Metaverse: A Game-changing Innovation For Entrepreneurs Metaverse may have started with the gaming industry and, pun intended, game-changed it, this innovation will spread and game-change many others

By Dr Jireh H.I. Seow

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Recently, much has been said about metaverse, including the implications of Facebook, Inc. renaming itself Meta Platforms, Inc. Some went as far as saying metaverse will be the next Internet. What exactly is metaverse and how will it be a potential game-changing innovation for businesses?

The word "metaverse" was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash, to refer to a three-dimensional (3D) virtual-reality (VR) world that evolved from the Internet. In the story, human beings in a crumbling society would escape tothis realistic digital world, taking on the form of avatars to interact with one another as well as with software agents.

Currently in our real-world's Covid-19 global pandemic, an alternate world where people could escape to, is more attractive than ever. Metaverse will affect not only businesses--small, medium, or big--but also potentially everyone. Not surprisingly, Meta is not alone in pouring in millions of dollars into building this digital world. In December 2021, New York's Republic Realm invested a record-breaking $4.3 million for metaverse real estate via The Sandbox; just a month before this record, Canada's spent $2.4 million for digital land on Decentraland, another metaverse platform.

Naysayers argue that these digital VR real estate and products are not "real'. However, the same could be said of money, be it in the form of paper, plastic, or bits and bytes, and be it fiat money issued by central banks or decentralized cryptos. Money is not real in that their value depends heavily on commonly agreed and accepted ideas, trust, and human imagination. To illustrate how "virtual" money actually is, one can test it with, for example, chimpanzees. Chimpanzees trade among themselves, such as trading bananas for mangoes; however, if a human being were to trade US dollars for bananas with a chimpanzee, it is unlikely to accept dollars. However, the same person could easily trade the same money for bananas in a supermarket. As far chimpanzees and the natural world are concerned, the money people use daily are not "real'.

Nonetheless, those that could move beyond the detractors could see how metaverse is a real innovation that will potentially change not just how the game is played in many businesses but also how people will live, work and play. The current global pandemic has already changed how people communicate, work, and play. Imagine, with metaverse, you would go to the "office" in your 3D VR avatar, one moment entering an amazing architecture with daily-changing décor, and the next moment you are brainstorming with your team for a marketing campaign while being in a creativity-stimulating environment, such as scuba-diving in acrystal-clear tropical site that makes Sipadan Island look like a boring public pool.

Metaverse gives people a 3D immersive experience of not only human interactions but also of products and services. In metaverse, the possibilities of demonstrating products, showing how tools or machines work, how apparels would fit you and how you will look in them, and how you would experience museums and tourist sites are endless. There will be opportunities for businesses to set up kiosks in malls, transport hubs, and other high-traffic spaces that provide high-accuracy professional 3D scans customers' body be the template of their metaverse avatars. With such an avatar, you get an exact fit for an apparel you fancy, and you could view how youwould look walking around init.

In any global pandemic, there will be travel and movement restrictions, or worse, lockdowns. Fear not, metaverse will give you the best alternative for your family vacations. Don't like your seaside vacation? You and your family could be skiing while talking, in an Alpine site that rivals the Swiss Alps, and youvenue-changedin seconds. Metaverse will also tremendously change the real estate industry and how real estate agents work. You can imagine what an immersive 3D experience can do for property viewing and inspection, real estate development, and renovation. Thus, this industry, as well as many others, will also be challengedby capital and human talent flowing into their metaverse versions.

While retailing has gone e-commerce even before the global pandemic, retailing will be transformed by metaverse. Virtual malls, shops, and shopping may not be so much about trying out the virtual versions of physical products before consumers buy them in the real world but about the selling and buying of virtual products with real-world currencies, fiat or cryptos; this has been thus since the beginning of metaverse, be it a virtual sword in CryptoBlades, an online blockchain-based role-playing game or a virtual Gucci Dionysus handbag that was sold for $4,115 on Roblox. Not much imagination is needed to see how the game will change for marketing, branding and advertising.

Metaverse may have started with the gaming industry and, pun intended, game-changed it, this innovation will spread and game-change many others. As Mark Zuckerberg puts it, in 5 to 10 years, metaverse will be mainstream.

Dr Jireh H.I. Seow

Director (Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center) & Assistant Professor at SP Jain School of Global Management

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