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South Africans dip toes into metaverse

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Almost half of South Africa’s surveyed adult population (48.8%) are active on social media, with some already exploring the metaverse, as the immersive tech gains popularity in the country.

This is one of the key findings of the SA Social Media Landscape 2022 study, released during a webinar today by Ornico Media Monitoring, in partnership with World Wide Worx.

The study was conducted after a full year of COVID-19 lockdowns. It found that in 2021, SA saw a surge in online access and social media use, as South Africans needed to take a new approach to staying connected while staying apart.

Almost half of surveyed adult South Africans accessed a social network, such as the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, it notes.

Lurking beneath these numbers is the surprising emergence of a new kind of platform coming to the fore: the metaverse, it adds.

While most of its users don’t think of it as the “metaverse”, 16.1% of adult South African say they have participated in a “virtual world” in the last year.

Dubbed the next evolution of social connection, a “metaverse” is a virtual reality space, where users in different parts of the globe can interact with each other and with virtual beings in a computer-generated environment.

In January, experts told ITWeb the local metaverse market is expected to gain popularity this year, as more local companies dabble with immersive technologies to deliver operational and revenue improvements.

“This number is surprising for another reason,” said World Wide Worx CEO Arthur Goldstuck, releasing the findings this morning.

“It is very close to the proportion who say they used online dating sites: 16.4%. While this is seen as a mainstream use of the internet, the metaverse is not, yet they are at a similar level of adoption.”

Goldstuck points out that some respondents would equate various in-game environments, such as Fortnite and Mimecast, with virtual worlds.

“In other words, these are not necessarily people actively entering a virtual world, but the experience of participating in an interactive, immersive environment gives them a greater propensity to enter metaverse alternatives like Second Life, Decentraland and Ubuntuland.”

Ubuntuland is a virtual land that exists in Africarare, Africa’s first metaverse. Developed by Johannesburg-based innovation company Mann Made, Africarare is a 3D virtual reality immersive hub. In May, Africarare saw huge demand for virtual land, with companies such as MTN and marketing consultancy M&C Saatchi Abel purchasing virtual land in the immersive world.

The metaverse-focused data is sourced from a vast dataset compiled by Ask Afrika in its biannual Target Group Index survey, which every year interviews around 30 000 South African adults aged 15 or over, living in cities and towns.

Also speaking at the webinar, Oresti Patricios, CEO of Ornico, said a key question to be asked is whether South Africans are ready to hop on “the metaverse train”.

“Are we technologically developed to build a viable commercial landscape in the metaverse, or should we take it one step back?” The answer, he says, is still not clear.

“In as much as consumers are catching on and have begun to explore this shared space with their virtual avatars, there is still no definitive understanding of what the metaverse is and what it should look like, today or in the future. Because of their decentralised nature, these virtual worlds are more user-centric and will continue to grow and evolve based on user decisions and interactions. There will be a slow evolution.”

Nevertheless, it represents a rare opportunity for marketers, he added.

“Because these are uncharted waters, marketers have the opportunity to take a leading role in influencing, developing and iterating this area for the betterment of the consumers they serve, rather than being bystanders,” noted Patricios.

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