Samsung’s Galaxy S22 reveal event wasn’t just a standard livestream this year: It also took place inside a metaverse — and I was genuinely excited to check it out. I’ve attended previous Samsung events in VR and found them to be more enjoyable than most other branded virtual experiences. The infamous 2016 photo of Mark Zuckerberg walking down an aisle while everyone around him is wearing a Gear VR headset is undeniably silly, but the demonstration of what could be possible from home was actually compelling.
By comparison, this 2022 Unpacked event had surprisingly little to do with Samsung and served more as an example of what not to do when using the metaverse to host a product launch.
If you saw Samsung announce an event in the metaverse and thought it meant putting on a VR headset and sitting in an audience, you’re not alone. Instead, Samsung built a version of its New York event space in Decentraland, a cryptocurrency-focused virtual playground. It’s technically possible to enter Decentraland with a VR headset, but the experience is barely functional and requires a lot of technical knowledge. Using your web browser alongside your mouse and keyboard, as intended by the creators, you enter Decentraland as an animated avatar you can modify, and move yourself to the Samsung 837X space to participate.
Arriving at this space the day before the event revealed a brightly lit building and a faux pizza shop. The doors were all closed and there wasn’t much to see, but there were already people lined up to see what Samsung had to offer. When I checked in again, 30 minutes before the event was to start, a handful of people waiting outside had climbed to nearly 100 that I could see. Decentraland runs 10 servers and you can only see the people on your server, but as I moved around before the event each server seemed similarly full. Roughly 1,000 people were waiting for Samsung to open the doors and show us the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Unfortunately for a lot of those servers, the doors didn’t open on time. Many people were unable to actually enter Samsung 837X before the event started. Everyone outside the metaverse was enjoying a strange crossover with the popular TV series Bridgerton at the start of this event, while I and dozens of my fellow metazens were changing servers to find one that worked. Once a server with open doors had been located, the next challenge was finding the room inside this virtual building where the announcement event was actually streaming.
Inside Samsung 837X, you are presented with three rooms and a host of smaller activities to enjoy. Samsung had made special clothing for your Decentraland avatar you could only get by completing a quest in this space. Most of the space was dedicated to this quest, but in the back you could find a theater with the Unpacked event streaming. The room was a fairly generic virtual theater with a big curved screen showing the event already in progress outside of the metaverse. I was nearly 10 minutes late, and now watching a smaller version of the livestream with animated characters dancing around inside of a web browser on my laptop.
A few minutes into watching this presentation, it became clear the real reason most people were here was to unlock the virtual clothes tied to the Samsung quest. The app told me there were 96 people in the space, but the room only held 37. The novelty of the Samsung-made space was much more important than the unveiling of a new phone and tablet for a majority of those who regularly visit Decentraland.
It’s difficult to feel like this approach to an event is anything other than a step backward. Back in 2016, Samsung offered the ability to watch a Galaxy Unpacked event from inside its VR headset. You put the headset on, opened the app and picked one of several positions to watch the stage from a 360-degree streaming camera. Being able to turn your head and see the audience made you feel like you were actually sitting in the audience. Not a lot of people owned those headsets at the time, but it felt like you were in a packed room and could enjoy the show.
In fairness, this 2022 event was fully virtual, so there was no live space to warp into as there was during pre-pandemic product launches. But Samsung could have made it possible to walk through a virtual store, get a closer look at the phone from every angle, or maybe even preorder the next phone using cryptocurrency. There could have been Samsung staff on hand in the space to answer questions or talk to people about what they’re upgrading from and how the cameras on this new phone might have been better.
Samsung had an opportunity to make this space actually feel like a virtual version of its 837 store, but instead built a terribly rendered virtual forest to showcase its intent to plant 2 million trees as part of its sustainability efforts. For comparison’s sake, the real Samsung 837 store not only sells Samsung devices but opened with a cafe on site and, at least pre-pandemic, held a running club that promoted its fitness trackers.
This could have been a lot of fun, but instead felt rushed and incomplete. It was a halfhearted attempt in a long line of cultural zeitgeist moments from Samsung, and felt more like an online version of the Yo! Noid game from Pizza Hut in 1990 than it does a glimpse at an often-promised metaversal future.