Fireside Chat 1 (Swishcast)-2

From Virtual to Reality : Why Brands, Cities, and Governments Must Have a Presence in the Metaverse

Swish | 27 April, 2023

Weighing in on the Metaverse

Having been in the metaverse industry for some time now, our guest speakers both provided differently optimistic outlooks for the future of the industry. For Vitaliy Nachaev (Head of Metaverse at Vostok VR), the metaverse will eventually evolve to become the ‘final destination’, a single platform for different brands to market new experiences through virtual touchpoints, which would be vastly different from the silo-ed experiences at present. Concurrently, as existing players of sandbox games like Roblox become active market participants in the future, the metaverse may trend towards mainstream adoption as these consumers seek out similar experiences to what they’re already familiar with.

For Sam Huber (CEO of LandVault), the metaverse excels in its ability to deliver immersive experiences in ways that pictures and videos cannot. With its ability to replicate physical experiences through virtual worlds and digital twins, governments and local authorities in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are already experimenting with AR/VR platforms to engage prospective tourists while also showcasing their region’s culture. Mixed reality can also be used to deliver educational experiences, allowing both tourists and prospective  investors to understand how a region and its culture have developed in the past 10 – 20 years.

The Middle East is also where e-governance is taking root, with the help of virtual reality and blockchain technology. With VR, citizens and investors can envision the outcome of projects with longer time horizons, such as urban redevelopment programs. Blockchain-based election systems also offer greater speed when it comes to aggregating election outcomes, allowing for a more informed and efficient citizen participation.

Catching up with recent developments in the Middle East

Our speakers also discussed several exciting developments in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, particularly in the realm of the metaverse.

When it comes to the UAE, developments can be broadly categorized into two main areas – attracting talent and fostering new business avenues. To shift their economy away from being too oil-dependent, the UAE has been investing in cutting-edge technologies to attract the best talent. In this regard, the metaverse serves as an excellent platform to showcase what it's like to live and work in these countries, as it allows potential expats to experience the region's active economy and beautiful landmarks virtually. Additionally, the metaverse also provides opportunities for countries in the region to create digital twins of their physical spaces, while supporting the monetization and the exploration of creative business avenues.

Saudi’s government has also leveraged virtual experiences to bolster tourism and transform the nation’s economy as part of their Vision 2030 plan. To increase its tourism intake from 30 million to 250 million, AR/VR experiences have been crafted to promote cultural and historical sites, while travel restrictions have eased to attract more tourists to the region. Saudi Arabia is also actively promoting the relocation of businesses from regional hubs like Doha, Dubai, and Bahrain to Riyadh, positioning Riyadh as the leading business centre of the region. With businesses expressing more interest in creating digital twins of their offices or factories, the Saudi government has also created a number of experimental business-friendly policies, such as creating metaverse-free zones where companies can establish a digital presence in Riyadh without having a physical location. This approach is expected to attract innovative companies that wish to test their digital presence before setting up physical operations in the country.

Overall, the Gulf and the Middle East are becoming increasingly involved in the metaverse, both as a means to attract talent and to explore new business avenues. This involvement is expected to contribute to the diversification of their economies and the growth of the technology sector in the region.

Advice for the metaverse-curious

Wrapping up the session, our speakers provided some pointers for authorities to consider before diving into the metaverse.

Having completed projects for a number of Fortune 500 companies including Mastercard, Red Bull and L’Oreal, Sam observed that brands that did well usually have a clear understanding of why they need a virtual presence in the metaverse, rather than doing it just for PR or to follow a trend. Similarly, governments should adopt a long-term and strategic approach to ensure the sustainability of metaverse projects. Making something just for the sake of it or to be a "first-mover" in the market might generate initial interest, but without a clear purpose and vision, the project may lose momentum over time.

Vitaliy also emphasized the importance of having a solid business case for their metaverse ventures. This could include driving user engagement, promoting tourism, or creating digital twins for simulations. Setting specific objectives will help them develop a focused strategy and measure the success of their projects. Collaborating with other stakeholders, such as technology providers, content creators, and even other businesses can also help to drive the overall success and sustainability of these strategies.

The Takeaway : How far are we away from mass adoption?

The metaverse is indeed leveraging on existing user behaviour cultivated by the gaming industry. People have grown accustomed to engaging with 3D environments and spending time and money within them, provided the experiences are entertaining and captivating. As the metaverse expands its offerings beyond gaming to include non-gaming experiences like social interactions, virtual concerts, and immersive experiences, it will benefit from this established user behaviour.

However, to foster a thriving ecosystem within the metaverse, it's also essential to provide creators with the tools and opportunities to monetize their content – whether its working with creators to design and sell virtual items, or helping creators develop subscription-based models to offer premium content or services. Having a robust creator economy would ultimately be beneficial in contributing to the growth and diversity of any metaverse ecosystem.

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