WELCOME TO THE MINIVERSE.
WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS.
When approaching the slick and modern industrial building that houses the Demodern office, one cannot help but be taken in by the general youthful and vibrant atmosphere of Cologne. In this, the fourth-largest German city, a third of the population are migrants, and these different cultural heritages make for a place that feels creative, free and welcoming. It is probably no surprise that such a milieu was the perfect foundation for the creation of the MINIverse.
The Demodern office is home to a diverse group of professionals who have the expertise and imagination to make something as challenging as a virtual world for cars an attractive experience. And they are just as excited about creating it as they are about you enjoying it. Altogether 24 people have worked on the project – so far – with the core team consisting of developers, 3D artistsC, Art Directors, Testing & Quality Assurance, Product Owner, Project Management, Scrum Master and DevOps roles. We spoke to multiple members of the team about what a metaverse is and what makes the MINIverse particularly special.
Technical Director Jan Beutgen made sure the goals were achievable, and the final product was as innovative as possible, while Project Manager Mayssa Kaddoura kept things running smoothly. Art Director Luis Uribe made sure the MINIverse looks good; UX Designer Katie Murdoch made the MINIverse feel good to interact with, and Experience Director Jason Brandt ensured that the experience in the MINIverse doesn’t just feel good but feels right for what the brand is saying. We also spoke with MINI’s Digital Marketing Manager Jutta Richter to get MINI’s perspective on this new undertaking.
HOW TO DESCRIBE THE METAVERSE (TO YOUR GRANDMOTHER).
We’ve all been bombarded with news and buzzwords about the newest digital Web 3.0 communication trends, but sometimes the essentials get lost in the noise. So we asked the team how they would describe the metaverse in a couple of sentences. Fairly consistently, everyone defined a metaverse as a 3D virtual online world, where users interact with their environment through an avatar. Users get to consume information about their topic of interest, interact with other users, and can express themselves through customisation, or through the content and experiences they create for everyone to enjoy. In the metaverse you aren’t just passive consumers, you are active creators, and through the barriers broken by digital technologies you can affect communities like never before in history.
Luis puts this development into a historical perspective: “The metaverse represents the next iteration of connectivity. In the past we had simple messaging platforms. Then we had MySpace, an online way of connecting with people. Then came things like today’s social media, like Instagram and TikTok. The metaverse is going to be the next step where we connect with people, and we understand them in a new, deeper way.” What this means is that in contrast to the contrived nature and limited artificiality of today’s communication platforms, the metaverse could prove to be more immersive, or as Jason puts it, “simply an extension of our current reality but just in a virtual space.”
THE METAVERSE IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT STEP WHERE WE CONNECT WITH PEOPLE, AND WE UNDERSTAND THEM IN A NEW, DEEPER WAY.
THE FIRST LIGHTS IN THE METAVERSE UNIVERSE
So, apart from being on top of trends, why is MINI, a brand that produces a physical product, interested in a metaverse? Jutta explained it using the MINI Concept Aceman as an example: “It's a MINI concept car, and those are typically one-offs, in that they are built once, and only displayed at trade shows. But the broader audience never gets to experience this great car. The metaverse offers us the opportunity to translate all its cool features into a whole new experience.” And that is probably the key here. Instead of reading press releases or second-hand reports, and watching a couple of videos passively, the metaverse allows us to translate the features of the MINI Concept Aceman into interactive experiences. This way anyone and everyone around the world can become familiar with the ideas behind the car and all its features in a deeper, more immersive way.
So, how do you deliver people experiences only MINI can? Well, in Demodern’s case, you make the decision to not use one of the available metaverse providers on the market but instead build your own engine, your own world. It might be a bigger challenge, but it’s worth it in the end. If you use a pre-existing service, “everything kind of looks the same, with the same visual style,” explains Jan. Jason then adds: “At the end of the day you’re beholden to others, you don’t have a lot of customization options that you can do.” And customisation in this case goes both ways. A custom metaverse gives freedom to the creators, to create everything exactly as they want, but also more freedom for the users, who’ll get to do more things tailor-made for their interests. Katie Murdoch explains: “A bespoke metaverse allows us to be flexible, to really listen to users’ needs and wants and find ways to meld what MINI and its fans are looking for, creating something entirely original.” In other words, when you make the rules of the game you can really bring your own vision to life.
So, now that Demodern had the engine, they had to decide what it would power. In essence, they were left with two decisions. One, what do you actually get to do in the MINIverse? Two, how do they make it as easy as possible for everyone to play? The first question was answered thanks to a confidential trip to MINI HQ in Munich, months before the MINI Concept Aceman’s release. Only a couple of team members were allowed into the hallowed halls that housed the yet-to-be-revealed car, such as Jason: “We chose what people can do in the MINIverse by getting really hands-on with the car. We looked at it thoroughly, talked with the designers, and explored its different modes. We then took all the stuff that we learned and turned it into a cool experience inside a metaverse space.”
BABY, YOU CAN DRIVE MY CAR
This resulted in the team deciding to have your player avatar not just be a boring bipedal human, but the MINI Concept Aceman itself. In the MINIverse you're constantly driving a MINI, with all the go-kart-like excitement that that entails. As for the 3D world, the team created different interconnected environments – think of them as digital rooms – which the users can enter and then engage in simple, fun activities that explore different features of the car. In one world you can play a tag-like game, capturing a crown from other players. In another, you bounce on balloons to vibrant soundscapes, while elsewhere you get to chill out and relax. But we don’t want to spoil too much; try it out for yourselves.
As for making it as accessible as possible, Demodern first made sure the MINIverse had no hardware limitations. That means you need nothing but a computer or a smartphone to enter it. “A lot of people still want to think about the metaverse as an exclusively VR technology thing, but I don't know a single person – that's not in my tech bubble – who has a VR headset at home. A lot of people would not be able to experience a VR metaverse,” says Jan. They then made participation even easier. While these days you can’t even buy a lightbulb online without registering on a website and signing up for a newsletter, the MINIverse doesn’t ask you for anything of the sort. No registration, no e-mails, no newsletters. “By immediately jumping in and allowing you to drive, we're really highlighting fun and immersive entertainment, rather than having a very subdued or overly branded experience,” explains Katie. In short, the creators of the MINIverse have done everything to make it perfect for you.
A BESPOKE METAVERSE ALLOWS US TO BE FLEXIBLE, […] CREATING SOMETHING ENTIRELY ORIGINAL.
STEP 2.0: BIG WORLD, BIG LOVE
While the current MINIverse is fun, and successful at translating the features of the MINI Concept Aceman to a digital playground, it is not yet the fully fledged metaverse Demodern and MINI are aiming for. This is because the MINIverse will not just be a showcase of a single very, very exciting car. It can theoretically be “a one-stop shop for all things MINI. You could have news, campaigns, sponsored content, all experienced within the MINIverse,” says Jutta.
Luckily, by using a bespoke system, Demodern has created the architecture that will allow MINI to add anything they want to the world. If the decision was made to add the entire MINI portfolio to the list of customisable avatars, it would be possible; you would finally be able to drive the MINI Cooper Austin Powers. Could it become a virtual car showroom where you could buy a MINI in the MINIverse? Yes, please. Could it host interactive concerts, presentations, exhibitions? Those are all within the realms of possibility.
And this ability for expansion is critical: “The metaverse has one attribute, that it's permanent, it’s persistent. You need to keep the audience coming back. You need to offer more content, develop more features, provide rewards, create mini-games or levels. I would say the work is never done until you shut down the whole system one day,” explains Jan.
BY YOU, WITH YOU, FOR YOU
All this technical wizardry is in service of building and maintaining a community. The metaverse is at its best if people can express themselves in new ways. Jason sees it as part of a larger trend: “The younger audiences no longer want to just be spoken to. They want to be spoken with. They want to be a part of the conversation and create something together.”
And this community should be created according to our ideals of BIG LOVE. Katie describes its key elements: “I think a MINIverse needs a mixture of inclusion and diversity, to create a space that feels creative, evolving and exciting. Helping people discover new ideas and giving MINI the opportunity to listen to what their fans really want.”
And that’s really the final point. The MINIverse should be what you make it. It’s your MINI world.