Platforms for co-creative digital self-expression for Gen Z and beyond

The digital self

The increasingly digitized aspects of our everyday activities, such as working, socializing, consuming, and playing on digital platforms are fueling a rapidly growing desire to better understand the notion of the digitization of the self. Questions like `How can I express myself on online platforms, how does my identity translate into the digital?` are more and more often asked by the users of these platforms.

Some say, there is not yet an official definition for digital identity within the context of the Metaverse. Janice Denegri-Knott, a professor of consumer culture and behavior at Bournemouth University and a researcher encourages thinking about digital identity pragmatically. She discusses the topic in a recent Cointelegraph article by suggesting that digital identity from the individual`s perspective can be defined by “the unique, identifiable information that is connected to a person when online.” the way users experience the `digitized self` is key in how users connect on these digital platforms.

Users demonstrate a growing interest in more access to and control over this identifiable information. New generations such as Gen Z are at the forefront of this tendency, a recent report by Vice Media and interactive agency Razorfish uncovered that online self-expression is essential to Gen Z,  52 percent of their gamer segment feels more like themselves in the metaverse

Experimental self-expression

The limitless capabilities of digital platforms further the impact of online self-expression in their every day, with countless options and versatile features to explore oneself from multiple perspectives. A McKinsey study found that for Gen Zers “the key point is not to define themselves through only one stereotype, but rather for individuals to experiment with different ways of being themselves and to shape their identities over time”.

In this respect, McKinsey refers to them as “identity nomads” and that for them, the self is a place to experiment, test, and change. Far more than other generations, 75% of Gen Zers are more likely to buy a product if they can customize it. This is because they have grown up in an era of personalization and want to make things their own. 

While digital identity is expressed in several ways in the Metaverse, avatars are currently the most common representation of users. Avatar-driven platforms are becoming a thriving sector for businesses as well as individuals on which to monetize, in the form of Direct-to-Avatar (D2A) sales models. The model focuses on selling products directly to shoppers’ avatars, bypassing humans entirely.

The D2A digital economy ties into how Gen Z spends time on digital platforms, and the importance of their virtual representation being authentic and unique. Recently, the Business of Fashion ranked fashion as one of the top entertainment categories on which Gen Z likes to spend. With URL`s key role in digital identity and fashion being essential to self-expression, these trends pave the way towards the rise of D2A fashion targeting Gen Z.

Limited tools

Users are eager to be more than just participants on social platforms. They want to contribute, collaborate, and co-create. For that reason, user-generated content (UGC) creation tools and user-driven creator economies, such as how users monetize their creations in Roblox, gained popularity.

Browser-based 3D tools, easy-to-use AR filter studios, and immersive applications enable global audiences to engage with virtual content creation like never before. Still, they are not nearly extensive enough considering digital expression is only going to expand in the coming years.

If we want to be able to customize our digital personas to a greater extent, for example in the landscape of D2A platforms, we’re going to need tools that allow us to engage more with digital clothing, as well as more sophisticated avatar customization capabilities. The need for extensive technical and pattern knowledge to operate software specialized for outfit modeling leaves the potential of wearables designed by users wide open.

Customization grants users an opportunity to be directly involved in the asset`s profile, but the platforms that offer it, such as Decentraland, Roblox, and Zepeto, are often very limited. Each platform has its game-art direction (low poly, voxel-based, cartoon, or realistic) which has a huge impact on how brands or users can express themselves in-game.

Furthermore, due to the technical pipelines of platforms that accept third-party-generated content, it is currently quite costly to target multiple platforms at the same time. That leaves UGC siloed to the specific platform in which it was created, highlighting the technical complexities of interoperability in the 3D assets space.

Driven by initiatives in reducing the negative socio-environmental footprint of the fashion industry, along with the growing emphasis younger generations put on virtual self-expression, the evolution of digital-only clothing is a highly innovative space to watch. The demand for more engagement with it fuels a buzzing landscape of startups working on bridging the gap between users and tools for creation and sharing. The opportunity is there for the taking and we’ll most likely see projects capitalize on that soon enough.

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