South Korea has emerged as an early frontrunner for housing the development and expansion of the metaverse. 

The country’s government and private sector appear to see the metaverse as the new frontier of the digital age, including the capital city, Seoul, committing to recreate itself on the metaverse. 

The metaverse is expected to become a US$800 billion industry by 2024, offering new revenue streams for gaming, social media and entertainment industries. 

Economics professor at Dongguk University Park Sun-young told Forkast that South Korea’s global gaming and cultural content market are its main advantages in the metaverse race. 

“Korea’s content industry, such as entertainment, movies and drama series, are gaining global popularity,” Park said. “As NFT is inevitably intertwined with intellectual property, the current global popularity of Korea’s content market will be advantageous.” 

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, can prove digital ownership of virtual lands and properties on the metaverse.

Tech giants Microsoft and Meta (formerly Facebook) are making significant plays to corner key parts of the ecosystem. Nearby competitors in Japan and China are also gearing up, but Korea is well stacked for the battle.

Last year, the Tokyo-based conglomerate SoftBank led investment rounds of the native South Korean metaverse Zepeto and The Sandbox, while four crypto companies joined to establish the Japan Metaverse Association for promoting and supporting the country’s metaverse industry.

China is also witnessing rapid metaverse developments despite its strict ban on crypto. Major companies such as Baidu and Bilibili have ramped up metaverse businesses, while China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology pledged to support small to medium metaverse enterprises recently.

Still, some remain skeptical about this global metaverse trend. Song Mun-seok, a 22-year-old South Korean user of the Zepeto metaverse, told Forkast that the movement is not inclusive of different generations.

“The elderly citizens are already having trouble using unmanned kiosks at coffee shops,” Song said. “If everything starts moving into the metaverse, what about them?” 

Rather than using difficult and complicated technologies such as VR and AR, author of best-selling book The Metaverse: The Digital Earth Kim Sang-kyun sees a need for metaverses that are accessible through devices that are more comprehensive for the elderly, such as webcams and computers. 

Kim told Forkast that still, many existing businesses tend to view the metaverse negatively since public attention has migrated to the state-of-the-art technology. 

“The demand for the workforce and infrastructure for offline services will decline, and the affiliated businesses and manpower may be affected temporarily,” Kim said. 

South Korea is considered a favorable environment for the metaverse to flourish according to Meta’s country director for South Korea, who noted the nation’s public receptivity, manufacturing capabilities and accessible environments for content creators.

“I hope they could see the metaverse more as an opportunity to converge with other industries and expand the scope of business,” Kim said. 

Samsung Electronics, one of South Korea’s leading enterprises, invested in metaverse platform Ready Player Me in December and launched a virtual store on Decentraland this year.  

Other conglomerates including SK and Kakao Group have reassembled their businesses to encompass the metaverse into their future plans.