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A man stands in front of a sign of Meta, the new name for the company formerly known as Facebook, at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA
A man stands in front of a sign of Meta, the new name for the company formerly known as Facebook, at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

In an announcement that shook the world, Facebook announced that its holding company’s name has changed to Meta, and that the company will be pioneering a virtual reality universe that will be accessible to all its users.

While cynics have been quick to label the move an attempt to eclipse recent bad PR, when a trillion-dollar company makes a move like this it is time to pay attention.

If you are not familiar with the concept of a metaverse let me bring you up to speed. The metaverse is a perpetual virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users in real time.

The term embodies the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perpetual virtual universe. This persistent reality is now enabled by blockchain technology allowing for digital ownership of virtual assets.

While this space used to have niche appeal, typically the realm of gamers and tech enthusiasts, it is now a broad access area that is attracting mass appeal. This new domain is being widely embraced by forward-thinking sectors of industry that are monetising its various opportunities including fashion, retail, banking, art and motoring. Billions of dollars are being poured into investing into the metaverse as a new space to do business.

There is an abundance of space for metaverses, such as television show metaverses, skills based metaverses, art based metaverses, industry-based metaverses or music metaverses. These all appeal to different communities of interest and to people at different life stages across the world. Meta is planning to be the all-encompassing multiverse that will house all of these communities and we are likely to see Microsoft Mesh, Apple and Google enter the arena shortly.

If you had bought land for five ethereum last year, that land would now be worth 35 ethereum

Stanley Weinbaum, a visionary of the metaverse, wrote the seminal Pygmalian Spectacles, which was probably the first comprehensive and specific fictional model for virtual reality. It opened up the understanding that we now have of the potential for telepresence in virtual reality, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now, due to the acceleration and convergence of various technologies such as virtual reality, robotics, computation and blockchain, the metaverse is a booming hub for business.

Already many metaverses are available and they are lucrative businesses. Second Life was one of the first metaverses of this kind to launch, providing an unlimited number of people with an infinite space for enjoyment and self-expression. This platform now has an estimated value of $500m.

Axie Infinity, which accommodates an estimated 2-million daily players, incorporates ethereum-based cryptocurrencies. It is the world’s fifth-largest gaming company, has the world’s largest non-fungible token (NFT) gaming ecosystem, has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and has already achieved $33m in daily transactions, with a total volume of more than $2bn.

The Sandbox, which is only launching in 2022, already has more than 11,200 individual landowners, made up of huge cryptocurrency whales and big brands such as Snoop Dogg, Smurfs, Care Bear, Gemini, The Walking Dead, Binance, Atari, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and Crypto-Punks. Axie Infinity has already invested in the Sandbox virtual land too.

Local artists

Decentraland is a decentralised, evolving 3D virtual reality platform that also uses the ethereum blockchain. Launched in 2020, it is well known as the virtual destination for digital assets; users can buy and sell land, estates, avatar wearables and names and more. If you had bought land for five ethereum last year, that land would now be worth 35 ethereum.

Back home, Mann Made recently launched Africarare, Africa’s first metaverse. The debut NFT collection of 52 digital pieces from world-renowned local artist Norman Catherine sold out within 12 days. This was the debut NFT collection by Catherine, after the likes of Gary Vee and Frank Miller, who have embraced the medium internationally. Africarare will showcase Africa’s creativity in a way that enables local artists to exhibit their works to the world and, from 2022, enable users to purchase land and more.

New developments are enhancing the experience in metaverses all the time. The American North-Western university is working to create a new layer of senses for us as humans by bringing in Haptic touch. Teslasuit produces a full-body, virtual reality suit that has senses on it such as feeling the wind on your back or feeling a change in temperature.

In the far future, the metaverse will be almost identical to physical reality. It is equally likely that virtual reality will disrupt reality too. Thanks to the convergence of various exponential technologies including gaming, virtual reality and blockchain, the metaverse is redefining the future of commerce. The job creation possibilities are endless.

I’m particularly excited about the potential for SA companies to become part of the new global economy, with less risk and investment due to the lower barriers to entry and less discrimination. Everything in the metaverse is based on value, not on colour, race or social stature.

We are living through the most exciting changes we will ever experience as a species. Nothing in the Metaverse is bound by geography. There are so many new connections and opportunities. Everything we know about reality is about to be upgraded. Don’t get left behind in reality.

• Mann is co-CEO of SingularityU SA and CEO of Africarare, Africa’s first metaverse.

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