- Big Tech companies like Meta, Microsoft, Epic Games, and Apple are becoming pioneers for the Metaverse
- Real estate sales across four major Metaverse platforms exceeded $500 million last year
- India’s first Metaverse wedding is to be held on February 6
- Alleged harassment cases in the Metaverse on the rise
The Metaverse has become a massive buzzword. The concept was already gaining steam but with Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of Facebook’s switch to Meta in late October, the interest in virtual reality and the future it holds has engulfed many.
Ever since the switch, the internet has been flooded with mixed responses with supporters hailing it as the future of the internet and critics citing it as merely a ploy for building riches by the power-hungry.
Many news outlets have been painting this dystopian future where everyone is doomed to be mindless robots in a cog. A ready player one meets the matrix where the Zuck controls everything. But the concept of a Metaverse isn’t new at all.
With the internet still in its diapers, American novelist, Neal Stephenson, spoke about virtual reality. A virtual world where people would use digital avatars to live, work, and play online. He called it the Metaverse. He said this virtual would be the successor of the internet, an escape of sorts from a dystopian reality. What kind of dystopian reality, you ask? This is the picture he painted: The global economy has collapsed, federal governments have lost control and a handful of giant corporations control the world. This was Stephenson’s projection, three decades go.
Today, big tech is working on building the same future minus the dystopia, hopefully. Companies like Meta, formerly Facebook, Microsoft, Epic Games, and Apple are spearheading the transition to a Metaverse and rivaling to come out on top.
This also seems to be the prime time for such an introduction. The Covid-19 pandemic has been very much a reality. For two years now, human contact has been the casualty. Enter Metaverse: A virtual universe that will coexist with the physical one.
Metaverse: What Exactly Is It?
The general purpose of any Metaverse concept is to breach the borders of reality and distance to allow users to interact through a shared virtual space.
In essence, the Metaverse is an umbrella term for multiple technology elements, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and video. Their fusion allows for creating a digital world, much like the real world right now. It is a layer on top of our actual world that is entirely virtual.
We’re constantly interacting with something on the internet, be it websites, games, forums, or media apps. The Metaverse takes these interactions further by implementing various new technologies, such as VR headsets, that can create much more immersive experiences—in a way, making it an extension of our physical world.
Crypto coins and digital tokens including NFTs are essentially the main currency inside the Metaverse.
Real Estate Booming In The Metaverse
It seems as if the latest big real estate market isn’t on scenic coastlines or major city hubs but in the Metaverse. Reports reveal that a growing number of investment firms are spending hefty millions to acquire digital property.
In November, Republic Realm, a firm that buys and develops real estate in the Metaverse, said that it paid $4.3 million for land in the world of Sandbox. It is the most prominent digital property sale publicized to date.
There are currently only four dominating platforms in the real estate Metaverse. These include Sandbox, Cryptovoxels, Somnium Space, and Decentraland. Each with its own cryptocurrencies. Each of these platforms has a limited number of parcels available for purchase which is tracked using blockchain technology. Right now, Sandbox has an overwhelming lead with over 60% of the land available on the 4 platforms.
According to MetaMetric Solutions, real estate sales across four major Metaverse platforms exceeded $500 million last year. In fact, the sales in January alone have surpassed $85 million, the data provider reported. Analysts predict that this figure could cross $1 billion in 2022.
But for many, it continues to be a difficult concept to grasp. To simplify, virtual real estate consists of designated pieces of code that are divided into plots and available for sale on specific Metaverse platforms. Interested parties can purchase these in the form of NFTs on the blockchain. The idea behind investing in digital land is that once it is owned, you can make money by developing virtual property and leasing it out.
Despite the mounting sales, digital real estate is still considered a risky investment. Many critics and skeptics are warning that it could be a potential hub for scams because the amount of virtual property and the number of platforms that offer it is virtually limitless.
But with a potential ‘crypto winter’ on the horizon, the Metaverse is looking attractive to investors as a new avenue to enter, especially for advertising where users will congregate virtually.
Wedding Bells In The Metaverse
With the pandemic restricting civilization to their homes, Zoom weddings became a much-accepted norm. These allowed family and friends to be virtually present while two loved ones tying the knot.
Dinesh Kshatriya and his fiance Janaganandhini Ramaswamy decided to take it up a notch with Asia’s first Metaverse wedding. The Indian couple is expected to tie the wedding knot on February 6. They belong to Tamil Nandu, where the wedding guests have been limited to only 100 because of Covid restrictions.
The couple found a way around it and decided to hold their wedding in the Metaverse. The wedding is Hogwarts-themed, and around 2,000 people have been invited to their virtual reception.
The attendees will be in their avatar form, as will the couple. However, it will all be happening in real-time. Each avatar will be wearing saris or suits and will have the ability to interact with one another as if they were all present in the same venue. The bride’s father will even appear in a ghost avatar since he died last year.
The NFT platform GuardianLink will be facilitating the wedding by launching the first Metaverse wedding NFT collection. The NFT collection will be sponsored by CoinSwitch Kuber, a crypto trading platform. It will feature backgrounds and attires from the Harry Potter and cyberpunk eras and classic wedding attire showcasing the bride, groom, and the bride’s late father.
Through a simple web browser, guests will be able to participate in the celebration without wearing VR headsets. They will only need the appropriate login information.
Harassment Claims In The Metaverse
Mark Zuckerberg claims Metaverse is the future of the internet. But a different story altogether is being told by some with a first-hand experience of living inside the Metaverse.
A UK resident, Nina Jane Patel, described her horrific experience in the blog post of her avatar being gang-raped in Meta’s virtual game, Horizon Worlds. She said the incident took place just seconds after joining the virtual platform.
“Within 60 seconds of joining,” she penned the experience in a post back in December, “I was verbally and sexually harassed – 3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar.’”
Patel recounts how some male avatars sexually assaulted her avatar and took pictures. She said she tried to get away, but the assailants kept yelling messages like “don’t pretend you didn’t love it.” She said she was shocked by all the derogatory comments after she spoke of her encounter.
Nina Patel is the vice president of Metaverse Research for Kabuni Ventures, an immersive technology company. Horizon Worlds was released to everyone 18 and over in the United States and Canada on December 9 by Meta Corporation following an invite-only beta test a year earlier.
The incident has raised serious questions about whether the Metaverse is a safe space. Meta’s vice president Vivek Sharma said that the beta tester did not use a safety feature to block such interactions.
Many are unimpressed by his statement, labeling it as casual victim-blaming. Other harassment incidents have also occurred, showing how vastly unregulated the space is.
Metaverse has the potential to change the world for the better. It poses a plethora of opportunities paving potential pathways for virtual tourism, virtual properties, virtual concerts, digital libraries, new exclusive shows within the Metaverse.
But it is also essential to consider that it can overstep its purpose by becoming a tool for predators to commit crimes online and get away with it. It could even become a dangerous, unhealthy escape from reality.
Nevertheless, the Metaverse is still in its prime, and time will tell if it will prove to be the future of the internet or remain as a buzzword for the years to come.