Spend Real Dollars, Get Virtual Land in the Metaverse


While the idea of having celebrity neighbours may be a dream that will most likely never come true, for some people, paying big bucks to own virtual land next to celebrities is the next best thing.

In December, someone paid US $450,000 real dollars to live virtually next to Snoop Dogg. Snoop himself is deep into this supposed next-generation internet, the one that Mark Zuckerberg and others are trying desperately to build for reasons, beyond money, that are still unclear.

Snoop has his own virtual space, the Snoopverse, where he plans to host events and lives virtually in a replica of his actual house. It’s the plot next to this replica that was sold for so much.

It’s not just cashed up tech bros that are spending big on the metaverse however. Not wanting to be caught off guard as they might have been in the first few waves of the cryptocurrency hype, Aussies too are getting in on the metaverse.

As the ABC reports, there are otherwise normal people in Australia wiling to spend big to stake their claim in the as-yet-under-construction virtual reality.

A retired school teacher in Perth has paid a bit over $1000 for a virtual penthouse in a metaverse world called Uphoria, arguing that it’s a worthwhile investment for a virtual hang out with friends because, “If we’re going to do Zoom calls anyway, we might as well do it in style.”

Another couple in Sydney have also said that they’re spending a “significant amount” on virtual land in another metaverse space, TCG World, in order to leave a legacy for their kids. They believe that one day, they and their children will be working full-time in the metaverse and that it makes sense to get in early.

“In Australia, the cost of real property is quite prohibitive and so is what you can do with real properties,” they said.

“When it comes to the metaverse, the possibilities of what you can do with a plot of land are limitless, from cool mansions for friends to hang out with all the way to virtual bars and nightclubs. There’s fewer limitations in a virtual world, a lower entry price and more opportunity.”.

What Do You Actually Get for Your Money in the Metaverse?

When you buy a plot of virtual real estate in the metaverse, you’re actually buying an NFT that represents that digital space. Think of it like a virtual title deed. It’s a bit of code that is tied to a cryptocurrency blockchain that says you own that space and have certain rights over it. It can’t be taken away from you, unless the company collapses that is, and can only be sold or traded.

Four major platforms create the space in the metaverse; The Sandbox, Decentraland, Cryptovoxels, and Somnium. There are, of course, dozens, if not hundreds of other spaces in the works, with everyone looking to cash in on this latest trend.

Due to the ‘immutable’ nature of crypto blockchains, these sales and spaces are relatively secure, provided there will be enough computers running them in the future.

Once you’ve got your space, you can, depending on the platform, use it to hang out virtually in that space, visit other people’s places, and even get married. Many of these operate like games such as The Sims, Minecraft, or Fortnite, with virtual events, competitions, and giveaways enticing people to spend more, buy more, and create their ultimate dream getaway online.

Is the Metaverse a Scam?

Depends who you ask. Those who back the technology and where it’s going, like the humanoid Facebook founder who recently renamed his company after the trend, think that the metaverse is going to be huge, world-changing, and soon to alter the very fabric of social engagement.

Others say that while the technology is interesting and the spaces being created are fun, it’s really little more than just games.

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has recently said that, at its core, gaming is where the idea takes its inspiration and sets its future sights.

“The metaverse is essentially about creating games. It is about being able to put people, places, things [in] a physics engine and then having all the people, places, things in the physics engine relate to each other.

“You and I will be sitting on a conference room table soon with either our avatars or our holograms or even 2D surfaces with surround audio. Guess what? The place where we have been doing that forever… is gaming.

“And so, the way we will even approach the system side of what we’re going to build for the metaverse is, essentially, democratize the game building… and bring it to anybody who wants to build any space and have essentially, people, places, [and] things digitized and relating to each other with their body presence.”

The issue here is that most people who already play games overwhelmingly dislike the monetisation of their space. They’re already interacting and playing those games because they like them, and it’s unclear whether it will be adopted by that demographic.

For the rest of us, most people seem to either not get the metaverse and NFTs or don’t see the point in it. Wired published a recent op-ed in which they described this new future as “an amorphous concept that no one really wants.”

Wired’s editor-in-chief has described it as “a terminological land grab”.

“Companies and entrepreneurs have sensed some kind of change coming in the air, and they are scrambling to call it the next big thing, put their label on it (in some case going to Meta-rebranding-level extremes), and find ways of monetizing it. The question is whether we—the intended users—will go along with it”.

They describe the idea as profoundly flawed, extrapolating our pandemic reality of working from home into the future, a future where everyone wears virtual headsets and prefers to spend communicate digitally rather than in person. Maybe they’ve got incredibly cynical about just how badly and how quickly climate change is going to hit the natural environment, but it’s a big gamble on a concept with little real-world interest and far too many issues.

One of the big ones, of course, is legality and equality. Already, a woman has been sexually assaulted in the metaverse by a group of men who “gang raped” her immediately after she entered Facebook’s Horizon Venues virtual space.

“Within 60 seconds of joining — I was verbally and sexually harassed — 3-4 male avatars, with male voices, essentially, but virtually gang-raped my avatar and took photos,” the woman wrote.

Clearly, this is not a space designed by women, or with consent and ethics at its core. The fact that Meta’s stock is on track to drop by nearly US $200 billion in the last few days alone should be something of an indicator that most people think this is far too early to be going so hard on the space.

If the metaverse doesn’t get mainstream adoption, it’s likely to tick along in the background as a kind of niche interest of certain groups, much like crypto and NFTs are today. If that happens, it may be a long while yet before we’re all living and working virtually together in the metaverse. Or maybe we’re just not thinking big enough.

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