Just when you thought we were already living in a technologically advanced society, the world’s biggest tech companies surprise you. Metaverse, a word that conjures an image of an alternate universe in a science-fiction novel, has been a major talking point lately. This is largely because of Facebook’s rebranding as “Meta” in October.
The metaverse is a virtual universe. Although what the metaverse would look like is not yet clear since it is still an idea in its infancy, most people—from tech giants and video game companies to crypto enthusiasts and wealthy investors—are envisioning the metaverse as an online environment where the possibilities are endless. In this environment, our experience of the virtual world is much more immersive. In the words of Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, when inside the metaverse, we are not just looking at the experience, but we are in the experience.
This means that you are not merely watching a virtual music concert on your screen, for instance, but you are in the concert, totally enjoying the event.
The concept of a “metaverse” is not completely new. Attempts have already been made to create it, but the enthusiasm would eventually fizzle out. However, for many, this time feels different. Suddenly, the metaverse is a concept that is now within reach.
Without a doubt, the metaverse would be a huge leap in technology. The level of excitement about it is already high, not only for its potential but also for the opportunities it could offer. The opportunity to make fortunes from it, in particular.
In fact, some of these opportunities are already here.
Take, for example, the popular gaming metaverse in the Philippines, Axie Infinity. In this game, players buy, breed, train, and trade digital creatures called “Axies”. Players can then sell these creatures for cryptocurrency. Another way to earn cryptocurrency in this game is by completing in-game quests and battling other Axies. Because of the monetary benefits that it provides to its players, Axie Infinity is more than just a game; it is also a lifesaver, especially during the height of the pandemic, when many Filipinos became unemployed and continue to struggle to stay afloat. to keep themselves afloat.
Other metaverse projects are also exploding right now. The prominent ones are Decentraland and The Sandbox.
Decentraland is a virtual world where users can purchase digital plots of land called “LAND.” Users have total control of what they want to do with these plots of land, and they can earn money by monetizing them, either by leasing them or by using them as advertising spaces.
Just recently, a plot of Decentraland’s digital land was sold for $2.43 million, approximately Php 122.7 million at the time of writing. The purchase was made by Tokens.com, a company that invests in crypto assets related to metaverse real estate, among others.
Another metaverse, The Sandbox is a gaming ecosystem where players can play, create, own, and monetize their virtual experiences through certain objects and games. Players can generate income in this metaverse by creating and selling their own in-game assets (avatars and their accessories, for example), or by creating their own games and participating in other games, too. Just like Decentraland, users of The Sandbox may also purchase virtual pieces of land that can be rented out to other users6.
At the time of writing, sneaker brand Adidas has hinted at a partnership with The Sandbox in one of its tweets, tagging the metaverse platform’s account. Legendary rapper and entertainer Snoop Dogg is also one of The Sandbox’s partners.
After Facebook officially announced its name change, the cryptocurrencies of these two platforms have seen a dramatic spike. Decentraland’s native cryptocurrency, MANA, has jumped over 400%9, and SAND, The Sandbox’s native cryptocurrency, has rallied over 600%.
Other metaverse-related projects with impressive market capitalizations and their respective cryptocurrencies include Enjin (ENJ), UFO Gaming (UFO), Render Network (RNDR), and Illuvium (ILV).
Moreover, the metaverse is often tied to Web 3.0, the third generation of the Internet, which aims to give its users ownership and control of their personal data and a more personalized browsing experience through the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. It is therefore also worth checking out projects that are focused on building and supporting the development of Web 3.0.
Polkadot, a platform for Web 3.0, is an example. With a total market capitalization of approximately Php 1.6 trillion at the time of writing, Polkadot envisions a completely decentralized web where users are in control and secured from any central authority. A Web 3.0 infrastructure provider, Ankr, is another platform to watch. Ankr aims to make Web 3.0 and the crypto economy accessible for individuals, developers, and enterprises. Currently, Ankr has a market capitalization of around Php 65.17 billion.
With all these metaverse initiatives popping up from time to time, it just makes sense to look at this industry with squinting eyes and laser-like focus. This niche is still in its early stages, which only means that it still has room to grow— one that big corporations and tech startups are scrambling to occupy, as they try to be part of this digital revolution, if not, to be one of the leaders of the revolution.
For this is not just a shift in communication but also a shift in how we do business.
VR Education, an Irish company, believes that the metaverse is the future of business. In June, Italian fashion label Gucci entered the metaverse in collaboration with Roblox, a gaming metaverse popular with the Gen Z demographic. Beverage giant Coca-Cola also took a step forward in joining the metaverse when it launched its own digital assets that can be used in Decentraland. Last October, cosmetic brand Clinique also created its first digital asset, with Clinique senior vice president and global chief marketing officer Carolyn Dawkins stating it was “just the beginning of Clinique’s journey in the metaverse.”
Companies are not only foraying into the metaverse to improve market reach and promote brand awareness; they believe that the metaverse could help them save billions of dollars, too. Nvidia CEO claims that companies can reduce waste and increase operational efficiency by simulating their equipment, resources, and other facilities in the metaverse. Nvidia is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of graphics processors.
Today, more and more brands are heading towards the metaverse, even with it being nascent. For an economy that is predicted to be worth over $1 trillion in annual revenue (or almost Php 50.36 trillion), it would not be a surprise if the metaverse would eventually be called the place to be for most businesses. According to Vlad Panchenko, CEO and founder of DMarket, a marketplace for digital game assets, companies do not have any other choice but to embrace the metaverse. Otherwise, they will not survive.
Of course, with the hype around the metaverse come criticisms and worries. Designed to be as immersive as possible, it is feared that the metaverse would isolate us from the real world, causing us to prioritize our metaverse needs over our actual needs, not to mention the countless cyber problems that we still have in Web 2.0, such as hacking, cyberbullying, and hate speech. If we have not successfully addressed these problems in Web 2.0, would Web 3.0 aggravate them?
While these concerns are completely valid, metaverse true believers are optimistic that the metaverse will be a space of affection, empathy, and inclusivity. As content creator Carrie Tatsu puts it, virtual spaces like the metaverse are smaller, which fosters a more intimate relationship with everyone we meet online. Right now, we could only hope for good things out of it.
Given the growing interest around and the amount of money already spent for it, it is fair to say that the metaverse is here to stay, and that the metaverse is the future. It may be years before the metaverse materializes, but it is definitely on its way. Tech architects are already designing it. Computer engineers are now busy building it. Virtual reality geniuses are constantly studying it. It is just a matter of time for the vision of the metaverse to come to fruition.
Despite fear, uncertainty, and doubt about it, the metaverse totally excites me. I am curious to see how this online extension of our physical world feels. I am looking forward to visiting and exploring it. The metaverse is neither just a gaming world nor an upgraded version of the Internet; it is also a whole new world of opportunities. I may have to face the tedious task of wearing a special kind of headset every time I enter it, but that is all right, because once I put on that headset, an incredible universe in pixels awaits.
As published in Mindanao Times, dated 13 January 2022