Savvy entrepreneurs are flocking to the metaverse to set up shop, building the next generation of imaginative businesses. Here are some of the wild things they’re pitching us, from virtual apartments to coffin NFTs to maybe even finding the love of your life
Find your dream home! (That you’ll have to pay rent for)
As housing becomes increasingly less affordable in the physical world, it’s also booming in the metaverse. And Metaverse Group is at the forefront of digital property acquisition. Last year, it purchased a massive amount in Decentraland and The Sandbox, which it rents out to interested parties – for instance, a £2 million plot in Decentraland where Metaverse Fashion Week was held. Andrew Kiguel, a former property investment banker and the CEO of Tokens.com (of which Metaverse Group is a subsidiary), estimates that Metaverse Group’s portfolio is currently worth somewhere between £20 million and £25 million.
GQ: Who are your tenants and how are you collecting rent?
Andrew Kiguel: The general rule that we’re trying to apply is: about 2 per cent of what we believe the asset value of the land to be is the rent per month. We’re collecting money in fiat, so we’re not doing it in crypto. It’s just a lot easier if you’re dealing with large corporations – our two highest-profile tenants would be Skechers and Forever 21.
What are the rent prices like, say, compared to New York’s?
It’s a lot cheaper than New York’s. Depending on the location, it could be anywhere from £1,000 a month to £3,500 a month. And each [plot] is 52 feet by 52 feet.
Leases in the real world come with rules, naturally: You can’t smoke, you can’t mess up the apartment, etc. What are the clauses in the metaverse?
We want to protect our brand, so we want to avoid things that have any hate or pornography or anything that would be controversial. There’s some liability insurance coverage there – if somebody in our land gets sued, we don’t want that coming back to us. So there’s protections like that, but certainly if your avatar wants to smoke or drink in our property, that’s okay.
What about the flip side: what are the problems your tenants have to rely on a landlord to fix?
We don’t have those issues. Nobody’s roof is going to leak, nobody’s fridge is going to break. I believe that the types of things that we will have to deal with are more improvements and enhancements. When I was building Tokens.com Tower, I told them I wanted great whites jumping out of the pond in front of the building.
This seems to be mostly commercial – do you see a future where people will want to rent apartments in the metaverse?
Some of that’s happening, but it’s more trophy assets. I’m sure you’ve heard Snoop Dogg is replicating his mansion in The Sandbox. He could host parties there. I’ve heard there are other people who are building miniature dream houses in the metaverse and they hang their NFT art there.
Are we going to see a metaverse property bubble?
What I’m hoping is actually that the trends from traditional property progress to here. Decentraland has a finite amount of plots available for development. There’s only 45,000 plots available. You can make the analogy, maybe, to the early days of building Manhattan. As more people congregate, your access to those people is going to have to go through us. And I think that’s going to be very valuable.
Injured in a metaverse accident? These lawyers will fight for you!
In late 2021, Grungo Colarulo opened the first personal injury law firm in the metaverse. It’s since launched LawCity.com, a district within Decentraland where several other law offices can have a virtual presence. (It’s still TBC what jurisdiction perceived metaverse crimes will fall under.) Partners Richard Grungo and William Colarulo – two self-described Jersey boys – explain where they see the future of law heading.
Richard Grungo: We relied on my 11-year-old to build the office. She legitimately designed that building in about 30 minutes by just moving things around and having fun. The other day, I was working and I heard somebody talking at the property and it was an ape that showed up, just looking around. Now, that particular ape was not looking for legal advice. It was somebody just exploring.
William Colarulo: We don’t represent big corporations. Everybody we represent is an individual who needs help. Recently, there was that big story about a woman who felt that she was assaulted in the metaverse. As the metaverse evolves, I’m sure there are going to be legal situations that occur in this new world.
Grungo: We see this as another avenue for people to come in an avatar and maybe click on a link to learn about sexual discrimination in the workplace or what constitutes a punitive award of damages in a collapsing building case that involves something terrible.
Personal training on the moon: why go to the gym when you can get swole in space?
So I’m standing on the surface of the moon one Monday morning and it looks like, well, the moon. Grey and cratered. The vast and unknowable expanse of outer space surrounding all sides. Suddenly a black sphere hurtles at me, followed by a white one. They keep coming in rapid succession, as I shuffle around to punch them away, sending the orbs flying into oblivion. After working up a sweat, I take off my VR headset and find myself back in my living room.
A few hours later, I video-chat with the person who, until that point, had existed as a peppy and encouraging virtual coach. Leanne Pedante is the head of fitness at Supernatural, an app that allows you to grind out workouts in ancient Egyptian temples, on the surface of the ocean, and, yes, even in outer space.
She still teaches one in-person class a week, and says many people come to her IRL sessions after first finding her on Supernatural. Supernatural launched in April 2020, just as the pandemic closed down gyms. Suddenly, the future of fitness was a more pressing question than usual.
While being strapped in a VR headset can feel like the opposite of being present and engaged in your life, Pedante would argue the opposite. “You have controllers in your hands. You’re not scrolling. You’re not reading your emails on your phone in between reps,” she says. “I mean, I have literally seen people at the gym trying to check their emails while on a treadmill and go flying off.”
Date online, make out in V.R. (Anime devil boy seeks sexy ninja cat for metaverse fling)
Dating these days tends to follow a familiar script: boy sees girl on an app and thinks she’s hot, boy and girl mutually swipe on each other, boy and girl meet up in real life. Nevermet, the metaverse’s first dating app, wants to eliminate that final step and get people to form relationships in virtual reality instead. Metaverse matchmakers Solaris Nite and Cam Mullen launched their app globally on iOS on Valentine’s Day, with Android following a month later. Instead of uploading a photo of yourself, you use your metaverse avatar: a chill guy with spiky hair and a tie-dye sweatshirt, a busty woman in red latex fetish gear, a dog. If two people like each other’s avatars, they get an alert and can start chatting on the app. From there, they can make plans to meet up in a metaverse of their choosing. “We wanted to enable limitless relationships,” Nite says. “We envision a future where people have more meaningful relationships in the metaverse than in the real world.”
Dating in VR, they explain, can facilitate experiences that are for reasons of location, finances, and the laws of space and time, impossible in the real world. Mullen tells me about “sitting on a US spaceship and looking at the blue Earth with white clouds and the black stars behind it, talking to this one girl from rural Mississippi for about an hour and hearing all about her life.” The Nevermet founders emphasise that their app is less superficial than the competition and has the potential to enable people who feel shut out of traditional dating, due to anything from cultural circumstances or social anxiety, to form connections. “The people who are most engaged in these metaverse dating communities feel most comfortable as their best self in this form,” Mullen says.
I can’t help but feel as if dating while strapped into a VR headset is a touch dystopian, especially in the midst of a real-world loneliness epidemic and declining birth rates, so I raise the idea that this will make it worse. “It has the opportunity to have the opposite effect,” Nite says, “which is they build confidence through lower-stakes dating, maybe less pressure, in the metaverse.” But – you’re thinking it too – can you have sex in VR? Sort of. “There’s something called ERP, which stands for erotic role play,” Mullen explains. “What people experience is something called phantom touch.”
Preorder your NFT gravestone and be remembered like a pharaoh when you die
Since the dawn of human history, we have memorialised our dead: in pyramids and graveyards and everything in between. Now, the team at Remember is dreaming up how we’ll mourn each other in the digital future with the first commemorative metaverse. Interested parties can purchase one of its NFT gravestones, which take the form of smooth, abstract sculptures randomly generated from one of 30 base shapes. Each stone will set you back 0.125 ether (ETH), or around £300. “We wanted to be happy and memorable, so we tried to focus the design not to be a traditional tombstone, but something brand new,” Jake Ma, the company’s blockchain and full stack developer, tells me on a Zoom call from Seoul, where Remember is based.
Stephen Han, head of product and business development, was first struck with the idea for Remember when his grandmother died from COVID-19 and he was unable to attend her funeral. “There was nothing much left for me to remember her, other than a few photos that I kept,” he says. Soon, the company hopes to even create 3D hologram renderings of the deceased, based on photos, that can live on in virtual memorial halls. “In the past, there were Egyptian pyramids – all these huge figures have built memory space before, but for people like me there’s not enough land,” Han says.
“But nowadays, it is possible.” Remember even has a terra firma casket partner, Titan Casket, and now they’re kicking around ideas of how they can work together. “Maybe if someone buys a coffin there,” Han suggests, “we can provide an NFT.”
Sexy new moves to bust out on the dance floor – get down with motion-captured NFTs
Brady Keehn, a.k.a. Panther Modern, a.k.a. the dancing king of the metaverse, looks more indie musician than tech bro: a choppy blond haircut, black tank top, delicate silver earring dangling from one ear. That’s probably because he is one, as the frontman of the post-punk electronic band Sextile. “I’ve always been a DIY artist my entire life, just hacking it together,” he says. Now, he’s applying that same ethos to Heat, a DAO – or decentralised autonomous organisation – that Keehn describes as “Bandcamp for dancers.” Users will be able to upload their specific dances to the platform and sell them as NFTs, which other users can then purchase and use to get their avatars moving in various metaverses. “We are building a platform for dancers and movers,” he explains. “Traditionally, it’s been hard to monetise movement. All this tech is being built for music, all this tech is being built for visual art, all this tech is being built for everything else, but where is movement in all of this?”
When the pandemic meant his band could no longer tour, Keehn started using volumetric cameras to project himself in 3D environments and put on virtual performances. That led him to experiment with motion capture suits. Around the same time, he started noticing how difficult it was for dancers to retain ownership over their moves as they proliferated online. “We see Black creators going on strike on TikTok when we see influencers taking their dances and monetising off them,” he says. Now that concerts are happening in the metaverse, he also sees potential in having dance NFTs – currently being sold at 0.15 ETH, or about £350 – essentially be featured as merch. “Say you’re at a Doja Cat concert in the metaverse,” he says, “and all of a sudden she airdrops everybody these NFTs so everybody is able to do a special Doja Cat dance.
Become a poker god, and stack digital chips for real money and ridiculously pricey in-game fashion
Miles Anthony, one of the founders of Decentral Games, which launched in 2019, is already responsible for building an active daily community of metaverse poker players. Here he explains why they’ve been so successful:
“We started with regular, casino-style games, but didn’t really find the product market fit until we launched Ice Poker. We pivoted away from gambling because we wanted to appeal to anyone in any jurisdiction. Basically, we sell wearable NFTs for your avatar. By owning one, you can have access to Ice Poker, which gives you a daily allocation of chips. With those chips, you can play poker with other players and get a daily payout of Ice Token. If you’re at the very bottom of the leaderboard, you’re still earning a very small amount of Ice Tokens – 50p or something. If you’re at the very top, then you earn 30, 40, maybe £50 per day.
“People like to show off their wearables as they level up within our game, like it’s some sort of fashion statement – there’s a really strong community around the diamond hand cigars. For some reason, people just love them. The cheapest is 3.9 ETH, so, like, £10,000.
“The dealer is a bot, and all the players can communicate with each other. There’s voice chat, text chat, and it’s very social. We solved one of the main problems with the metaverse: because it’s so early, it’s pretty empty. But we have roughly around 1,500 to 2,000 players constantly in the venues, and then around 12,000 daily active players total. This doesn’t sound like a lot in traditional web standards, but for Web3 and metaverse, it’s pretty considerable. We’re pretty much 60 per cent of Decentraland’s overall users. There are even little celebrities kind of popping up within our community. There’s a guy called Ice Poker God. I don’t know who he is!”
Gabriella Paiella is a GQ US staff writer. Illustrations by Nick Little.