Web3 should never, ever grow up

Perhaps more than any other emerging industry right now, Web3 understands the unifying power of something as simple as having fun


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Remember the feeling of cracking open a pack of trading cards, or the joy of exploring imaginary worlds with your favorite figurine? Back in May, Pudgy Penguins tapped into that very essence of playfulness, launching adorable penguin plush toys on Amazon, successfully grossing half a million dollars in sales within two days of launch. 

Pudgy Penguin’s triumph wasn’t just luck — it was a clever use of nostalgia to onboard more people into Web3. The words “playful,” “inner child” and “imagination” became key ingredients in Pudgy Penguin’s creative storytelling stew, and a testament to how brands can successfully communicate by connecting with people’s nostalgic feelings about their youth.

Read more: Pudgy Penguins debuts on Amazon with $500,000 in sales

With its immersive experiences, interactive play-to-earn games, surprise airdrops, NFT mystery boxes and coveted rewards, Web3 is a playground where the rules of engagement are being rewritten. 

Some may perceive Web3 as “immature” — and that may be the case — but I believe that this immaturity can make it a primary gateway for mainstream adoption.

Peter Pan syndrome

Nostalgia is a drug. 

From Gen Z to Boomers, countless generations hold cherished childhood memories close to heart, anchoring their personal identities. For some time now, the inner child, that part of us frozen in time, has dominated the psyches of collectors and hobbyists. It also informs how they spend their money.

Our culture has undergone a shift toward “neoteny,” preserving childlike attributes as we spend more on leisure than ever before — over $500 billion annually in the US. And it’s not just leisure; adults are actively participating in activities once reserved for kids. In 1990, the average UK video gamer was 18; by 2022, it was 32. The transformation is mirrored in the US, where video game participation among individuals aged over 45 years old surged from 9% in 1999 to 25% in 2022. Adults, with their higher incomes, contribute significantly to the toy industry as well, accounting for 25% of the $36 billion in annual toy sales in 2022.

Web3 is a playground

At its core, Web3 has a childlike essence, (evident from its early projects like CryptoKitties), while still being centered around community and social ties. It even has its own unique middle school-esque language and rules (consider the lingo, “fren” and “gm”).

Playfulness is a core growth feature for Web3. NFT projects intentionally evoke nostalgia through mystery boxes, quests, rewards and rarity elements, all reminiscent of Pokémon cards or Zelda for instance, to sustain engagement and community anticipation. 

Web3 projects have caught on to stigmas and are increasingly focused on experience over technicality. Terms like “NFT” have shifted to “collectibles,” and “metaverse” has been gradually replaced by “immersive experience.” Take Roblox, gradually moving away from the “metaverse” to create immersive experiences for brands. This has opened doors for traditional consumers to interact with Web3 concepts subtly, much like they have with figurines and video games. 

Sorare orchestrated a nostalgic return to the allure of Panini sports cards by leveraging card rarity, enabling users to buy and trade collectibles like they did as kids. From the Web2 to Web3 perspective, Starbucks introduced Starbucks Odyssey, a reward system where members play interactive games, quizzes and challenges to earn collectibles that unlock real-world rewards and experiences. Here, the ‘collectibles’ are in fact NFTs, but gamification and actually having fun have prompted traditional consumers to engage with the program.

Enjoyment is the utility

Web3, perhaps more than any other emerging industry right now, understands the unifying power of something as simple as having fun. 

The gamified elements within Web3 have not only enticed brands to engage with their core audience in new ways, but have also attracted a fresh wave of consumers. The allure of fun, games, rewards and collectibles is and will be one of the most effective ways to get average consumers not only attracted to Web3, but to stay and participate.

As Hollywood earns billions on Barbie and the Little Mermaid, the gamification market is poised to rise by 25% by 2025, reaching $30.7 billion. Web3’s intrinsic appeal to nostalgia in turn offers the perfect platform for brands to communicate this intergenerational cultural shift, and pave a stronger path toward adoption.

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