JPMorgan, McDonald’s and Manchester City F.C. — the three seemingly unrelated entities have one thing in common, which is their recent forays into the metaverse.
At the center of numerous new campaigns and projects globally, the three-dimensional virtual world has a potential to reach a market opportunity of about US$800 billion in 2024, Bloomberg says.
It is being adopted worldwide across different industries, institutions and governments, such as in gaming, entertainment, art and education, with the potential to evolve by connecting people without physical limitations — especially during the prolonged global pandemic.
Mingout, an online dating platform in India, recently introduced the metaverse as an alternative to its users who are looking for a dating experience but are bound by physical restrictions.
“A world where borders, race, and physical limits become meaningless is coming,” Park Hye-jin, professor at aSSIST, told Forkast.
While new metaverses are appearing left and right, some platforms have already established their name in the digital frontier.
Decentraland is one of the most well-known metaverses right now. Released in February 2020, Decentraland hosted around 300,000 monthly active users at the end of last year.
The Decentraland metaverse is built on the Ethereum blockchain, and is free-to-play while it requires users to connect their accounts to their digital wallets to get the full experience.
While those exploring Decentraland are able to interact and play games with other users, many find the virtual world an attractive spot for digital real estate investments.
The virtual platform has its own cryptocurrency named MANA, currently the 34th most traded cryptocurrency with a US$3.45 billion market cap according to CoinGecko.
The MANA coin is used on the metaverse as a token to purchase and sell virtual estate properties and other collectibles, which takes up a large part of the user experience on Decentraland. Parcel, the unit of digital land on the platform, is sold as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). The cheaper parcels are priced at around 5,000 MANAs, which is about US$13,000.
The popularity of Decentraland drew investments from major names. JPMorgan recently opened its lounge on Decentraland, named after its Ethereum-based blockchain service Onyx. Last month, Samsung Electronics also recreated its Manhattan flagship shop on Decentraland, causing the price of MANA to surge. Sotheby’s owns a virtual gallery within the platform, while Coca-Cola held a rooftop party on Decentraland.
The Sandbox is another metaverse platform that enjoyed early success along with Decentraland. Owned by Hong Kong-based game developer Animoca Brands, The Sandbox boasts over 40 million downloads and 1 million monthly active users.
The Sandbox is also a community-focused metaverse built on the Ethereum blockchain, and issues its own in-metaverse cryptocurrency named SAND, currently priced at around three U.S. dollars.
Digital real estate in the form of an NFT is available on The Sandbox as well, called LAND. The Sandbox players can buy, sell or rent out LANDs for profit.
Owners of the LAND and SAND tokens are given a say in the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) within The Sandbox that determines and governs the future of the platform.
Moreover, The Sandbox grants users great freedom in creating and inventing their own games and worlds. Some players call The Sandbox crypto meets Minecraft.
The Sandbox has been recognized by many globally renowned intellectual property (IP) holders. Its list of partners include Japanese video game company and owner of the Final Fantasy franchise Square Enix, Atari of the RollerCoaster Tycoon, The Smurfs, and more recently one of the biggest K-pop music agencies, SM Entertainment.
Last December, SoftBank had also invested US$93 million into The Sandbox. More recently, Animoca Brands and K-pop agency Cube have formed a joint venture named AniCube Entertainment to bring K-pop artists into The Sandbox on top of building a new music metaverse.
Zepeto is one of the most well-known Asian-born metaverses in the market right now. Launched in 2018 by South Korean internet giant Naver, Zepeto has a monthly active user base of 20 million as of this year. The metaverse platform had revealed last year that 90% of its users come from outside South Korea, and 80% of total users are teenagers.
Originated from South Korea’s viral selfie app SNOW, Zepeto users are given a lot of freedom with customizing their avatars with new hair styles, facial expressions and clothes updated regularly. Through the avatars, Zepeto users interact, shoot TikTok-like short-form videos, play games and visit virtual worlds with different themes.
The platform wins popularity among teenagers and its global audience comes from its collaboration with globally renowned figures and companies, especially those with influence over Zepeto’s target audience.
Globally popular K-pop girl group Blackpink had collaborated with Zepeto for the release of their single “Ice Cream” — the music video recreated with Zepeto avatars of the girl band has over 120 million views on YouTube, and on top of that, the music video set was recreated on the Zepeto metaverse as a world for users to visit themselves.
Fashion brands Gucci, Christian Dior, Nike, makeup brand NARS and others have moved their line of products on Zepeto for users to try on virtually.
South Korea’s leading K-pop agencies — HYBE, YG and JYP — have made large sums of investments into Naver Z, the Naver subsidiary operating Zepeto. Crypto-heavy SoftBank also invested US$150 million into the metaverse platform.
Although Zepeto is not built on a blockchain nor uses crypto or NFTs today, it is slowly integrating the technology into its services with Line Tech Plus, the blockchain subsidiary of LINE Corporation, which is an affiliate of Naver. Using its blockchain technology, LINE issued digital image NFTs of Zepeto worlds last year in Japan.
In the last few months, Naver Z has established two subsidiaries in the U.S. and Hong Kong, to focus on localizing the metaverse for global users. It had also announced plans to strengthen the gaming elements on the platform.
Somnium Space is an open-source metaverse that opened in 2018 with a focus on the virtual reality (VR) experience. It also issues its own cryptocurrency named CUBE, currently priced at US$5.83 on CoinMarketCap. With CUBE, Somnium Space users can rent land and make payments for games and events on the metaverse.
Although it is available through PCs and mobile devices, Somnium Space notes that players can get the primary metaverse experience through VR headsets. Like other open-source metaverses, Somnium Space allows players to buy, trade and build properties on top of virtual land.
In October last year, Somnium Space announced it will be launching its own VR headset hardware — the reason behind the interesting segue is its determination to give users full control over their metaverse experience. “As a decentralized and open metaverse company we cannot allow Somnium Space to be dependent on hardware gatekeepers to be able to communicate and engage with our users,” its announcement reads.
Somnium Space also announced crypto exchange Gemini’s two co-founders Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss as official advisors. On top of that, it joined hands with the Solana blockchain in a decision become a multi-chain open metaverse, and welcomed Solana NFTs into the platform.
Cryptovoxels and Spatial
While art is a crucial part of many metaverses, it stands at the center of Cryptovoxels and Spatial. Cryptovoxels is another Sandbox-like metaverse that is powered by the Ethereum blockchain, where users can purchase land parcels and build stores and art galleries on top of them.
The latter has become one of Cryptovoxels’ main attractions. The metaverse holds hundreds of digital art galleries that exhibit including the B.20 Museum which showcases works of the standout NFT artist Beeple.
New York-based metaverse Spatial aims to create a metaverse for and by artists, vowing to build the largest metaverse gallery in the world. Spatial co-founder Lee Jin-ha previously explained that former modes of exhibiting art lacked means of communication between artists and viewers, and believes the metaverse is the new answer.
Global artists such as Grammy-winning producer Illmind, digital artist Krista Kim and sculptor Ken Kelleher, also known as “Anchorball,” have held events or sold NFT works on Spatial’s metaverse, which raised a US$25 million Series B last December.
Meta and more
Facebook-turned Meta’s first metaverse effort Horizon Worlds opened to adults in North America in December, and the monthly user base of Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues have grown tenfold this month since the opening to 300,000 people.
Although Meta calls Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues “social VR platforms” instead of a metaverse, Mark Zuckerberg says the Horizon software is core to Meta’s metaverse vision.
In January, Microsoft announced plans to acquire game developer Activision Blizzard in part of its race towards launching a metaverse.
Along with Meta and Microsoft’s, China’s Tencent is developing the metaverse, utilizing its China-dominant WeChat app and position as one of the largest game publishers in the world. According to Bloomberg, Tencent also is planning to acquire Black Shark, a gaming handset maker in China to grow VR and AR hardware production scale to enter the metaverse.
South Korea’s major internet companies and game developers such as SK Telecom, Com2uS and Netmarble are actively pursuing metaverse ventures, while Japan has recently seen a metaverse association formed by crypto firms promising to promote the metaverse technology.
Evan Auyang, group president at Animoca Brands, told Forkast that he believes the metaverse is a new world for coming generations.
“It’s not just creativity, it’s about monetization of creativity as well, because once you participate, it’s a true creator’s economy where you really, truly own assets and the creativity that you have,” Auyang said.