The popularity of the metaverse has increased considerably in 2022, with major new announcements from tech giants reigniting debate about the future of cyberspace. In October 2021, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined his vision for the company, officially changing its name to ‘Meta’ to mark its growing focus on the metaverse.
Since then, Nike has announced that nearly 7 million people have visited its metaverse store. Meanwhile the LEGO Group and Epic Games entered into a long-term partnership to shape the future of the metaverse. In addition, Microsoft unveiled plans to acquire Activision Blizzard in a $68.7 billion deal that aims to provide the building blocks for the metaverse.
Broadly speaking, the metaverse is understood to be a network of immersive and interactive virtual worlds, which incorporate components of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and cryptocurrencies. Users have a digital avatar through which they can move around the metaverse space and socialise with others, attending events, playing games, and buying and selling items. This digital universe bears a resemblance to the physical world, incorporating online offerings like virtual museums, casinos, schools, workplaces, podcasts and conferences.
While the metaverse is still in its nascent stages, tech businesses and multinational corporations are racing to capitalise on its development. Many businesses recognise the considerable opportunities presented by the metaverse, providing scope to expand their online branding and social media presence, with digital communications with consumers transformed into a more immersive, captivating experience.
The metaverse also offers considerable opportunities for developing a virtual economy. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – unique pieces of digital content that exist on a blockchain and can be sold and traded – have exploded in popularity over the past year. The exchange of digital assets with real economic value, like NFTs, will be key to the metaverse economy, offering new revenue streams for companies.
For example, virtual property sales are already on the rise, with ordinary people purchasing land in the metaverse alongside big brands such as PwC, JP Morgan and Adidas. Last year, transactions of virtual land reached $350 million in The Sandbox, the largest digital property platform, according to analysis by the Centre for Finance, Technology and Entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, Decentraland, the second largest metaverse platform, saw a $110 million increase in transactions.
The metaverse offers a world of potential. Many users find it liberating to exist online without the limitations and constraints of physical appearance, financial circumstances, real-life hierarchies and others social constructs. Stepping into a different reality can be a welcome escape, particularly in today’s world, where mental health issues, fractured relationships and societal pressures are prevalent.
However, there is also a darker side to the metaverse that must be addressed. There have been a number of reports of cyberbullying, sexual abuse and harassment on metaverse-platforms, which raise serious concerns about user welfare and protection. For example, in South Korea, which is on the path to becoming a global metaverse superpower, a special taskforce has been set up by the country’s media regulation agency to tackle the harassment and assault of minors. It is essential that growth of the metaverse occurs in a responsible manner, and that the right regulation is in place to protect its users.
Roman Semiokhin is a businessman within the tech and gaming industry who has been at the fore of several trends that have taken the tech world by storm in recent years. He supports the development of virtual spaces, spearheading a series business ventures incorporating innovative VR and AR features. However, Roman believes that effective online user protection is needed as the metaverse evolves. According to Mr Semiokhin, action must be taken to prevent cyberbullying, exploitation and harassment in the digital universe – only with this can the metaverse live up to its full potential.