Countries in the MENA region are in the early stages of embracing the potential of the Metaverse to reshape various industries and create new economic opportunities as digital adoption grows. The availability of digital infrastructure and growing internet connectivity are laying the foundation for Metaverse adoption across the region.
Manifestation of The Metaverse – Case Studies in the MENA Region
The UAE, particularly Dubai, is actively embracing the Metaverse concept. According to PwC, Dubai officially launched its metaverse strategy in July 2022. The objective is to position itself as a leading metaverse economy. This strategic initiative aims to contribute an estimated $4 billion to Dubai’s economy and generate 40,000 new job opportunities within the next five years.
One revolutionary organization in the UAE Metaverse is Big Dream Lab. Their creative team implements VR and AR products. They have delivered numerous immersive projects in the mining sector, oil & gas industry, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, marketing, education, and tourism. They entered the UAE market in 2019 as a studio and have since developed several AR and VR projects. Continuing this success, they are expanding into the MENA region.
According to Alareeb ICT, Saudi Arabia is heavily investing resources in Metaverse startups,
funding research, and exploring innovative use cases across various industries. As a pioneer in the region, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has established the Middle East’s inaugural metaverse incubator, focusing on nurturing early-stage metaverse and Web3 applications. Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s NEOM, a $500 billion city development project, has integrated a metaverse component that is actively employed to enhance the city’s construction processes and facilitate collaboration among architects, engineers, designers, and other professionals, enabling customization for real estate clients.
The latest news in the Metaverse space in the region is that Singapore and Saudi Arabia-based AI company BuzzAR is teaming up with Cypher Capital, a leading venture capital firm, to create disruptive AI+LBS Web3 location-based game projects with a $1 million seed investment.
This partnership will allow the companies to leverage proprietary generative AI technologies on Metaport, a portal that turns human faces into avatars in real-time, to create a decentralized social graph. With leading retail holdings, hospitality partners, and tourism government collaborations in Singapore and Saudi Arabia, BuzzAR is poised to reshape the gaming landscape.
Situated in an economically advantageous location, Egypt has a relatively diversified economy, driving a dynamic business environment and economic development. The economic contribution of the metaverse to Egypt’s annual GDP could reach $11.6bn – $22.0bn by 2035. In addition, the country has emerged as a leading player in Metaverse startups and innovations. F6S highlights several Egyptian startup companies making waves in the Metaverse space, developing virtual reality experiences, immersive content, and virtual commerce platforms.
For instance, Estate Waves, a real estate company that uses 3D platforms and marketplaces to promote properties, invested approximately 525 million pounds in building projects by default and has invested more than US$ 20 million in an exhibition to showcase and promote virtual real estate projects in Egypt.
Jordan offers a dynamic economy and a rich cultural landscape, creating an internationally inclusive atmosphere for both businesses and visitors. The country’s thriving technology ecosystem and highly competitive Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector position it favorably to serve regional markets within the MENA region. Notably, 87% of Jordanians utilize the internet, with the majority (85%) owning smartphones, indicating a high level of digital connectivity among the population.
IKEA in Jordan has launched the IKEA Virtual Reality Experience, which allows customers to explore all items in the store through 360° virtual tours. Users can pick a room size and layout and furnish it virtually in the way they want it in their home, and then proceed to a virtual checkout to pay. The experience resulted in an estimated 20% increase in footfall and sales in physical retail.
Morocco boasts a stable macroeconomic environment and operates an open, diverse market economy. It stands out as one of the most technologically advanced countries in North Africa, with the highest level of internet penetration and the region’s most powerful supercomputer. Moreover, Morocco is recognized as a leader in MENA in terms of cryptocurrency ownership, highlighting its active participation in the digital currency landscape. Notably, in 2023, Morocco is set to host the inaugural African edition of the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX), further establishing its position as a regional hub for technology and innovation.
An innovative example of Metaverse development in the region, Morocco’s Office of Vocational Training and Labour Promotion has recently collaborated with EON Reality to bring metaverse technologies to its training programs. The technologies will allow students to access stimulating virtual learning environments and interactive lessons, which can facilitate the learning experience for people who are not able to be physically present in the center.
Mesmerizing Metaverse Applications in the MENA Countries
Other key applications involve:
Virtual classrooms and interactive learning platforms are enhancing the mode of education in MENA. The Metaverse facilitates immersive and engaging experiences that enhance remote learning and training programs. As per the Economic Times article, the Metaverse has the potential to revolutionize education in the MENA region, providing access to quality education for all.
E-commerce and Retail:
The Metaverse is redefining the retail industry, offering virtual shopping experiences and innovative ways to interact with products and services. Integration of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies in virtual marketplaces has the potential to revolutionize e-commerce in the MENA region. Business Chief highlights how the Metaverse is reshaping the retail landscape in the Middle East.
Socializing and Entertainment:
Virtual events, concerts, and VR chat rooms pave a new way for people to socialize and seek entertainment in the MENA region. Arab News reports on the increasing popularity of virtual concerts and events, enabling individuals to connect and engage with others in immersive virtual environments.
Meddling With The Metaverse
Infrastructure and Limited Access:
While the UAE already operates as a global technology hub and has achieved a strong business and innovation environment, KSA for example, has scope to enhance the environment further. In countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, near‐term adoption is expected to use existing devices such as smartphones, whereas adoption of more sophisticated applications at scale appears a longer‐term prospect. From an end‐user perspective, significant gaps exist with respect to digital connectivity and skills, while affordability will be a barrier for many potential users.
Data Security and User Privacy:
Data protection and cybersecurity will remain vital considerations, as voiced by Economy Middle East: establishing a secure Metaverse ecosystem is essential for protecting user data and providing strong privacy measures and regulatory guidelines.
Personal data usage within the Metaverse raises inevitable questions related to privacy; the control of data in the Metaverse can grant certain entities significant market control. The question is whether the existing security systems can address data protection and privacy concerns in this unique environment.
Intellectual Property Issues:
The rise of virtual property acquisition and the purchase of non-fungible tokens (NFT) are major contributing factors to the expansion of digital assets and tokens within the Metaverse. Two significant challenges emerge here:
- Establishing ownership rights for creators of digital assets
- Verifying ownership of digital assets within the Metaverse
Intellectual property protection within the Metaverse is a challenge, as tracking instances of copyright infringement is more complex in the virtual realm. The current state of the Metaverse hampers the seamless ownership experience, resulting in isolated and disjointed encounters and undermining the immersive potential of the virtual environment.
Administrative and Legal Issues:
The Metaverse provides a virtual space in which real-world activities as well as commercial interactions are simulated. But in doing so, it leaves room for participants to be susceptible to vulnerabilities if no regulatory framework or virtual jurisdiction is established. Implementing a cross-border regulatory framework is thus essential in the MENA region. This would ensure compliance with safety standards without the issue of legal vulnerability.
MENA’s Metaverse Potential
The Metaverse may be in its early stages, but the MENA region’s strong initial interest and work hold immense potential. Metaverse technologies can promote this economic value through key impact drivers, as shown below and discussed below in the context of key growth sectors for the region.
The Metaverse revolution has arrived in the MENA region, promising transformative changes across various sectors. As outlined above, the gaming, tourism, and real estate industries are thriving, education is becoming more immersive, e-commerce is embracing virtual realms, and social experiences are evolving. The economic potential of the Metaverse is significant, with job creation, entrepreneurship, and digital marketing opportunities on the rise.
The MENA region’s case studies demonstrate the ambition and progress made in embracing the Metaverse. From Dubai’s visionary plans to Saudi Arabia’s investments and Egypt’s thriving startup scene, the region is positioning itself as a hub for Metaverse innovation.
As the journey into the Metaverse continues, it is crucial to prioritize inclusivity, accessibility, and privacy to ensure a Metaverse that benefits all individuals and communities in the MENA region. By embracing this vision, the MENA countries can lead the way in pioneering the Metaverse revolution and redefining the digital landscape for generations to come.
Authored by Tathagata Chakrabarti
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