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Screenshots: Amber Vittoria for Applebee's; @RTFKTstudios

Companies are rushing to build for a metaverse — even as consumers are still trying to understand the concept.

Driving the news: Nike just acquired RTFKT, a developer of digital goods, including virtual sneakers and NFTs (non-fungible tokens). Meanwhile, Applebee’s is launching a new NFT every Monday this month, following White Castle’s move into crypto.

Why it matters: Virtual and mixed environments are expected to upend businesses the way the internet did, industry watchers say.

  • The way they evolve “has the potential to disrupt almost everything in human life,” analysts at Jefferies wrote, per Business Insider.

Be smart: The metaverse concept has been around for decades. Several different kinds already exist — think Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, Decentraland and The Sandbox.

While Facebook’s pivot to Meta has increased media attention, huge brands from Gucci to Taco Bell have been experimenting with digital product launches all year. 

  • At Nike, the bet is that people will want to buy digital goods for their digital personas
  • For Applebee’s foray, the sale of an NFT is an example of how the real and digital worlds can be bridged.

What they’re saying: Companies are speeding to the finish line because “there's the first-mover advantage for the buzz … signaling to a very valuable audience that you're a brand that gets it,” says Robert Davis, head of innovation at Ogilvy. 

  • The other part of the rush: inflation. It's already getting incredibly expensive to lock down market share on things like virtual real estate.

What to watch: Adoption is still low. Less than 20% of the U.S. population will have used virtual reality at least once per month this year, according to eMarketer.

Go deeper

GameStop and Konami to invest in NFTs

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Konami and GameStop have announced investments into the NFT (non-fungible tokens) space, as companies push ahead with the controversial digital items.

Driving the news: According to a Wall Street Journal report, GameStop has hired more than 20 people to run a new division dedicated to creating cryptocurrency partnerships and an NFT marketplace.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.

Why 401(k) rollovers are so annoying

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you happened to change jobs recently, you may have tried to transfer your retirement account from your former employer into an Individual Retirement Account or your new employer's 401(k) plan. If so, you probably encountered a bureaucratic gantlet — and you're not alone.

Why it matters: Kludgey processes around retirement account transfers result in people losing track of their funds, giving up important tax advantages, or otherwise disadvantaging themselves and being less prepared for retirement.

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