Over the past two years, companies around the world have started taking interest in the metaverse.
The term dates back to a 90s sci-fi book, wherein it describes a three-dimensional virtual reality which mirrors the real world. In theory, it’s a place for people to live an alternate life with all the conveniences of digital technology.
As it stands, our metaverses aren’t fully inhabitable yet. However, there have been a number of developments to this end. From retailers setting up metaverse stores to musicians hosting virtual concerts, we’re steadily learning more about the online equivalent to real-world activities.
Last November, UOB launched SkyArtVerse — a virtual art gallery built within Decentraland. Launched in 2020, Decentraland is one of the most popular metaverses today. It offers land parcels which can be bought using cryptocurrency and used to set up virtual environments.
Decentraland was selected for UOB’s first foray into this space as it has one of the largest user bases among the metaverses, aligning with our objective to broaden our engagement with audiences through a differentiated virtual experience.
– Lilian Chong, Head of Group Brand and Corporate Social Responsibility, UOB
UOB’s move followed two months after DBS became the first Singaporean bank to venture into the metaverse — doing so in partnership with The Sandbox, a close Decentraland competitor.
UBS and AXA are also among this list of financial companies pursuing metaverse strategies in Singapore. It’d appear as if the industry as a whole sees potential in this emerging technology.
Looking into SkyArtVerse
SkyArtVerse showcases the winning works from UOB’s Painting of the Year competition. Viewers may enter the gallery using their own customisable avatars, following which they can observe the artworks and learn more about the artists’ stories and inspirations.
“UOB has been a steadfast supporter of Southeast Asian art and artists for more than four decades,” explains Lilian Chong, UOB’s Head of Group Brand and Corporate Social Responsibility. For the banking institution, the metaverse offered a way to broaden engagement with both artists and audiences.
With the launch of SkyArtVerse, UOB became the first bank in Asia to explore this intersection between art and technology.
In a 2022 survey, the company found eight in 10 respondents agree that art appreciation improved one’s quality of life. A similar proportion also vouched for art’s ability to bring people from different walks of life together.
“The reach of the metaverse beyond physical boundaries allows us to bring an international community of art lovers together,” Chong explains. Using this technology, UOB aimed to emphasise the benefits which many attribute to art. It was a way to improve accessibility and allow Southeast Asian works to reach a global audience.
So far, it’d seem the experiment has been a success. “We are encouraged by the public’s response to the platform, with visitors spending an average of 15 minutes in the virtual art theme park exploring the winning artworks,” says Chong.
Is decentralisation the way forward?
One of the key debates surrounding metaverse technology has been the need for decentralisation. Companies such as Meta and Microsoft have been pushing the case for centralised metaverses, while Decentraland and The Sandbox lead the charge on the other end.
As the next iteration of the internet takes form, it remains to be seen if both sides can coexist.
“Both centralised and decentralised metaverses have their pros and cons. We will continue to explore both types of platforms and assess their suitability for relevant projects,” says Chong. She cites governance and data privacy among the factors which are important to consider when making such decisions.
Centralised platforms collect user data for a variety of purposes.
For example, social media apps can recommend more relevant content as they learn more about the user. This adds an aspect of convenience and can improve the overall experience. On the other hand, the data might also be misused or sold to third parties without consent.
Decentralised platforms offer an alternative solution, where users can access such apps without having to give up any personal information. This guarantees privacy, but takes away the tailored experience.
As it stands, decentralised metaverses seem to have the upper edge over their counterparts. Meta’s Horizon World’s metaverse has been a notable source of the company’s financial woes, and the platform failed to reach its monthly active users target last year.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has been cutting down on its VR projects amid a major wave of tech layoffs.
Crypto and the metaverse
With their emergence coinciding, blockchain technology and the metaverse are often seen going hand-in-hand.
For example, Decentraland and The Sandbox both use their own crypto tokens to sustain an in-world economy. Users are identified solely by their crypto wallet addresses, which can be used to enter the platforms.
Such utilities are helping steer crypto away from its notoriety as a speculative investment. Chong acknowledges the inherent risks surrounding the asset class and the need for investors to have a thorough understanding of its complexities.
“That said, we continue to see the strong potential of underlying blockchain technology,” she says.
UOB is capitalising on the growing interest in digital assets by exploring utilities such as asset tokenisation, central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), and the metaverse.
“We believe that blockchain technology and the metaverse are here to stay, and UOB will continue to leverage [it] to offer suitable financial services and engage customers in a safe and secured manner.”
Featured Image Credit: UOB