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East outpacing West in embracing the metaverse – and is losing out economically as a result

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There is a stark difference in consumer attitudes in Western and Eastern nations when it comes to the metaverse, with early adopters such as China and the United Arab Emirates, already reaping the economic benefits.  

According to a study by Gowling WLG in its Immaterial World report that compared attitudes towards the metaverse in six major international markets, four-in-five (83%) Chinese consumers would consider taking part in metaverse experiences, more than twice as many as in the UK (37%).

Consumers in the United Arab Emirates were also found to be more enthusiastic about this futuristic technology; consumers in the UAE are more than five times (43%) as likely to feel excited about the prospect of spending time in the metaverse in comparison to consumers in the UK (8%).

Understanding creates economic opportunities

The research revealed a clear connection between levels of understanding of the metaverse and enthusiasm for its potential. Two-in-five UK consumers (41%) claimed they have no understanding whatsoever of the metaverse, compared to just 6% of consumers surveyed in the UAE.

Nine-in-ten workers in UAE (91%) and China (88%) believe the metaverse will improve their businesses and working life, compared to just 43% in Canada and 33% in the UK. 

According to Alexandre Brazeau, Partner at Gowling WLG, this forward-looking approach directly correlates to new jobs and prosperity. “Cities like Dubai have already launched a metaverse strategy,” Brazeau says. “Individuals in Dubai can interact with the Government via metaverse platforms and, as a city, they’re aiming to create over 40,000 new metaverse-related jobs by 2030.”

Worries about safety and identity in the metaverse

When it comes to concerns around security in the metaverse, the UK’s hesitancy is shared by other Western nations. Identity theft, privacy and safety, and fraud are vital concerns to be addressed. The UK government must implement plans to support organisations navigating this new technology. 

Davey Brennan, Partner and co-chair of Global Tech at Gowling WLG, suggests that alongside security concerns, heavy regulation could explain the UK’s hesitancy for the virtual realm. 

“Compared to other markets, the UK regulatory regime is the gold standard, offering investors’ confidence when it comes to their investment decisions,” says Brennan. “However, the UK’s regime can often be seen as a regulatory maze that is difficult to navigate – especially where blockchain technology is being used to, for example, effect payments, represent digital ownership or transfer assets using NFTs in the metaverse.” 

Brennan adds: “But that doesn’t mean UK business should put off developing a metaverse strategy. When asked how they feel about the idea of spending time in the metaverse, half of UK consumers are yet to make up their mind. Arguably, now is the best time to win over hearts and minds into the virtual world.”

Business leaders to capitalise on asynchronous events

As organisations seek to bolster employee engagement through remote and flexible working; the metaverse could offer a solution, transforming the world of work. Data from Gowling WLG found that almost a fifth of people in the UK would consider workplace team management and collaboration (19%) in the metaverse.

With a move toward asynchronous living, the metaverse could revolutionise trade shows and conferences. Almost a quarter of respondents across all markets (23%) agreed they would consider the technology for more immersive events. The potential to engage a wider audience and remove geographical barriers can foster innovation and encourage exploration.

One area that must be addressed is safety and privacy, with organisations educating staff on the risks posed by the metaverse. Guidance and training on optimising the metaverse for work is the main thing people need help with across all markets (42% across all markets; and 28% in the UK).

Brennan adds: “The metaverse applies to businesses in every sector, from consumer-driven industries such as retail and events to automotive, real estate, energy, construction and beyond. As with any technology, business leaders need access to data and insights to help them define their approach and understand the opportunities and risks.”

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