We are quickly heading towards the age of the metaverse – connected, persistent virtual realities where we will live digital lives alongside our real lives. Increasingly we will use these spaces to work, play, socialize and learn – anything we can do in the real world will have a “digital twin” in the metaverse that we can interact with without leaving our homes. This includes investing and making money, and just like in the real world, one of the most popular ways to do this will be investing in property.
Metaverse real estate (or should that be virtual estate?) is already big business. Superstars, including Snoop Dog and global businesses including PwC, JP Morgan, HSBC, and Samsung, have already snapped up plots of virtual land, which they intend to develop for a variety of purposes. Those who got in early have already made big returns – on paper, at least. Less than a year ago, the average price for the smallest plot of land available to buy on Decentraland or the Sandbox – two of the biggest metaverse platforms – was under $1,000. Today it’s sitting at around $13,000.
So is this another chance to pick up the hottest and newest digital assets before they blow up? Like buying Bitcoin 10 years ago or NFTs two years ago? How do you get involved if you want in on the action? Or are you better off keeping your distance from what may end up being an over-hyped bubble that's about to collapse? Read on to find out!
Why buy metaverse land?
Just like buying land in the real world, there are two main reasons you might want to buy land in the metaverse. The first is probably the safest – you want to use it for something, such as building a house to live in or premises from which to do business. When we talk about "living" in the metaverse, we really mean having a place to call home, where you can show off your possessions and maybe even have friends over to hang out. It’s a bit like having a personal web page back in the early days of the internet, before everyone moved over to social media. Metaverse “homes” will become a way for individuals to express their personality online or house their collections of unique digital collectibles. This is probably the less risky reason for wanting to own metaverse land – because it’s likely that you’ll get what you want out of your purchase!
The second reason is as an investment, and here things might get a bit shaky because, of course, as with any investment, there's no guarantee that its value will go up. However, we do currently seem to be in the middle of a gold rush when it comes to metaverse real estate, with average prices increasing by a factor of 10 over the past year. Many people are buying digital land now because they simply believe it will be a lot more valuable in the future, when more and more people want to get involved. Some are even buying-to-let, with a healthy rental market emerging.
How do I buy metaverse land?
Buying land on the metaverse is usually done with cryptocurrencies – Ethereum is a popular choice, as are SAND (the currency connected with gamified metaverse platform The Sandbox) and MANA (connected to the community-based Decentraland platform). So getting hold of these is usually the first step.
These two platforms are currently the favorites when it comes to owning online land and property, as they have well-established infrastructure and other well-known landlords and tenants such as the celebrities and companies mentioned above, to give them legitimacy (who wouldn’t want to have Snoop Dogg as a neighbor?)
Purchases of land on either of these platforms can be made directly from the platforms themselves. Sales and ownership of metaverse land is recorded via transfer of NFTs, so the second thing you will need is a wallet capable of storing these. Metamask and Binance are two of the most popular.
As well as buying directly from platforms, a busy third-party resellers’ market also exists, just as with real-world real estate. Platforms like opensea.io and nonfungible.com act as decentralized estate agents for the digital domain, allowing sellers to list their property and prices, and for buyers to negotiate.
Is buying metaverse land safe?
This is perhaps the big question – particularly if you are thinking about putting up big money! Buying virtual land is certainly a high-risk investment, just like buying into cryptocurrencies and NFTs. For a start, the market is largely deregulated, meaning if anything goes wrong – such as a seller turning out to be a con artist and disappearing with your money – the channels for seeking restitution are undeveloped, and you may find you’re on your own.
Even if you don't get ripped off, there are technical considerations that can add an extra layer of risk – as transactions are carried out in cryptocurrency and NFTs, you need to be confident that you can securely store these and aren't going to forget your password or whatever means you are using to authenticate your ownership!
Overall (as long as you can remember your password), because everything is secured on blockchains with smart contracts and safely encrypted, the risk of anyone being able to steal your virtual real estate, or renege on agreements to pay rent, are currently minimal. However, there are concerns that future technology (such as quantum computing) could render today’s cryptographic security measures obsolete. This may not be a problem now but could be an issue to bear in mind if you are thinking about making large, long-term investments.
A final consideration is the issue of scarcity. Real-world land has consistently increased in value largely due to the fact it is a finite resource, and the population of people with an interest in owning it is constantly growing. In the virtual world, the amount of land available is potentially unlimited. If all of the virtual plots of land on a platform are sold, but there’s still demand from buyers, there’s ultimately nothing to stop the developer creating as many more plots as they need. The big platforms currently have limits on the amount of land – enforcing "artificial scarcity," but there's no guarantee this will always be the case!
What is the future of investing in metaverse real estate?
In the long-term, this will depend on the future of the metaverse itself. Certainly, some very big and influential organizations – from Facebook (now known as Meta, of course) to Microsoft and Nvidia are betting big that it is essentially the “next generation” of the internet. If that turns out to be the case – and metaverse goes on to be as important to business and society over the next 20 years as the world wide web has done over the last 20 years – then digital real estate is likely to become an increasingly exciting and useful asset. From big business to personal brands and influencers, we clearly love the opportunity that digital gives us to build audiences and create exciting new products and services, and the metaverse may be the next big thing – even more immersive and more of a time-sink than the web and social media which came before it. This is likely to point to a healthy future for the digital land and real estate market.