There are plenty of big claims about how much the metaverse will change the economy as it grows, by adding trillions of dollars of surplus value or millions of new jobs, just like the internet did.
But a piece of less-rosy data dropped into inboxes this week: Job listings with “metaverse” in their title decreased by more than 80 percent from April to June according to a report from Revelio Labs and Bloomberg, a casualty of the awkwardly timed overlap between the overall market slump and Big Tech’s ambitious efforts to build out this new virtual landscape.
During Meta’s earnings call last week — in which the company announced its first ever revenue decline — Mark Zuckerberg put a happy face on his company’s big investment (and big pivot) saying that despite market conditions, the metaverse will in the long term earn the company “hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions,” even as it reportedly prepares for layoffs itself.
As everyone else in the industry likes to point out, however, Meta is not the metaverse. So outside 1 Hacker Way, what does the metaverse economy look like right now, and how should we expect it to take shape as it grows?
At the upper levels, one can view the metaverse as a job-creating engine for the high-paid developers, newly-minted Web3 consultants and hardware designers who are building the world and its technical and administrative parameters. In its metaverse job survey, Revelio Labs found that the global IT and consulting company Accenture has listed the most VR-related job postings by a wide margin — more than twice as many as Meta, the runner-up. Non-tech-focused companies have boarded the hype train too: Unilever, the old-school consumer goods giant, has already formed an “in-house Web3 collective” to build its metaverse strategy in marketing everything from deodorant to ice cream bars.
But there’s another landscape of metaverse jobs outside of corporate walls. The kind of informal cash economies that exist in gaming spaces like Roblox and Fortnite are well-known and -chronicled at this point, as is the mega-hyped market for NFT-based metaverse real estate. There are the moneymaking schemes promised by play-to-earn games like Axie Infinity, which inspired an economic micro-revolution in southeast Asia, to decidedly mixed results. And as Bloomberg noted, the metaverse has inspired similar low-paying, informal work in the real world as well, with listings for metaverse gigs more than quadrupling on the freelance market app Fiverr.
The metaverse economy ultimately looks similar to the already-existing one: An upper class of highly-skilled and -credentialed consultants and developers, and a vast gig-economy underclass.
For all the hype around it, is it possible that the metaverse will just mirror our existing economic hierarchy? After all, the internet itself transformed the global job market, placing communication and STEM skills at a high premium at the expense of nearly everything else. What might the metaverse, with its endlessly sprawling virtual landscapes and new forms of digital communication, do to change what kind of work is and isn’t valued?
I put that question to Yonatan Raz Fridman, founder and CEO of metaverse games company Supersocial and co-host of Bloomberg’s “Into the Metaverse” podcast — and he said that while right now traditional engineering and development skills are in highest demand as the metaverse gets built, an actually robust existing one will inspire, and require, a booming economy of creative workers.
“We are talking about a lot of content that is going to be created,” Raz Fridman said. “We’re going to see an explosion of creators coming from art and design, and just like people do now in games like Roblox, teaching themselves to create items for this economy.”
He pointed out that the demand for creative skills won’t be limited to designing the items and art that fill out these virtual worlds, but the worlds themselves, which will demand totally new ways of looking at the web user experiences that we now take for granted.
And if a 3D world is populated with items and experiences that people potentially value just as much as they do in the real world, wouldn’t it be worth paying good money to preserve or be guided through them?
“What does it mean if my avatar wants to go to school, or learn skills to do something in the metaverse, to become a freelancer?” Raz Fridman asked. “We’re building a parallel universe of reality; it wouldn’t be so crazy to think there could be a whole avatar-based economy and workforce.”
In today’s Morning Money newsletter, POLITICO’s Sam Sutton, Kate Davidson and Aubree Eliza Weaver break down new legislation proposed by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) that would place crypto regulation squarely under the penumbra of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
It’s the latest salvo in the battle over whether crypto should be classified as a commodity or a security. SEC chair Gary Gensler has aggressively pushed to make crypto his agency’s purview, and it outright classified several currencies as securities as part of a recent criminal investigation. If passed, this bill would shift the balance of power in favor of the CFTC, seen by many in the crypto industry as a more favorable regulator. (Blockchain Association Executive Director Kristin Smith called the bill, which came out of the Senate Agriculture Committee, “encouraging”.)
Sam, Kate and Aubree also note that “while the bill doesn’t delineate any specific responsibilities for the SEC — that’s outside Senate Ag’s purview,” it does allow companies that register with the CFTC to also register with the SEC. They report that although the bill lacks the fanfare of this year’s earlier, more sweeping proposed crypto legislation from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), lobbyists and staffers have high hopes for its eventual passage.
Nice work if you can get it: In the latest from what’s rapidly becoming a busy VRChat beat, users of the endlessly customizable (for now) metaverse-like virtual world are lining up for a limited number of jobs at virtual K-Marts.
Users are directed to apply to one of the store’s numerous “departments,” from a virtual bakery to a portrait studio, although the administrators warn that the virtual KMart is “not a real company and does not have payroll, provide health benefits, etc.” and “is simply for roleplay to keep the shopping experience alive for players” who hang out in the virtual space, pretending to do tasks like stocking shelves or wrangling carts.
The stores are the brainchild of a user who was employed by the retail chain in the real world, where its locations have now dwindled to just three as of this April. That brings the company into equilibrium with its virtual counterpart, as its creator, who goes by the username “Ericirno,” has constructed not just a virtual replica of his own store, but a Super KMart and KMart Express as well.
The virtual KMart community’s Discord channel now has nearly 3500 users after posts about the stores’ hyper-specific detail went viral. The levels of user enthusiasm on display at the virtual KMarts, including fully staffed, role-played shifts, are somewhat stunning in comparison to those around some, well, actually functional brands. As companies begin to spend major cash on metaverse marketing efforts, it’s a reminder of a lesson from another (fictional) advertising era: Nostalgia is potent.
Stay in touch with the whole team: Ben Schreckinger ([email protected]); Derek Robertson ([email protected]); Konstantin Kakaes ([email protected]); and Heidi Vogt ([email protected]). Follow us on Twitter @DigitalFuture.
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