Asian Insider

Metaverse craze hits Asia, with cities and companies chasing after a $1.1 trillion pie

Virtual reality is the next big frontier, and Asia is vying for a piece of an industry worth an estimated $1.1 trillion by 2024. But it's not all fun and games, as Asian Insider finds out.

Into the metaverse: Riding the new tech wave in Asia

In the new digital world dubbed the metaverse, you can do everything you do in real life and more - as an avatar.

From gaming and shopping to socialising, going on vacations, and even buying land, you can do it all from the comfort of your home, donning virtual reality (VR) headsets for the ultimate experience.

The metaverse has been a huge buzzword since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg renamed the company Meta last November to usher in the new tech wave.

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South Korea's K-pop stars extending their reach as avatars in the metaverse

From debuting virtual idols to holding interactive concerts and creating digital content, South Korea's entertainment companies have been quick to dive into the metaverse to help K-pop stars expand their reach beyond the physical world.

Girl group Blackpink, for one, stormed into the metaverse platform ZEPETO as avatars first in mid-2020. The four-member group then held a virtual fan signing event - which drew more than 46 million fans - and performed together with American singer Selena Gomez.

YG Entertainment, which represents Blackpink, said the collaboration allowed millions of fans to easily create Blackpink content, wear Blackpink-themed items and dance to their newest songs, which "would not be easily doable in real life".

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The popular 'fake reality' of virtual influencers in India

Kyra marches through a portal into outer space and marvels at "richer" and "sharper" sounds. It seems like just any other ad for an audio equipment company but for a key difference - Kyra is not human.

The 21-year-old from Mumbai, with more than 162,000 followers on Instagram, debuted in January this year claiming to be India's first meta influencer.

The ad, released on July 22, was also the first in the country to feature such a character.

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Thailand's virtual shopping mall V-Avenue a hit, thanks to Covid-19 curbs

When Thailand's malls and retail markets stayed closed due to Covid-19 curbs last year, the country's largest mobile operator Advanced Info Services (AIS) took the leap into the metaverse by opening a virtual shopping mall, V-Avenue.

The immersive shopping experience lets users browse over 200 shops and drew some two million unique visitors.

Accessing V-Avenue through a Web browser, users land in a virtual shopping district rendered in 3D, and enter buildings that can also be explored in 360 degrees.

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A 'visit' to Shaolin temple and more in China's first metaverse Xirang

In Xirang, dubbed China's first metaverse, users can "visit" the famous Shaolin temple, and watch a "monk" demonstrate the sanctuary's trademark boxing tactics.

Afterwards, they can "walk" towards Sanxingdui, an archaeological site, to admire artefacts from the Bronze Age, and attend a concert with their friends nearby.

In real life, these two attractions are 1,182km apart - Shaolin temple is in Henan province in central China while Sanxingdui is in the south-western province of Sichuan - but it takes just seconds to get from one to the other in Xirang.

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Extended reality with immersive art in Taipei's XR Hub

SPH Brightcove Video
The Straits Times' Katherine Wei experiences the metaverse at Meta Platforms, Facebook's parent company, in Taipei. It is Meta's first physical research hub for extended reality in Asia.

Sitting in a virtual meeting room with a headset on, I joined a meeting as a customised avatar, changed seats whenever I wanted to and even switched up the views outside - from the Shanghai skyline to the Santorini seashore.

In another setting, I could see an avatar of indigenous Taiwanese pop singer Abao approaching me and singing while decked out in the traditional garments of the Paiwan tribe.

I was at the XR Hub - the first physical research hub for extended virtual reality set up by Meta Platforms, Facebook's parent company, in Taipei. There, I was able to experience first-hand the immersive artwork and creative productions on display.

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Axie Infinity, dubbed the 'gateway' to metaverse, falls out of favour with Filipino gamers

A game made by a company based in Vietnam is providing a hard lesson on what can go terribly wrong in a made-up world - the metaverse - where real money is involved.

Through most of 2020 till mid-2021, when the Covid-19 pandemic led to rolling lockdowns that decimated jobs as companies shut down, Filipinos desperate for cash turned to playing an online game called Axie Infinity.

Axie, created by tech start-up Sky Mavis, allows players to earn small sums by breeding, battling and trading digital pets called Axies.

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Teething problems with combating harassment on virtual reality platforms

In October last year, Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg promised that "privacy and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one" when he laid out his vision for the virtual worlds his company was building.

But researchers, journalists and activists warn that Meta's safety and privacy safeguards do not adequately protect users against virtual harassment, nor are its content moderation policies sufficiently robust yet.

Such concerns about harassment are also not limited to Meta's platform - users on other virtual reality (VR) platforms are similarly vulnerable, due to the freewheeling, almost chaotic, nature of social interactions there.

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Who should face the music if personal data is abused or leaked?

Virtual reality headsets or haptic suits may soon be the thing people reach for when they try on new clothes, talk to colleagues, attend a concert or visit exotic destinations.

Such interactions in the metaverse, the immersive 3D universe offering people experiences and a parallel virtual life, may not be in too distant a future as more firms - from luxe brands to hotels and entertainment giants - buy virtual land and build interactive spaces.

The amount and type of data that can be amassed in this space have also been a subject of keen discussion, raising many novel privacy and security questions.

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