Here’s How Asia Has Been Betting Big on the Metaverseby Fintech News Hong Kong October 19, 2022
The metaverse, a concept that refers to an immersive virtual environment which mimics aspects of the physical world using technologies such as virtual reality (VR), is taking hold in Asia.
Governments and companies across the region are betting big on the prospects of virtual worlds to better engage with younger generations and provide more convenient ways for the public to access their services. They believe local consumer habits and preferences are conducive to the uptake of what is ought to be the next iteration of the Internet.
South Korea’s metaverse scene sees strong traction
Local metaverse platforms are growing at a fast pace, reaching notable scale and pursuing global ambitions. In South Korea, Zepeto has attracted 340 million users since it launched in 2018 and is recording about 15 million to 20 million active monthly users, figures that make it the largest metaverse platform in Asia.
Owned by South Korean tech group Naver, Zepeto is reportedly valued at more than US$1 billion, having attracted investment from local entertainment companies, as well as from SoftBank’s Vision Fund II.
The company is now embarking on a global expansion plan, targeting the US and western Europe, in particular. Efforts have also been put into expanding its foothold in the Middle East, a top executive told the Financial Times in a recent interview.
Zepeto is a fashion-focused avatar platform that allows users to customize their virtual characters, create their own virtual worlds, and trade millions of virtual things including clothing, accessories, but also appliances, and furnishings.
It operates a licensing model, forming partnerships with fashion brands including Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Bulgari, Adidas and Nike. It has also sealed partnerships with Disney, Universal, several K-pop stars, in addition to electronics firm Samsung, and automotive manufacturer Hyundai.
Meanwhile, city of Seoul is creating Metaverse Seoul, an effort that combines digital twins, VR and collaborations to improve city services as well as planning, administration and support for virtual tourism. The reveal followed the launch of the Metaverse Alliance by the government to share metaverse trends, research ethical and cultural issues related to the market, and undertake joint development projects.
Hong Kong’s Animoca Brands making waves
In Hong Kong, the decentralized gaming virtual world The Sandbox claims it has reached the two million registered user milestone. The platform, which leverages the Ethereum blockchain, allows players to create, share, and monetize their assets and gaming experiences.
The Sandbox is owned by Hong Kong-based company Animoca Brands, and has dominated the headlines by inking partnership agreements with companies, brands, and superstars like Warner Music Group, Ubisoft, Gucci Vault, The Walking Dead, Snoop Dogg, Adidas, Deadmau5, Steve Aoki, Richie Hawtin, The Smurfs, Care Bears, Atari, and CryptoKitties. Most recently, it signed a deal with Singapore’s DBS Bank to build new services for clients.
Mainland China’s metaverse valued at US$ 7 trillion
Meanwhile, in Mainland China, the meteverse concept is gaining a lot of traction as well, Morgan Stanley estimates that the addressable market for the metaverse in China could be CNY 52 trillion, or over US$ 7 trillion
Search giant Baidu launched a metaverse offering last year. Called Xirang, the service aims to provide “the infrastructure” and “technological capabilities” for third parties to build the metaverse, Ma Jie, vice president at Baidu, told Forbes in an interview earlier this year.
He said the offering has seen some traction. BlueFocus, a communication group that built its virtual universe based on Xirang, is now expanding overseas, he noted, and work is in progress to develop a virtual city called YuanBang in collaboration with Meta Media. The project is being led by Yuanbang Technology, a joint venture the two companies established in April to collaborate on metaverse-related initiatives.
Xirang has been described as “the first Chinese-made metaverse product.” While fellow Chinese tech firms, including Tencent and ByteDance, have made strategic moves hinting at an interest in the metaverse, none has released any product yet, focusing instead on acquiring startups building the capabilities to enable the metaverse and sealing strategic partnerships.
Last August, ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, snapped up Pico, China’s number one and the world’s third-largest VR headset maker. This was followed in January 2022 by the launch of a beta version of a social media app called Party Island, or Paiduidao in Chinese, allowing users to create personal avatars, chat and schedule real-world events.
Tencent, the operator of Chinese super app WeChat, took a step towards VR and the metaverse earlier this year when it embedded video game engine Unreal Engine into its messaging platform QQ. It has since rolled out Super QQ Show, a 3D interactive space where users can socialize.
Tencent also has stakes in numerous metaverse-related and gaming companies, including Epic Games, the developer of Unreal Engine, Snap, Roblox, and Activision Blizzard.
On the government front, the Beijing municipal government announced in August 2022 a two-year metaverse innovation and development plan focusing on building up the technological capabilities to promote the use of the virtual worlds in fields including education and tourism.
Industry experts and analysts have pointed out to Asia’s young population, high level of connectivity and booming digital adoption as the key factors making the region poised to see mass adoption of the metaverse.
A recent consumer survey has revealed high excitement among the public toward the metaverse. A study of 6,000 individuals across six Southeast Asian countries found that an average of 72% had positive feelings toward the metaverse.
Some of the top-voted reasons among respondents who selected at least one positive emotion towards the metaverse were “it’s an advancement in human social interaction” (64%) and “it facilitates more efficient social opportunities” (63%).
Featured image credit: edited from Freepik