How the Metaverse Could Be the Next Virtual Marketplace

Virtual stuff for real money

  • Meta has begun testing user monetization tools within Horizon Worlds. 
  • Experts say the move by Meta is part of the start of a boom in the sale of virtual items. 
  • One recent survey finds that users are eager to use the metaverse for shopping.
Someone using virtual reality to make an online purchase.

Francesco Carta fotografo / Getty Images

Buying and selling virtual items in the metaverse will soon be big business, experts say. 

Meta has begun testing user monetization tools within Horizon Worlds, the company announced recently. Selected creators can already begin creating digital items and effects they can then sell directly within the virtual social space. It’s part of a rush to commercialize the metaverse. 

"The online video games market has already proven that people will spend real money, think many billions, for virtual goods and abilities to engage more deeply," Amit Shah, the chief strategy officer of the digital commerce platform VTEX told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Virtual Shopping

The tools will allow users to sell access to items and experiences inside the app. Eventually, Meta says, it hopes people can "earn a living" in the metaverse.

Horizon Worlds is Meta’s social VR platform built around user-generated content that anyone can build within the app itself. The platform is currently available only to VR users older than 18 in the US and Canada. 

What exactly you’ll be able to buy and sell in Meta’s version of the metaverse remains a bit vague. The company says the tools will allow creators to "sell virtual items and effects" and gives the example of someone selling an attachable accessory (like a hat) or an item that would grant access to an exclusive part of a world (like a special key).

"The metaverse—by nature of its not being limited by physical space—will bring a new level of creativity and open up new opportunities for the next generation of creators and businesses to pursue their passions and create livelihoods," Meta wrote on its blog

Ricky Houck, a metaverse commerce expert with Touchcast.com, an enterprise metaverse platform, told Lifewire in an email interview that virtual goods are already hot sellers. 

Entering a Hot Virtual Market

"It started with a lot of hype from the crypto market moving into NFTs, but now we're seeing fashion brands, specifically, investing in this space," he said. "Gucci, Nike, and Tommy Hilfiger have all made moves in the metaverse market, and Dolce & Gabbana recently sold a tiara for $300,000 that can only be worn in the metaverse."

"The metaverse—by nature of its not being limited by physical space—will bring a new level of creativity and open up new opportunities for the next generation of creators."

But Houck said that Meta could face criticism for commercializing the metaverse. Many users, he said, support a vision of Web 3.0, which is less about buying and selling. 

"A big part of the movement is to give more ownership to the community, taking half their funds (before taxes) sends a pretty strong message in the opposite direction," Houck said. "That said, they do have a massive user base, most of which aren't in the core web3 movement, so it could be a highly profitable channel for them."

But one recent survey finds that users are eager to use the metaverse for shopping. The online shopping portal Smarty released a consumer study that focused on their readiness to shop with crypto online and whether they're already "gearing up" for metaverse or interested in shopping in the metaverse.

The study found that 26% of users are currently looking for an excellent virtual reality setup to participate in the metaverse, with 35% willing to pay up to $500 for a VR setup. And with 20% noting they’ve already shopped the metaverse, the top items they look to purchase right now include music (46%), VR games (37%), and concert tickets (32%).

"The data shows that consumers are interested in the new internet and want to have opportunities to get involved—especially when it comes to shopping," said Vipin Porwal, CEO and founder of Smarty, in a news release. "Brands will begin making more changes to address new consumer desires, similar to the way these companies shifted during the start of the pandemic to meet the changing needs of shoppers."

Someone wearing VR glasses shopping in the metaverse.

Francesco Cata fotografo / Getty Images

Nir Kshetri, a business professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, pointed out in an email interview that one drawback to Meta’s initiative is the high fees that the creators have to pay. For virtual goods sold in Horizon on a Quest VR device, Meta will take 47.5% of each transaction. 

"However, it may not be considered too high given that  Roblox pays developers just 28.1% of the revenue associated with the game," he said. 

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