The European Business Council for Africa

This study investigates the potential contribution of the metaverse to global economic activity. The metaverse as conceived today is considered by many a “successor” of the Internet and is sometimes referred to as an “embodied Internet.” One way to think about the metaverse is as a set of interconnected digital spaces, including immersive XR experiences that combine the digital and physical words, in which individuals can easily move between different spaces and experiences as well as interact and collaborate with other people who are not in the same physical space. Some of the early components of the metaverse and the experiences and activities it is envisioned to support or enable are already in exhibit, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, blockchain, and non-fungible tokens. These technologies, which are expected to be the backbone of the metaverse and its offerings, are already being used around the world by businesses and creators. As users continue to adopt these technologies, their potential to transform society in unpredictable ways will only accelerate.

Estimating the economic impact of the metaverse presents substantial challenges. Economic theories provide some insights into how new innovations can be expected to evolve and impact economies, but as with all innovations, it is impossible to predict all of the areas in which metaverse technologies will be used, the extent and timing of their adoption, the innovations that will be developed that build upon the metaverse, and all of their associated economic impacts. Put simply, there is no “metaverse” to measure as of today. Yet, rather than wait for some point in the future, we can apply existing tools and data from related sectors, technologies, and consumer behaviors to create a potential analogue for the metaverse. In identifying such an analogue, our goal is not to compare the metaverse to another technology—after all, if the metaverse were similar to an existing technology then it would not be an innovation—but rather, our goal is to learn from the adoption process and economic impact of an existing technology to draw inferences about the potential adoption process and economic impact of the metaverse.

We draw from the deployment and innovation impact of mobile technology to estimate the potential impact of the metaverse. We could in theory use any breakthrough technological innovation as an analogue for the metaverse, but we view mobile technology—which we define to include mobile devices enabled with the Internet and their associated infrastructure and ecosystem1—as particularly well suited for a number of reasons. The way mobile technology combined existing technologies such as phones, the Internet, cameras, and mp3 players and evolved to change how we use the Internet is reminiscent of the path the metaverse appears poised to follow. Combining existing technologies such as phones, the Internet, cameras, and mp3 players into a single mobile device fundamentally altered how we connect with the Internet by overcoming limitations of geography. Existing conceptions of the metaverse have a similar flavor of combining existing technologies, such as AR/VR, videoconferencing, multi-player gaming, and digital currency, and turning them into something new. While mobile devices untethered the Internet from desktop computers, the metaverse is expected to further break down location barriers and transform a wide range of industries by enabling more seamless and immersive experiences as well as creating a sense of presence without the need to be physically present in a location. Similar to mobile technology, the range of expected applications for the metaverse is far-reaching, including the communications, entertainment, education, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail sectors.


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