It’s almost life as we know it — but without any physical limitations.

Metaverse may be one of the most cited terms of 2021. Even the Ministry of Economy and Finance of South Korea publicly designated the metaverse as one of the key future industries. South Korean companies, regardless of size, are jumping into the metaverse arena for future prospects. Bigger corporations, however, are getting a head start by opening non-fungible token (NFT) platforms with their existing content ahead of a full-on metaverse business. 

The two CEOs of Kakao Games, Namgoong Hoon and Cho Gye-hyun, announced Tuesday on the company’s investor relations (IR) website that the company will earnestly move forward in its efforts toward entering the metaverse. According to the announcement, Kakao Games, which has just had its biggest quarter yet, will commence “season two” of business operations, raising the slogans of “Beyond Korea” and  “Beyond Games.”

While with “Beyond Korea” the company promised building a more global infrastructure with an aim to release every forthcoming game internationally, “Beyond Games” signalled the company’s expansion into NFTs and the metaverse. 

Through its subsidiary, Friends Games, Kakao Games is developing an NFT exchange that specializes in sports and gaming content, and the metaverse. The exchange is set to include digitized assets that are already being used with Kakao Games, such as game items, fan-made artwork of K-pop idols and even golf tee time reservations. Kakao VX under Kakao Games focuses on the digital transformation of sports, mainly with golf. Developing Kakao Games’ own metaverse is also under way, where Kakao Group’s assets will be utilized in an open platform with its own economic model.   

Another giant game developer Com2uS, concentrated its recent investments in the same arena — participating in the Series B round of The Sandbox, an Ethereum blockchain-based metaverse platform under Hong Kong’s Animoca Brands, and in the Series A of Upland, a metaverse game where users trade virtual land property.

On The Sandbox metaverse, players can create and display their own NFTs, with various IPs (intellectual properties) from the company’s 165+ partners including The Smurfs, Snoop Dogg and The Walking Dead. The strategic investments in The Sandbox and Upland shows how much blockchain-focused Com2uS has become, even though the Korean game developer has yet to announce plans to construct its own metaverse.

Meanwhile outside of the gaming industry, AfreecaTV, Korea’s online live-broadcast and streaming service, launched its NFT trading platform on Tuesday named AFT Market. Although AfreecaTV’s popularity has dwindled domestically compared to its heyday with the surge of similar services on YouTube and on Twitch, it has more than 6 million monthly unique visitors.

AfreecaTV’s AFT Market will auction off NFTs of its broadcast of esports highlights, video-on-demand and 3D avatars of popular streamers that can then be used on its metaverse platform set to be launched next month. Korean payment platform Danal is also planning to showcase an NFT platform in the near future where users can buy NFTs with Danal’s own Paycoin (PCI).

So why are these giants committing to building NFT platforms ahead of their metaverse developments?

Park Hye-jin, vice head professor of Venture Capital MBA at aSSIST, told Forkast.News in a video interview that “NFTs will emerge as the core tool in the metaverse that shows one’s possession of digital assets or entitlement. But the metaverse is not completed just with a company’s technology.” Park insists that companies will need to pay full effort to build a comprehensive infrastructure for a complete metaverse, such as in hardware development, increasing speed and stability of the network and better computing power.

“Unless these layers of infrastructure are well-equipped, the companies won’t be able to provide a seamless and immersive metaverse experience for users,” Park said. She says that setting up NFT infrastructure is what these companies choose to develop first, while other layers are still being constructed. 

Park added that aside from IT firms, South Korea’s booming creative industry with K-pop, K-dramas and movies have even bigger potential in the metaverse: “A world where borders become meaningless is coming, as well as race. There have been many physical limits to the industry that blocked it from exerting its full potential. When these are gone in the metaverse, the creative contents industry with strong core values will come into the limelight.”