Chipotle's metaverse ambitions

I recently read a thorough review and watched a playthrough of Chipotle’s new Roblox metaverse game. I use the word "game" here extremely loosely, even though I have the widest palate for games you can imagine. I've played everything from Gameboy to NES, mobile free-to-play to PC, and my newest obsession: the PS5. Though Chipotle’s new Burrito Builder has all the trappings of a mobile game, it has the potential to be much more.

For those who missed it, the new Chipotle game allows players to take on the thrilling challenge of making burritos for digital customers. That’s right -- you get to be an employee at Chipotle in the metaverse, and they’re calling it a game. If making burritos isn’t that fun for you, you can take on the side quest to deliver them as well.

At a first glance, I immediately thought: What a terrible idea for a game. But therein lies my mistake -- I was assuming that this game was meant to entertain. Taking a step back, this metaverse game might be one of the most genius moves since Tesla used their drivers to leapfrog self-driving technology.

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I’m the first to admit that the world of gaming is always expanding. My own company, Atlas Reality, sits at the intersection of gaming, fintech and Web3. The moment I stopped looking at Chipotle’s foray into the metaverse less like a game and more like a game with a machine learning veneer, I got interested.

The labor shortage

These days, family members in the restaurant industry tell me that finding employees willing to come into a store and work for $15-$20 an hour has been difficult, especially with competition from fully remote work-from-home jobs and gig economy jobs where employees can set their own hours. The long game is inevitably going to be automation taking on the jobs that humans no longer want -- and burrito-making may be one of them.

However, someone needs to train these automated burrito builders. Machine learning involves pattern recognition of millions of scenarios and how to handle them, and human-guided input and correction make for great learning experiences. Take Tesla for example -- the future-focused company has compounded miles and miles of human data to build up their AI technology and pilot their self-driving cars.

Enter the Chipotle metaverse. For a moment, let’s stop calling it a game and look at it as what it could be -- a way for Chipotle to learn and process hundreds of hours of human input. Imagine making $20 an hour sitting in front of a computer, making burritos. This time, though, they’re not just digital burritos, and it’s not only a game. They’re real burritos for real customers, and the human responses are being recorded as input, training an eventual self-sufficient machine.

In a not-so-distant future, this could go beyond folding burritos. Companies like Chipotle may need human controllers to train and optimize delivery drone drivers. Could this metaverse game be the Trojan horse?

Sami Khan is the co-founder and CEO of Atlas Reality, a company building real value in the virtual world. Prior to starting Atlas, Sami created and executed growth strategies for some of the largest digital products in the world now valued collectively over $15B including the micro-investing app Acorns and the money-saving browser extension, Honey. He has been featured on multiple case studies featured on a Snap earnings call, at Facebook, Twitter, and Adweek.

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