The periods of confinement of the past two years led to many aspects of our lives moving from the physical to the digital world out of necessity. Yet though we can now venture out again into the real world, the digital world hasn't simply ceased to exist.
In fact, the metaverse – a virtual version of the universe we live in – continues to grow and offer us many of the same opportunities open to us in the real world, and some we could only dream of.
For example, property sales in the metaverse are becoming increasingly popular. Where you could buy a house in real life, you can buy a national monument, a square or even a city in the metaverse for a few euros. As the owner, you can then do whatever you like with it.
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Take Namur, the capital of Wallonia. This is just one of the Belgian cities in the metaverse which has already been bought up by digital property tycoons via the Earth 2 platform.
"Earth 2 is a project that sells plots on Google Maps,” says Harold Kinet, an expert on the metaverse who, for several years, has been observing the development of these parallel worlds and the speculation to which they are subjected. “We see that Namur is already mostly owned. The monuments are highlighted, and we see that everything is already gone."
"Some metaverses use the Google Maps API,” he adds. “This allows them to grid the world and then sell every plot. This creates a lot of speculation around these plots, especially the world's most covetable places."
Pie in the sky?
Though the whole idea might strike some people as a little silly, assets held in the metaverse have a growing financial lure which can often drive big profits in real life – not least as an alternative source of advertising revenue.
For instance, you could buy the Eiffel Tower and add your brand so that it revolves around the tip. Big brands are starting to recognise the economic stakes of metaverses. Thanks to cryptocurrency, some buy NFTs — virtual title deeds — for a building, for example. The goal is to exist in these dematerialised worlds. Property deals in the metaverse can also make you rich.
"We have the record of a plot sale, a 'land' in Decentraland, which was sold for $2.4 million and had been bought for a handful of dollars. So, the return on investment was quite substantial," says Kinet.
"I don't know if it's really natural to buy a $400,000 garden to be Snoop Dogg's virtual neighbour," says Axel Legay, a cybersecurity professor at UCLouvain. "But what I do know is that land is being stolen. While it may be hard for someone to steal and sell your real garden, someone might be doing it in the metaverse... There are still a number of disadvantages and a number of risks related to these digital worlds."