Businesses look to mine new metaverse market

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A person wears VR goggles to stroll through the metaverse as an avatar in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 1.

Businesses and artists alike have their eyes fixed on the massive virtual world known as the metaverse. Expectations are high for this new “economic arena,” as various parties seek to use it for such purposes as advertising products, holding live music events, and selling related goods.

Top firms join

Hikky, a VR company based in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, is holding one of the world’s largest metaverse events over Dec. 4-19, with about 1 million people expected to participate. Don VR goggles and you can see a full-scale, 360-degree view of the streets of Shibuya and Akihabara. You can freely manipulate your avatar, making you feel as if you’re actually in those areas.

The event has attracted the attention of major corporations in Japan and abroad — Seven-Eleven Japan Co., Germany’s Audi AG, and The Walt Disney Co. have participated. Companies can pay Hikky a participation fee to open a store in the metaverse, where they can promote and sell their products, and even offer automobile test drives.

Consumers wishing to attend the event can do so by registering such information as their name and e-mail address. They can use avatars to buy products as if they were shopping online, and receive customer service from avatar staffers.

Online video games that boomed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Fortnite by Epic Games, Inc. and Animal Crossing by Nintendo Co., are also a kind of metaverse. Musician Kenshi Yonezu held a live performance on Fortnite last year.

1 million people at once

NTT Docomo, Inc. invested ¥6.5 billion in Hikky last month. Docomo is looking for a revenue-generating pillar to stand alongside its smartphones, and said it aims to provide experiences that connect the digital world and the real world.

“We want to enable small and medium-size businesses and individuals to create and open stores and products,” said Yasushi Funakoshi, chief executive officer of Hikky.

Virtual spaces have been used in the past. One of the forerunners was Second Life, which was launched by a U.S. company in 2003, and became a hot topic because users could shop through their avatars.

Technological advancements have spurred renewed interest in virtual spaces, as improved semiconductor performance and the widespread use of the 5G high-speed, high-capacity communication standard have made it possible for a million people to participate in a virtual space at the same time.

Another important factor is that devices and avatars can now be operated with no time lag between them.

Next breakthrough technology

Facebook Inc., which rebranded itself in October as Meta Platforms Inc., has sold more than 10 million metaverse goggles worldwide. CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed hope that it would be the next breakthrough technology after mobile internet.

Microsoft Corp. also offers dedicated video conferencing software called Teams that allows avatars to confer with each other in the metaverse.

Morgan Stanley estimates that the global market for the metaverse will eventually grow to about ¥900 trillion.

“The metaverse is not just a technological trend, but a step in the transition of various social activities to the internet. Companies engaged in consumer-oriented businesses will be particularly active in the metaverse,” said Eiji Araki, the president of Reality, Inc., a metaverse subsidiary of IT company Gree, Inc. Araki is also known as DJ RIO.

However, as the boundaries between the real world and the metaverse become blurred, and participants increasingly interact with each other, the importance of protecting personal information and purchase data will increase.

Strengthening security measures is likely to be a critical issue for companies operating in the metaverse.