Why Bulgari's metaverse strategy is a contradiction

While not aligned with an open metaverse vision, the luxury retailer believes it is a step in the right direction.

Why Bulgari's metaverse strategy is a contradiction

On the outside, Bulgari’s metaverse looks and sounds a lot like other brands’ efforts in the burgeoning Web3 space. The world will exist as a Rome-inspired virtual reality, offer guests a range of immersive experiences and allow them to shop for and discover the brand’s growing catalog of digital items.

The “Bulgariverse,” however, is proprietary, meaning Bulgari fully owns it. The brand explicitly said so in a press announcement, and doubled down during an interview with Ad Age.

“We are more centralized rather than decentralized,” said Massimo Paloni, chief operations and innovation officer at Bulgari.

Why this detail matters is that it fundamentally clashes with the traditional vision for the metaverse, which isn’t supposed to be owned by any company, but rather exist as a fluid, open and interoperable collection of virtual worlds. Brands from Adidas to Lowe’s have echoed this principle and proclaimed to incorporate it into their own metaverse creations.

Meanwhile, coalitions have been formed to supposedly prevent a centralized metaverse from emerging. A group including Microsoft, Meta and Epic Games recently formed “The Metaverse Standards Forum” to explore innovations in interoperability (although both Microsoft and Meta have been accused of forcing walled-garden visions into their own plans). Several blockchain-based companies have created their own like-minded consortium.

But Bulgari doesn’t see its departure from these efforts as a problem but rather a necessity stemming from an assessment of the current state of Web3 technology. 

“If you look at all the experiences in the metaverse at this moment, even if they are inspired by a decentralized type of philosophy, they have a closed, proprietary type of space. There is no interoperability,” Paloni said.

In some ways, his calculus is resonant. Several of marketers’ favorite virtual platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite belong to companies and, since they do not use technology like NFTs that afford users ownership, have the final say for every item in their ecosystems. Even decentralized worlds like The Sandbox are not yet linked with other worlds that allow users to port over their assets. 

On the other hand, brands and platforms can support the vision for interoperability without yet being interoperable. Web3 technology is still in early stages of development—what is impossible today may not be in a year or two.

Paloni not only agreed with this idea, but also said it was the basis for why Bulgari built its own metaverse space. 

“Interoperability is a long way [away], so now the best thing we can do is to set the tone with our community, start talking the language and learn how to work in a digitalized world,” he said.

The “Bulgariverse,” built with tech studio experience and using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 5 platform, will feature icons and visual codes that harken back to the brand’s Italian roots. It was first previewed in June, but while no official release date has been announced, Paloni said fans can expect more news by the first quarter of 2023.  

The LVMH-owned brand has previously dropped NFTs around its products, although the blockchain technology will not be incorporated in the “Bulgariverse.” By stripping away these kinds of Web3 tools, including crypto and wallets, Bulgari hopes to reduce complications for consumers and instead focus on providing them with a frictionless experience.

“In the future, there could be a mix between NFTs and the ‘Bulgariverse,’” Paloni said. “But at the moment, we have kept these two worlds separated, because whatever we do are steps.”