Monday 05 Jun 2023
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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 12, 2022 - December 18, 2022

When Mark Zuckerberg first introduced the metaverse concept to the world in October last year, I couldn’t grasp it at first, but when I looked at the pictures of how people imagine the metaverse will be, I immediately got it. “Ah, it’s a Habbo Hotel on a larger scale!”

For those who are clueless about Habbo Hotel, it is an online community aimed at teens and young adults. It was founded by Sulake in August 2000 and, surprisingly, it is still active now with 80,000 users as of January 2021.

Being part of the Habbo Hotel community, I got to decorate my own “hotel room”, visit built-in attractions or attractions that were built by other users and of course, just like in many other games, I could purchase in-game currency called Habbo Credits in order to unlock access to more furniture, more sartorial choices and more rooms to elevate my lifestyle in the hotel. The more I spend, the more I get to socialise and the more badges I will get to be considered a VIP. Trust me, it was a huge deal back then.

This is just the same with the metaverse. Everyone wants to achieve VIP status. And the competition is stiff with people spending money to dress their avatars in original designer items from head to toe, buying land in cyberspace and using the space to fulfil their dreams, such as making a digital twin of their residences, shopping space for other users and more.

The possibilities are endless in the metaverse. I can be an average Joe in real life and Paris Hilton 2.0 in the virtual realm.

Some people argue that the metaverse hype will be short-lived, but I disagree. The latest report by Frost & Sullivan titled “Global Metaverse Growth Opportunities” found that the global metaverse market will grow into a US$750 billion (RM3.3 trillion) market by 2030. This is an indication that the metaverse is here to stay.

The real question is whether we should resist it or attempt to join them.

There are many use cases for meta­verses apart from entertainment, such as employee training and education. If I were to build my own metaverse, I might create a metaverse for writers and readers alike and call it the BookVerse.

In my BookVerse, I would love to have digital twins of famous libraries around the world and digital copies of the books inside those libraries that can be downloaded by users. Tickets to New York are expensive, but users can enjoy an immersive experience of the New York Public Library without leaving their homes via BookVerse.

Another perk of the BookVerse will be a global writers’ club or book club meeting! I imagine the metaverse will be able to gather the best authors from around the world for “fireside chats” or to launch a new book alongside global fans. This will encourage engagement and increase personal branding for authors, minus the logistics hassle. Authors and publishers can rent space in the BookVerse for their agenda if they need it.

I would also love to have a “book café” inside the metaverse where users can purchase beverages with cryptocurrency and have them delivered to their doorsteps, just like McDonald’s virtual restaurant. This will be a topic for another day because phygital — portmanteau of physical and digital — activities require a lot of integration and metaverses are designed for a global scale.

While this is just a pipe dream, I hope that in all seriousness, people will begin to explore the limits of the metaverse and make the best of it.

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