Building Culture In the Metaverse: The Power of the Host

February 21, 2023

Building Culture In the Metaverse: The Power of the Host

If you’re familiar with my work or my creative studio, Propagation House: it would have been expected of us to host a conversation on the ins and outs of building on Spatial. We wanted to take a chance speaking about it, but with a different context: Building culture.

Ultimately, I believe hosting a successful space comes down to maintaining a clearly articulated culture. Why do you go to your favorite cafe, bookstore, bar? At the heart, the reason we choose to visit any space outside of necessity comes down to a subconscious recognition of how that space & the inhabitants of it make us feel. A shared purpose or interest alongside a clearly articulated culture is what turns a visitor into a member.

When opening a space or seeding a new brand in the virtual realm, it comes down to one question: Why? Why do you want people to show up?

Our first “why” was accessibility and equal access.

Softspace 001

We recognized that the biggest factor holding back the space was a lack of creators equipped with the tools or know-how to get started. In a world where studios were making enormous amounts of money on relatively simple tickets and spaces seemed out of reach to the average person–we chose to demystify what had been routinely convoluted alongside the buzzterm.
We recognized that the only way to keep “the metaverse” in the hands of creators was to put the people first, so we opened our first location with the url “VRDESIGN.HOUSE”, hosting “drop in-hours” all day, two, sometimes three days a week. We’d stream the process of building a metaverse location from scratch to finish live, answering questions along the way.

You could pay us for time and builds, but you didn’t have to. Folks began taking note, leveraging drop-in days for help on their own projects and we’d sit with them, step-by-step, every week, free of charge. The only prerequisites were genuine interest and showing up. We didn’t care if you sponged our process or ran off and started a business using the methods we’ve developed, we encouraged it. We knew then and know now the only way to advance the overall quality of the space is to advance the skills, proficiency and expectations of it’s participants.

Overtime, we began receiving newcomers and creative tech veterans alike. Guests began teaching each other, often us, too. This mix of proficiency levels created a hotbed for networking, learning and creative discovery. Beyond architectural design streams, we started hosting other creatives, featuring new toolsets and creating documentation on how to apply them to various areas of design and digital art. We recognized a lack of resources on the subject, so we became the resource.

Our industry secret became hosting the room where none were kept.
The vibe of our space became one of “You can do it too, and we’ll show you how.”
The byproduct of our why was a culture that mirrored our behaviors and core values: consistency, transparency, equality and inclusion. 

As our community grew, so did our offerings. We started hosting more events, bringing in external speakers with related areas of expertise, partnering with other creatives and tech companies. It was a natural progression of our initial “why”, with the focus always on uplifting and supporting our community.

Our community, in turn, became our biggest advocates. They began hosting their own events, inviting their own guests, collaborating with each other and creating new projects. It was a beautiful thing to watch and a testament to the power of building a culture that resonates with its members.

What started as an experiment with my team at Propagation House, provided the overwhelming power and support of a culture that overshadowed the original offerings and priorities of our creative studio. Our purpose became larger than our services. Our studio is no longer just a place to learn about building in the metaverse, it’s an associated hub for creative discovery, collaboration and community. It’s a space that has taken on a life of its own and has become more than we could have ever imagined. 

Our experience as a case study is the best I can offer in context to the platform, but this leads to the question, what about brands beyond building?

As the metaverse continues to grow, we’ll see more and more individuals, brands and companies entering the space, looking to tap into this new market with their own agenda. Some will be successful, others will fail. The key to success here, as with any market, is understanding your audience and building a culture that resonates with them.

It's important to understand the unique challenges and opportunities presented. In a realm of limitless possibilities, it can feel like an overwhelming landscape to navigate. When we simplify the purpose of our spaces, how to approach maintaining them becomes clear.

It’s not enough to simply have a presence in the metaverse, you must have a reason for being there, a purpose that aligns with your brand and connects with your audience. Whether it’s hosting events, creating a web of immersive experiences, offering educational resources or simply providing a space to have fun- it’s important to have a clear understanding of why you’re there and what you want to achieve. 

Before any culture can be manifested, a template is required: Someone must first show up, be seen, lay out a path for others to follow and encourage them to do so. The most common question I hear from visitors of new spaces is: “What do I do here?”

The most important thing you can do when cultivating a new space is to show up and be seen. The power of the host cannot be understated. By showing up and exhibiting the expected behaviors of that space, through action or provided information, you are establishing norms. By programming events or specific exhibits in context to your offerings, you are developing customs, rituals and expectations that reinforce the values of the culture you are working to create for those entering the space while encouraging them to engage with each other in your absence, i.e., building a genuine community.

Second, is to identify and empower growing leaders within your community. Reward participation, recognize those who in their own ways can help drive the culture forward and inspire others to follow suit. Invite others who may not be familiar with the realm of 3D but have much to offer in your areas of interest. By bringing in & shining a spotlight on like-minded individuals around your efforts you are both providing them a platform to grow while creating the power of a collective. What happens when you let people in?

After all: People are what make these spaces real, culture is what keeps them going.

Propagation House

With these two things in mind comes consistency:

Being consistent doesn’t require planning, hosting or committing to an event every other day, or week for that matter. But having a consistently updated space with associated information alongside a consistent presence within it provides a baseline. I look at opening doors to my space on weekdays, sometimes weekends, the same way I would turn on the “open” sign in a brick and mortar location. I view a window into Spatial as an extension of my physical space- if I’m up and working or online, my doors are probably open. As a result, my guests are extremely familiar with my taste, sound, what we’re working on any given day, my personal background and the human context of what it is we provide as a creative studio.

This can be applied to any individual or storefront. The painter, a producer, a generative artist, a writer, a designer. Many of these types, if willing- could easily just sit in online and work with a tab open, making them instantly accessible to their audience old and new(on their own terms) while inviting others in to do the same. With a little more effort, they could create an entire subculture around their interests & activities. Think about the record shop, open mic night at the cozy bar or a cafe during slow hours- it’s not always about the records, the coffee or the products purchased there… but you keep going back. It’s about something more. Something so recognizable, yet hard to place a finger on or articulate in one word….it’s humanity and culture.

How does one articulate this indirectly, though? 

This comes down to lifestyle association: calls to action are not required- you can foster anything: a chess, book or film club, a dev incubator space, a support group, a wellness or research center. When you hone in on what it is you’re providing, finding associated context & resources to enhance the space while offering more to your visitors amplifies the culture provided. Related books, art, films, news: the world is yours, curated by you, controlled by you.

This leads us to the last thought of our discussion: How can we approach the metaverse in a way that is holistic? What kind of culture do we want to create?

With the power of creating a space comes the responsibility of crafting the experience of your guests. You could quite literally go in with the intent to create dread or terror given the right context–but generally speaking, the ultimate success of a space is creating one that beckons the visitors back. Think for a moment, can you put a price tag on the value of a true safe-space? 

In a world of disconnection, debate, chaos and a constant barrage of subliminal messaging, advertising and more, we have a chance here to create spaces that offer a sense of wellness and belonging to our guests. One that provides them with more than a purchase, but a sense of ease and security. We aren’t aiming to enable escapism or replace the social lives of folks in the real world, we’re offering them a parallel space to enter that can enhance their lives across the board. We could ideate on different ideas all day long, but ultimately, the last question we have to ask is: what are you really interested in, and what can you give in context to your interests?

Generosity is the currency of our time. Being fearless in our willingness to provide space, share information and aid others in their pursuits is what sets a space, its operators and its culture apart in the metaverse. This doesn’t require a high and mighty mission and purpose, either, just some self awareness and the ability to think about what your end user really needs. You don’t have to enter the space with a 10 year strategy or have clear goals in mind- maybe you’re just interested in having fun, experimenting and providing new experiences to others. The beauty of the space is here, we can build a culture around that too.

Ask “Why.” Clarify your core values, mission and purpose as a host.

Show up, be seen and shine on others. Recognize leaders amongst your audience, reward participation. Ask your guests what you can do for them, regularly. Culture isn’t static. It evolves over time and adapts to the changing needs of its members and the times. Retain self awareness, regularly assess and refine the culture of the space you’re fostering. 

Recognize your power as a host: be consistent and set your own pace, culture doesn’t form overnight.

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