of caution is in order, though. Powerful models like GPT-3 can also drive fraud, impersonation, and deep fakes. I don’t know if there are or will be laws regarding this, but please notify users when they’re speaking to an artificial intelligence versus a real person. The difference between the two is hard sometimes hard to distinguish. If you’re going to trailblaze, please set an ethical precedent.
3. Spatial Audio Adds a Dimension to Metaverse Experiences
Just as visual 2D interfaces are slowly transitioning to 3D, flat audio files can be upgraded by a dimension into “spatial audio.” This means users can hear sounds coming from different locations in a virtual space, further immersing them in the scene. Virtual reality (VR) game developers are deeply familiar with the techniques of spatial audio, but brands need to incorporate the format further into their communications as well.
According to an AdAge article, “The use of spatial audio will be ubiquitous within the metaverse, and consumer expectations will begin to shift based upon their increased exposure to a more sophisticated and realistic sound experience. We predict that this will be a trend that starts in the metaverse but then will transcend into other aspects of our life.”
Audio is an essential part of the immersive playbook, and something that smart brands should consider seriously in their virtual, mixed, extended, or augmented reality experiences, both inside and outside of the Metaverse.