South Korea's 'Gen MZ' leads rush into 'metaverse'

This is Shaun the avatar and his creator, who we will also call Shaun.

The South Korean engineer declined to be identified other than by the name of his avatar.

Shaun has invested thousands of dollars into scooping up land - virtual land, on the so-called "metaverse."

If you've never heard of it before, it's a buzzword that at its most basic means 3-D, virtual environments where one’s digital avatars can play games, walk around, shop and party and even build cities and profitable businesses.

Most of the world is still warming up to the idea of “metaverse” - and what it may or may not be.

But for many young South Koreans, it's becoming reality.

For the past three years, Shaun has immersed himself in Decentraland, a blockchain-based metaverse platform.

(Shaun) "People can develop their own (business) models there, so anyone can come and decorate what they want. You can also use blockchain-based coins in your business model and create profit from them."

Fueling many of the virtual worlds are non-fungible tokens, or NFTs.

They are digital assets encompassing everything from artwork and videos, to clothes, avatars, and Shaun's land parcels.

As in the real world, land closer to popular districts are more valuable than others.

Some land parcels that sold for about $20 each when Decentraland launched in 2017, now change hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Shaun and other landowners believe they will be able to make money by using their land for a variety of commercial businesses, such as building concert venues and charging admission for performances.

"I'm planning to design a building that's able to host live K-pop performances and K-drama screenings, and to develop Korean-style costumes and share them with people all over the world that can probably lead to a profitable business model in two to three years."

South Koreans have been especially open to the attractions of the metaverse.

Some social experts attribute the trend to the disgruntled MZ generation, a term that merges Millennials and Generation Z.

Soaring house prices and income inequality have enticed young people into alternative online worlds.

One of them is 37-year-old Choi Ji-ung.

He began buying virtual parcels of land because he was frustrated with real estate prices and regulations in the real world.

Choi put down $43,000 to buy property on geolocation-based platform Earth 2.

He says his investment in the pricey virtual Gangnam district in Seoul is something he can only dream of in the real world.

"I chose Gangnam first, since I can't afford to buy in that area in the real world and the value will increase. I chose tiles for Eunma Apartment (in Gangnam), as its value will rise a lot after reconstruction. I bought it at a value that's 40% less than now. It has surged 40% since my (purchase)."

Earth 2 Chief Executive Shane Isaac told Reuters South Koreans were the most active users on the platform, spending about $9.1 million.

And investment managers, telecom firms and even the South Korean government are all plugging in.

SK Telecom, the country's largest mobile carrier, launched a metaverse 'ifland' in July where denizens can host and attend meetings with other animated avatars.

A Ministry of Science official told Reuters the government hopes to accelerate the digital transformation and play a leading role in the metaverse industry.

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