That’s how much has been spent on virtual land purchases over the past 12 months as people and businesses compete to establish themselves in the metaverse, research shows.
But we are years away from the metaverse emerging as a single immersive online space where people can live, work and play in virtual reality.
So is buying virtual land a big gamble?
“Exhibit my own work”
With her large, dark red crest and permanently lit cigarette, artist Angie Thompson’s avatar doesn’t look like a real estate mogul.
But she is part of a growing generation of people calling for new virtual worlds.
“I bought my first metaverse plot in July 2020 and paid around £1,500 (about US$1,670). I bought it to showcase my own work, but also to hold metaverse events that would promote my and other people’s art,” he says. .
Angie, from Brighton, built two galleries full of rare and beautiful digital artwork, which is sold for cryptocurrency, on her land in the Voxels world.
Angie Taylor creates her own avatar outfits at Voxels.
Angie’s lands are the size of a small family house (if you compare it to the size of her avatar).
The tallest property has three floors and a rooftop terrace facing a black and white striped street junction with a pink taxi constantly driving back and forth just for fun.
But it gives a real idea of the scale of this world from the air.
“Hold F and you can fly over to check out my neighborhood,” Angie explains.
Flying over its gallery you can see thousands of identical squares of land stretching to the horizon.
Voxels is one of dozens of virtual worlds that describe themselves as metaverses.
It’s confusing, because people often talk about the “metaverse” as if there is only one.
But until one platform begins to dominate, or these disparate worlds come together, companies are selling land and experiences in their own versions.
Dozens of big brands bought parcels of land on the Sandbox map in the last six months.
Researchers at metaverse consultancy Dapp Radar say some $1.93 billion in cryptocurrency was spent last year to buy virtual land, $22 million of which was invested in about 3,000 parcels of land on Voxels.
Dapp Radar can monitor this because Voxels is based on the Ethereum cryptocurrency system, where, like all virtual currencies, every transaction is recorded and published on a public blockchain.
One of the most popular virtual worlds is Decentraland.
Launched in 2020, parcels of land sell for thousands, sometimes millions of dollars.
Samsung, UPS and Sotheby’s are among those that have bought land and built shops and visitor centers there.
Luxury fashion brand Philipp Plein also owns a plot the size of four football fields, which it hopes will eventually contain a store and gallery.
Philipp Plein plans to build a large clothing store on his land in Decentraland.
However, the owner, who goes by the same name as his brand, says his mother isn’t sold on his $1.5 million purchase.
“My mom called me and said: ‘What did you do? Why, are you crazy? Why do you spend so much money, what is this?'” he recounts.
Plein has been selling products in 24 different cryptocurrencies online for over a year.
In early 2022, he opened a new store on London’s Old Bond Street selling clothes and some non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in exchange for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether, although he also accepts pounds.
He says that opening the store helped him learn more about the metaverse, adding, “I took a bold step by spending big on some land.”
“But I thought: I have more than 24 years with my brand and what would I have to do if I started over?”
However, with the general collapse in the value of cryptocurrencies, Dapp Radar says that metaverse real estate values are close to a one-year low.
In Sandbox, another one of the crypto metaverses, Adidas, Atari, Ubisoft, Binance, Warner Music, and Gucci are just a few of the multinationals buying land and building experiences to sell and promote their products and services.
Gucci also incorporated Roblox, which, along with other major gaming platforms like Minecraft and Fortnite, is considered the most mainstream of the budding metaverses.
In Gucci Town on Roblox, players can buy clothes for their avatars using Robux in-game currency.
These gaming corporations do not sell land and are run without the use of any blockchain technology.
However, they already have some of the key ingredients that science fiction writers say we need for a true metaverse:
- the ability to hang out and play
- their own coins
- the opportunity to earn money on the platform
- huge and prosperous communities.
Gucci Town (the city of Gucci) had more than 36 million visits in the year since its launch, while Nike Land registered more than 25 million in 11 months.
In Gucci Town, players can buy clothes for their avatars with real money. In Nike Land you can get shirts and shoes for avatars with the points you earn by playing.
Amber Jae Slooten, Lead Designer at The Fabricant, is convinced that the avatar craze in the metaverse will be a huge industry.
Fashion seems to be the industry most interested in taking advantage of the opportunities and risks associated with the metaverse.
Amsterdam-based digital-only fashion house The Fabricant only makes clothes for avatars – designing bespoke collections and apparel for wearers from Decentraland, Sandbox, and other crypto metaverses.
“When we started, everyone called us crazy, because they were like, ‘why would you need this?’ But we were a big believer in the idea that in the future, people would use digital items,” says co-founder and lead designer Amber Jae Slooten.
The Fabricant’s record sale so far reached $19,000, though it was sold as NFT (a piece of digital art) and hasn’t been worn by the owner’s avatar.
The company just raised $14 million in funding from investors who are betting on the idea that many of us will soon be living part of our lives in the metaverse.
But it is not certain if and when that will happen.
Generally speaking, crypto metaverses are sparsely populated and only really used when events are taking place, and even then only thousands, not millions, of people attend.
Mark Zuckerberg’s meta has lost hundreds of billions in value on the stock market since he entered the metaverse.
Even in the virtual world that Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, is pouring billions of dollars into, the leaked memos show that people aren’t sticking around for long.
Amber Slooten is convinced that as these worlds develop, more people will come.
“For sure there will be a mass market in this because if you think about the younger generation, they already play games. For them there is no distinction between virtual and real. But it still needs to be built,” he concludes.