- Joe Tidy
- BBC News cybersecurity reporter
That’s what has been invested in buying virtual land in the last 12 months, as people and businesses compete to establish themselves in the metaverseresearch shows.
But we are years away from the metaverse emerging as a single immersive online space where people can live, work and play in virtual reality.
Then, Is buying virtual land a big bet?
“Exhibit my own work”
With her large dark red mohawk and permanently lit cigarette, artist Angie Thompson’s avatar doesn’t seem to represent a real estate mogul.
But she is part of a growing generation of people claiming new virtual worlds.
“I bought my first metaverse parcel in July 2020 and I paid about 1,500 pounds (about $1,670). I bought it to showcase my own work, but also to hold metaverse events that would promote my art and other people’s,” she details.
Angie, from Brighton, built two galleries full of weird and beautiful digital artwork, which is sold in cryptocurrency, on her land in the Voxels world.
Angie’s lands are the size of a small family house (when compared to the size of her avatar).
The tallest property has three stories and a rooftop terrace facing a crossroads with black and white stripes and a pink taxi that constantly drives back and forth just for fun.
But it gives a real idea of the scale of this world from the air.
“Hold down the F key and you can fly up to check out my neighborhood,” Angie explains.
Flying over its gallery you can see thousands of identical squares of land stretching to the horizon.
voxels it is one of dozens of virtual worlds that describe themselves as metaverses.
It’s confusing, because people usually talk dthe “metaverse” as if seitherthere would be one.
But until one platform begins to dominate, or these disparate worlds come together, companies are selling land and experiences in their own versions.
Researchers at metaverse consultancy Dapp Radar say that last year some $1.93 billion in cryptocurrency was spent to buy virtual land, of which $22 million was invested in some 3,000 parcels of land on Voxels.
Dapp Radar can monitor this because Voxels is based on the Ethereum cryptocurrency system, in which, like all virtual currencies, every transaction is recorded and published on a public blockchain (blockchain).
One of the most popular virtual worlds is Decentraland.
Launched in 2020, parcels of land sell for thousands, sometimes millions of dollars.
Samsung, UPS and Sotheby’s are among those that have bought land and built shops and visitor centers there.
Luxury fashion brand Philipp Plein also owns a plot the size of four football fields, which he hopes will eventually contain a shop and gallery.
However, the owner, who goes by the same name as his brand, says his mother isn’t sold on his $1.5 million purchase.
“My mom called me and said, ‘What did you do? Why, are you crazy? Why do you spend so much money, what is this?‘” he recounts.
Plein has been selling products in 24 different cryptocurrencies online for over a year.
In early 2022, it opened a new store on London’s Old Bond Street that sells clothes and some non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in exchange for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether, although it also accepts pounds.
He says that opening the store helped him learn more about the metaverse, adding: “I took a bold step spending a lot on a piece of land”.
“But I thought: I have more than 24 years with my brand and what would I have to do if I started again?”
However, with the general collapse in the value of cryptocurrencies, Dapp Radar says that metaverse real estate values are near a one-year low.
In Sandboxinganother of the crypto metaverses, Adidas, Atari, Ubisoft, Binance, Warner Music and Gucci are just some of the multinationals that buy land and build experiences to sell and promote their products and services.
Gucci also brought in Roblox, which, along with other big gaming platforms like Minecraft and Fortnite, is considered the most mainstream of the nascent metaverses.
These gaming corporations do not sell land and are run without the use of any blockchain technology.
However, they already have some of the key ingredients that science fiction writers say we need for a true metaverse:
- the ability to hang out and play
- your own coins
- the opportunity to earn money on the platform
- huge and prosperous communities.
Gucci City (the city of Gucci) had more than 36 million visits in the year since its launch, while Nike Land registered more than 25 million in 11 months.
In Gucci City, players can buy clothes for their avatars with real money. In Nike Land you can get t-shirts and shoes for avatars with the points you earn by playing.
The fashion seems to be the most interested industry in seizing the opportunities and risks associated with the metaverse.
Amsterdam-based digital-only fashion house The Fabricant only manufactures clothing for avatars– Design bespoke collections and apparel for users of Decentraland, Sandbox, and other crypto metaverses.
“When we started, everyone called us crazy, because they said, ‘why would you need this?’ But we really believed in the idea that, in the future, people would use digital items,” says co-founder and lead designer Amber Jae Slooten.
The Fabricant’s record sale so far reached $19,000, though it was sold as an NFT (a piece of digital art) and hasn’t been used by the owner’s avatar.
The company just raised $14 million in funding from investors who are betting on the idea that many of us will soon be living part of our lives in the metaverse.
But it is not certain if and when that will happen.
Generally speaking, crypto metaverses are sparsely populated and only really used when events are taking place, and even then only thousands, not millions, of people attend.
Even in the virtual world that Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, is pouring billions of dollars into, leaked memos show people aren’t sticking around for long.
Amber Slooten is convinced that as these worlds develop, more people will come.
“There’s going to be a mass market on this for sure because if you think about the younger generation, they already play games. For them there is no distinction between the virtual and the real. But it still needs to be built,” he concludes.
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