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Metaverse gold rush: Virtual land sales and avatars are leading the NFT market

Is the metaverse Web3’s next big bet?

[Source photo: Getty]

A year ago, as cryptocurrencies and NFTs burst into the mainstream, the novelty of the blockchain alone was enough to clamor over. But a year later, the public seems to be seeking the next major synthesis of blockchain tech—and that may well be the metaverse.

According to a report from blockchain analytics group Nansen, metaverse-linked NFTs led the market in the first quarter of 2022, with investments in virtual land and real estate, avatars, and assets returning an average of 129.4%. That beat returns for blue-chip projects like Azuki, Clone X, and Doodles (50.9%), as well as for gaming NFTs and art NFTs, both of which saw overall drops in value.

But at the same time, metaverse NFTs were also the most volatile—almost quadruply more so than the top blue-chip collections (which proved most stable, having been somewhat battle-tested). In fact, many metaverse buyers “behave as speculators,” Nansen writes. That’s as a gold rush has materialized in the evolving virtual world, with individual prospectors and big-name companies alike staking out claims in the new Wild West. Hyped brands like Gucci, Adidas, Care Bears, and Atari already own plots of land—but they’re also joined by stuffier, buttoned-up businesses like JP Morgan, which has a lobby in Decentraland (a massive virtual shopping mall where space has sold for multiple millions of dollars), and HSBC, which could open banks in the Sandbox.

While much of the scrum is concentrated in realms like the Sandbox, Somnium Space, Cryptovoxels, and Decentraland, competition is still growing, with Meta’s Horizon Worlds earlier this week revealing it would start testing tools for creators to sell virtual items and experiences within its platform. Meanwhile, companies are racing to engineer digital replicas of iconic real-world destinations like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, or Crypto Valley—the Web3 version of Silicon Valley.

“As more artists, creators, builders, and community members innovate with the NFT market, we believe we will see a rebalancing of which sectors become its driving force,” says Louisa Choe, a researcher at Nansen. While the metaverse has gained ground, NFTs as a whole have already surpassed cryptocurrency tokens, with Nansen’s “NFT-500” index up 49.9% year-to-date, while Bitcoin is up just 1.9% and Ethereum down 7.9%.

If it still feels rather risky, that’s probably because it is, as many analysts have concurred. But NFTs can’t linger as hundred-thousand-dollar profile pictures for too long—Web3 must innovate its next big thing, and the metaverse is beckoning. Whether those bets pay off, of course, remains to be seen.

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