The rapid adoption of digital technologies over the last two years has made the Internet an indispensable part of our lives. 

It’s also led to increased innovation that’s now blurring the lines between digital and physical experiences in ways we’ve never seen. 

While pre-pandemic life was still at arm’s length from the digital world, that gap continues to close, and with new innovations like the metaverse, Web 3.0, and NFTs all moving into the mainstream, the online and physical worlds are becoming more connected than ever before.   

This growing connection between digital and real-world experiences is at the center of The Webby Awards 2022 Trends Report: Way Too New, which focuses on two areas that have seen rapid innovation over the past couple of years: online gaming and livestream commerce.

Keep reading for a closer look at the report as well as key insights you can put to use as we dive into 2022! Here’s what we’ll cover: 

An Unprecedented Explosion of Online Innovation 

The Webby Awards was established in 1996, during the Web’s infancy, and has been in the front row for much of the Internet’s evolution—from Web 1.0 to the dawn of Web 3.0. 

The Webby’s Trends Report, which has been released annually since 2016, analyzes digital innovation that is impacting our world and our online work. This year’s report was informed by insights from surveys of more than 3,000 consumers ages 18-65 from across the U.S., conducted by The Webbys’ research partner YouGov

The report was also shaped by more than three months of research by The Webby Awards team, including a review of rising trends from the 13,500 submissions entered into the 25th Annual Webbys.

The end result offers a deep dive into the ingenuity and creativity that have come out of the pandemic, and an overview of the explosion in online innovation it’s sparked, with examples and insights from leading brands that are building the digital future.

“The past two years saw the barricade between our lives online and in-person break down. This resulted in rapid changes; phrases like Web3, the metaverse, and NFTs are now common when they were barely uttered in early 2021,” said Webby Awards President Claire Graves.

“For our annual report, we zeroed in on innovation in two areas that are shaping the future of digital: online gaming in the metaverse and livestream commerce. Both these worlds have grown immensely, in part because the pandemic prompted accelerated innovation. What’s certain is the ingenuity and creativity companies are displaying in these areas can carve a new and brighter future for the Internet.”

Online Gaming: A Diverse and Growing Audience 

While many of the digital trends that have accelerated in recent years show no signs of letting up, the stark increase in user adoption of online gaming across a wide range of demographics is perhaps one of the most drastic.   

“The stereotype of the gamer being young and male is fast disappearing,” this year’s Webby Report states.  

“Today, nearly every type of person now counts themselves among gamers.” 

Not only are there more gamers than ever before (per the report, roughly 181 million U.S. adults now play video games), 45% of those who game at least once a week for more than 30 minutes identify as female.

Older generations are also gaming more than before—31% of gamers surveyed were 35 to 54 years old. 

The explanations behind these numbers are varied, and the pandemic is certainly a prominent one, but with ~70% of U.S. adults identifying as gamers, brands should take note (if they haven’t already), and put strategies in place to meet their audiences on the gaming platforms they prefer. 

Enter the Metaverse

One distinct area of the gaming world that’s poised for liftoff in 2022 is the metaverse, with major brands and advertisers (Facebook, Epic Games, etc.) already focusing their efforts on this growing network of virtual worlds.

As the report notes, there isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition of the metaverse, although Venture Capitalist Matthew Ball’s Metaverse Primer offers a poignant summary of what the metaverse could become:

“The metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.” 

Even though the metaverse is currently limited to virtual worlds that exist on popular platforms like Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, and others, this year’s Webby Report shows it’s home to a growing audience that is willing and even eager to spend time and money there. 

This is especially apparent in the successful brand activations that took place in the metaverse over the last year. 

According to the report, during a two-week Gucci metaverse event celebrating the iconic fashion brand’s 100th anniversary, more than 4.5 million items were won on the platform and a virtual-only product, the “Gucci Dionysus Bag with a Bee,” was traded for $4,115—a premium of 21% compared to the physical version of the bag.

What are the key takeaways for brands here? There’s no question that the metaverse offers brands a way to reach large, engaged audiences that are spending more time and money across the major gaming platforms. 

Check out the full 2022 Webbys Trends Report to find out what other brands are doing in the metaverse and which activations have seen the most success.

The Livestream Shopping Experience 

While early successes in the metaverse point to increasing demand for immersive digital shopping experiences, the current momentum behind livestream commerce settles any remaining debate. 

This rapidly growing market is projected to hit $26 billion by 2023 and combines advances in livestream technology with new eCommerce capabilities. Per the Webby’s Report: 

“No day captures the scope of livestream commerce better than China’s Single’s Day, or 11.11. This annual event pioneered by Alibaba has grown into a behemoth of a shopping festival where consumers can shop within livestream videos and play games to get coupons. Alibaba’s impressive logistics and fulfillment technology mean that many shoppers will receive their purchases in less than an hour. In November 2021, Alibaba generated $84.5 billion in revenue during their Single’s Day shopping festival.”

Brands should take note here as well, or risk missing out on another active, engaged, and growing audience. 

According to the report, viewers watch livestream content for 27% longer than on-demand content, and survey results show that consumers not only tune in to a variety of content, they also stick around and open their wallets.

“The big value-add with livestreaming is that it provides a way to interact with customers in real-time, at the same time producing content that can be repurposed for blog posts, podcasts, explainer videos, social campaigns, and other marketing efforts,” said WP Engine VP of Corporate Marketing Eric Jones, whose insights are featured in this year’s Webby’s Report. 

“Done right, livestreaming creates space for dialogue, humanizes a brand, and creates valuable content that can be shared across other platforms—creating the best type of advocacy for a brand.” 

Getting livestream commerce right also promises to unlock a relatively untapped audience that’s arguably nowhere near its peak.

According to the report, 70% of respondents already watch entertainment-based content, not including sports, and 56% watch livestream content at least once a month.

Further, 46% have purchased a product they saw in a livestream or would consider it in the future, and  37% already watch Influencer or creator livestreams, where an element of livestream commerce is inherent. 

While success in this market is no guarantee, the report recommends honing in specific elements to push the scales in your favor—find those tips and more in the 2022 Webbys Trends Report.

Livestream commerce is set to become the next frontier of eCommerce, and if you wish to remain relevant and meet your audiences across the new and existing channels they’re gravitating towards, livestreaming is a strong area to place your bets. 

Adjusting to the New 

Livestreaming and online gaming both share characteristics of blended digital and physical experiences, which is undoubtedly one of the factors behind the rapid adoption of both.  

Over the last two years, our online and real-world lives have intertwined like never before, and with larger audiences online not only seeking out but demanding more immersive experiences, that connection is set to grow exponentially.    

With that in mind, now is the time to push the limits of creativity, and tap into the digital trends that are shaping consumer behavior and the direction of the web as a whole. 

Learn more about all of the trends listed above in The Webby Awards 2022 Trends Report: Way Too New, and visit WP Engine to find out how you can power your creativity on the #1 platform for WordPress.