Gamers and K-pop fans have been living in the virtual world for many years now. Decades, in fact, in the case of gamers. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to catch up.
In last week’s column piece, I talked about how geeks are inheriting the earth. Today, I’m going to point out that this new world we’re inheriting is an increasingly virtual one. There is no going back to the pre-COVID world. The digital transformation of the world is here to stay, and this will have a profound impact on human society, changing the way we work and play.
Avatars and microtransactions
The thing is, gamers and K-pop fans are already way ahead of most of humanity. Embracing virtual currency and purchasing virtual items is already second nature to them. Since I’m both a gamer and a K-pop fan — specifically a Blink (BLACKPINK fan) and Monbebe (MONSTA X fan) — I can attest that the virtual world is very real.
Many people are familiar with how gamers have embraced the virtual economy. In the Philippines, for example, massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) were insanely popular in the 2000s, led by Ragnarok Online. Most of these MMOGs were developed in South Korea, so yes, Korea has also been exporting its online gaming culture aside from K-pop and K-dramas.
Games have their own virtual economies. Depending on the type of game, players can earn in-game currency through various means, including killing monsters and other enemies, discovering treasure, selling items, and performing quests. They can then use the in-game currency to buy virtual items for their avatars — their characters inside the game. Most of the time, these are useful things such as weapons, armor, healing potions, and magic items. But some virtual items for sale may also be purely aesthetic — such as fashionable clothes that help you personalize your avatar. And if you don’t have enough in-game currency, then you could use real money to buy virtual cash.
People may not be as aware that gamers and K-pop fans nowadays share a lot in common when it comes to avatars and microtransactions. For instance, as part of its comeback, BLACKPINK has tied up with the South Korean 3D avatar social network ZEPETO.
This social app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices, lets you create a 3D digital character called a Zepeto that is based on a picture of yourself. You can buy clothes and other items for your avatar, play games, and take 3D selfies with your friends.
Sure, avatar-based worlds have existed for a long time, but the growing popularity of K-pop has made this kind of gamification and virtual community more powerful than ever.
This branded collab with BLACKPINK means Blinks can enjoy updates on their feed from Lisa, Jennie, Jisoo, and Rosé; take selfies with their avatars; create their own videos featuring their avatars; and buy BLACKPINK clothes and accessories — including virtual replicas of the outfits they used in the “How You Like That” music video.
Apart from BLACKPINK, ZEPETO also has brand collabs with Disney, Nike, and Peanuts. Moreover, it allows members to create and sell the virtual clothes and accessories that they have designed. Pretty cool, huh?
Fandoms and live streams
Another example of how K-pop fans are leading the way in building the virtual world is V LIVE. This live streaming service from South Korea allows celebrities to broadcast live videos and have live chats with their fans. This kind of real-time virtual interaction was extremely popular even before the world changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we can expect services like this to become part of the new normal.
What’s interesting is that V LIVE offers a premium service called V LIVE+ for fans who want access to exclusive content and online events, such as MONSTA X Home Party. Fans can purchase premium content with a virtual currency called V Coins.
Not only that, but also V LIVE offers virtual items such as digital versions of the official light sticks of K-pop acts, such as this one for MONSTA X.
Just as K-pop fans buy the real light sticks to show their support for their idols during concerts, so too do they purchase virtual light sticks to showcase their love during live chats and virtual fan meets.
The beauty of these virtual worlds is that they offer frictionless microtransactions. It’s a relatively small amount to pay, and they make it convenient to purchase these items. I’d also like to point out that after the 30-day subscription to the virtual light stick for Php149, the last tier is the 100 Years subscription for Php799. So if you’re really a huge fan, paying for that lifetime subscription is a no-brainer instead of renewing every month.
Rise of online concerts
With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing K-pop acts from touring and holding concerts, they have decided to embrace the virtual world.
For instance, MONSTA X held the “MONSTA X Live: From Seoul with Luv” online concert on Aug. 9 on LiveXLive.
Meanwhile, IZ*ONE, the 12-member South Korean-Japanese girl group, will hold an online concert called “Oneiric Theater” on Sept. 13.
What’s fascinating about the IZ*ONE online concert is that it will make use of AR (augmented reality) and XR (extended reality) to deliver a unique virtual experience.
I already bought my ticket yesterday, and I’m really excited to see how they will pull this off and what kind of experience this concert will be.
In the post-pandemic world, technology-enhanced virtual concerts might become the new normal. Maybe with limited edition virtual items for these special online events.
The possibilities are endless. The technology is here, and the passion of gamers and K-pop fans for their respective fandoms makes them willing to use virtual currency and buy virtual items.
This is the future. Gamers and K-pop fans are already living in it.
How about you?