This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, bringing you an interview that I recorded live at the C Space Studio at CES 2023. Enjoy. This is the C Space Studio right here at CES 2023. I'm your host, James Kotecki, bringing you amazing live conversations all day and tomorrow. And right now we're talking with Cathy Hackl, founder and chief metaverse officer at Journey. Welcome to the show.
Cathy Hackl (00:37):
Excited to be here.
James Kotecki (00:38):
So, a lot to unpack in that title, let's start with Journey. What is Journey?
Cathy Hackl (00:43):
So Journey is a new design and innovation consultancy, we work to merge the physical and the virtual worlds together. So we do both work in the physical space, for example, TSX Entertainment, which is the first Web3 building, but we also do a lot of work in the virtual space. For example, we created the two Roblox worlds that Walmart launched last year.
James Kotecki (01:03):
Fantastic. What does it mean to be a Web3 building?
Cathy Hackl (01:06):
Well, I think we're still trying to define that because it's the world's first.
James Kotecki (01:09):
Well, does it exist or is it into the design phase now, or what does that mean?
Cathy Hackl (01:12):
It's in the design phase. Yeah.
James Kotecki (01:13):
Okay. So, if I walk into the building, what will my experience be?
Cathy Hackl (01:18):
So, really my forte is not necessarily the physical side-
James Kotecki (01:18):
Oh, you're-
Cathy Hackl (01:18):
I'm more on the virtual side-
James Kotecki (01:22):
Oh, because you're the chief metaverse officer.
Cathy Hackl (01:23): I can talk gaming and metaverse all you want.
James Kotecki (01:24):
Well, let's talk about that. So, I think you probably have to do this in a lot of conversations you have, I imagine, but let's just get your definition, what is the metaverse?
Cathy Hackl (01:33):
All right. So I'll start by telling you there's a lot of hype around it.
James Kotecki (01:33):
Cathy Hackl (01:36):
So the metaverse is not one single technology, and it's not one single company. So we want people don't understand that it's not VR and it's not one single company.
James Kotecki (01:40):
Cathy Hackl (01:44):
So, the metaverse, you have to look at it as the next iteration of the internet. So, a more immersive, 3D version of the internet, a further conversions of physical and digital. It's about virtual shared experiences that happen, yes, in virtual spaces, that could be in VR, or it could be in gaming, but eventually will happen in the physical world as well.
James Kotecki (02:03):
Got it.
Cathy Hackl (02:03):
So, it's where we're heading with the internet. We're all still trying to define it... That's the thing. We're all building it.
James Kotecki (02:10):
Cathy Hackl (02:11):
People think it's already here, and the reality is, no, it's going to take five, 10, even more years to get there.
James Kotecki (02:16):
Yeah. Do you like the term metaverse? It's obviously in your title, but do you find it's more useful than it is confusing? Or are they both, right?
Cathy Hackl (02:24):
I have two minds. There's a lot of skepticism, and rightfully so, because it's an interesting term, it comes from Sci-Fi, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. But obviously, a big company changing their name to Meta, that impacts what people think of the word. In reality, do I think we're going to call it metaverse in 10 years? I don't think so. We don't say, I'm going to go to the internet superhighway anymore, or anything, information system-
James Kotecki (02:48):
I don't go to the cyber café, let's put it that...
Cathy Hackl (02:51):
So, yeah, I think we're trying to describe what the future of the internet means, and that's the word we're using right now, but I think we're all trying to make sense of it. I think my biggest thing is, for people to understand, it's not here yet, and then I'm not really interested in defining it as much, as helping to build it.
James Kotecki (03:09):
Yeah. Well, let's talk about some of those specific examples of things that actually do exist, and maybe they don't represent the metaverse per se, but they point the way, right?
Cathy Hackl (03:17):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
James Kotecki (03:17):
So let's talk about the Roblox experience. And for those who don't know, my eight-year-old son watching, he certainly knows what it's all about. Roblox, super popular... It's this virtual world where you can go and you can play games, you can create your own games, you can have experiences, create experiences. Describe to me, if I pull up Roblox and I'm navigating through that, and I'm at the Walmart experience, what am I experiencing?
Cathy Hackl (03:41):
So you're experiencing Walmart in a completely different way. It's not the typical physical Walmart you go to, it's a gaming version of Walmart. So there's different aisles... There's an entertainment aisle, there's a fashion aisle. For example, back in October, we hosted a virtual concert series, inside what's called Electric Aisle. So yeah, it's about experiencing the brand in different ways and engaging with new audiences. Because, this is how I feel about it. I feel like gaming is the new mall. The teenagers used to go to the mall, when we were growing up we probably went to the mall. I think gaming is the new mall. So these younger generations, I wouldn't even say... It's Gen Z, but more Gen Alpha, which is 12-year olds and still being born, so my kids are Gen Alpha as well.
James Kotecki (04:25):
Cathy Hackl (04:26):
They're all in these gaming spaces. They're socializing, they're building, for example, a lot of them develop and build their own experiences. Roblox allows you to do that. So yeah, it's this moment of creation that's happening, that's where they're socializing. This is their new mall, this is their new social network. And a lot of us, parents, we spend a lot of money on these platforms. My kids, for example, for the holidays, they didn't want cash. They were like, I want Roblox gift cards.
James Kotecki (04:54):
Yes. So, how long has this Walmart activation existed? What have you learned through that experience?
Cathy Hackl (05:02):
Yeah. I haven't checked lately, but it's gotten more than 7 million visits, and people have been really engaged. For example, for the holidays, we refreshed it, and we included snow, and did a few things. So it's been around since September. We launched two experiences, Walmart Land, and then Universal Play, both at the same time, in Roblox for Walmart. And they're still active and open, and it's really exciting to see the younger generation and gamers and players engage with brands in totally different ways.
James Kotecki (05:37):
And what do you think is so compelling about visiting a brand that I know in real life, in the virtual world. Because obviously, in the virtual world, I could be visiting a castle and fighting a dragon... You could imagine any kind of thing you want. Obviously it works, but why does it work to have something that's an everyday thing that I go to, Walmart, but in this fantastical world? Someone might look at that and think, why do I want to go to Walmart when I'm playing a game? But obviously they do, I'm just curious why?
Cathy Hackl (06:08):
Well, I think it's about the experience, and I think for a lot of these brands that are going into these gaming spaces, it's about engaging with the consumers... Not consumers, I don't like that word. With the audiences of the future. The people that are going to make those decisions, that are going to ask their parents to buy something, or that eventually are going to be the ones buying there. So it's about engaging with them. I was listening to someone speak yesterday, and they're like, if you're not in these platforms right now, as a brand, you might not be relevant in five to 10 years, because those consumers are going to be like, I've never heard of this brand.
So I think there's something really interesting there. I also think that the younger generation, they're in these spaces, socializing, creating, building their houses, fitting their avatars, you almost have to think about... And I make this idea and this concept of, direct to avatar, becoming the next direct to consumer. Where you're starting to see what they're putting on their avatars, how they're outfitting themselves, it's impacting. I do a lot of work in the fashion space, and I'll give you an example, I wholeheartedly believe that the world's next Coco Chanel is probably a 10-year-old girl in Roblox designing skins.
James Kotecki (07:12):
Wow. What does that... I guess this is a philosophical question. But what does it mean for the future of fashion, when I can change not only my clothes, but I can change my skin, I can change my body, I can change whether I have wings or scales or anything else that I want? I think that the opportunities and the possibilities, and really just philosophically what it means to think about this stuff, it's almost hard to grapple with.
Cathy Hackl (07:33):
Yeah, I think it is. But I think for younger generations, the way they show up in these spaces is equally as important to them as it is how they show up in the physical world. So yeah, I think from a fashion perspective, it's evolving. You're already creating culture in the gaming space, that's something we cannot debate. So that culture is impacting fashion. You already have, for example, Forever 21, doing a collection that is linked to what they were seeing people buy in Roblox.
James Kotecki (07:33):
Cathy Hackl (08:03):
So physical and virtual are starting to impact things. And I think for a lot of the older generation, and a lot of the people at this conference, it's changing the chip a little bit, and understanding that for this younger generation, what happens in the virtual space, just because it happens in the virtual space, does not make it less real. It's not the real world and the virtual world, it's the physical world and the virtual world, they're equally important to them and equally real.
James Kotecki (08:26):
There may be people here at CES or around the world watching this who are like, I got to get involved in this, but I don't even know where to start. How do you recommend to people to start navigating this world, even just as an individual? Where do they even start?
Cathy Hackl (08:39):
Yeah, there's a lot written out there and a lot of hype, of course. But I think there's great resources... I will tell you, I do have a book coming out, called Into the Metaverse, The Essential Business Guide to the Opportunities of the Web3, so that's a great resource. LinkedIn has LinkedIn learning courses, there's a lot... There's even a free Coursera course that was created by Meta, but it's available out there. So I think reading... This space is moving really fast, but trying to understand what are the different players doing? Not trying to define the metaverse, like I said, but trying to understand it, trying to educate yourself, and trying to see what you are going to build in this new era.
James Kotecki (09:17):
And should I spend more time playing Roblox with my kids? Should I get them to teach me?
Cathy Hackl (09:22):
100%. One of the biggest things I've seen is when I have CEOs, and I'll be like, okay, this is what the metaverse is... It's not gaming necessarily, but gaming is the on-ramp. And I actually have them play, whether it's Fortnite or Roblox or whatever, and they eventually, they get it. Once they start playing, in a safe space, they don't want to embarrass themselves in front of their teenagers, but if they start playing, they get it. They're like, oh, this is what's going on. And I advise anyone, sit down with your kids, play with them. Also, sit down with them and build worlds in this space. And I always say in the metaverse, we're all world builders, and now is our time to build. We can build anything.
James Kotecki (10:00):
I believe you also host a metaverse podcast, is that right?
Cathy Hackl (10:03):
James Kotecki (10:03):
This is a branding/advertising space at CES, we like to give people opportunities to plug their stuff. Tell us the title of the podcast, and is there a question about the metaverse you think I should be asking other people when they come to see me at the C Space Studio?
Cathy Hackl (10:16):
Yeah. So I do have a podcast, it's called Metaverse Marketing. It's part of the Adweek Podcast Network. We were just recently nominated for a Signal Awards.
James Kotecki (10:26):
Cathy Hackl (10:27):
So, we're very happy about that. And yeah, it's a highly produced podcast, it's more of an audio documentary about the future, about the metaverse. We talk a lot about fashion, and sports, and fandom, and all sorts of things. But as far as what question you should ask, I think you should ask people, are they skeptical or are they excited? And I think that'll give you an idea of where they stand, because I feel like there's so much hype and just miscommunication about what it could be. It's not here yet, and it's not just VR.
James Kotecki (10:56):
It's not just VR, but how big of a component will VR play in the coming years? When we talk about gaming, that's something I can obviously just access from a laptop screen, a phone, I don't need any super specialized equipment to do it. But what role do you actually think VR is going to play? Do you think in five years, 10 years, that's going to be the dominant way that we access this stuff? Still no, you're shaking your head.
Cathy Hackl (11:18):
No, no, no. To me, the metaverse is enabled by many different technologies.
James Kotecki (11:22):
Cathy Hackl (11:22):
AR, VR, [inaudible 00:11:23], mobile phones, 5G, cloud computing, AI... Just throw any term out there, that's an enabling technology for the metaverse. Do I think we're going to be wearing VR headsets all day, Ready Player One style, and be spending hours there? No, I think we're going to choose to do full immersion, when it is the right moment. I think it's going to be more about really interesting wearables. We're still going to use our mobile phones, we might still use our computers, but eventually it might be glasses. Whatever Apple brings to market, we'll have to see.
James Kotecki (11:49):
Cathy Hackl of Journey, chief metaverse officer, thanks so much for joining us here on the show.
Cathy Hackl (11:53):
Thank you. And I'll see you in the metaverse.
James Kotecki (11:55):
Well, I hope you enjoyed that live conversation from CES 2023. Look up the CES C Space Studio for more conversations like that, and get even more CES at That's CES dot T-E-C-H. And of course, please subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss a moment. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.