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UAE, Saudi to be ‘major players’ in Metaverse; will invest and reap billions: Expert

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The UAE and Saudi Arabia will lead the region will it comes to investing in the metaverse, with the Middle East to become a “major player” in the online virtual world, a futurist expert told Al Arabiya English.

In an interview with Al Arabiya English, Ian Khan, author of ‘Metaverse for Dummies,’ said the region has also seen several firsts in the immersive virtual world, including the first-ever metaverse wedding.

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Meanwhile, Dubai is now home to MetaIncubator; the first Metaverse Incubator in the Middle East, designed to foster the development of early-stage Metaverse and Web3 applications.

The metaverse, which is being seen as the future of business and human interaction, is projected to reach $5 trillion by 2030, according to the latest report from McKinsey & Company.

And Khan believes the Middle East can capitalize on the market.

“The Middle East is one of the fastest technology adoption regions in the world and this is true also for the metaverse,” he told Al Arabiya English. “From being part of the conversation to taking part in the metaverse, we are seeing a lot of activity from the region.”

This is especially true for the UAE, he said.

“So far, the UAE is taking bold steps towards experimenting with the metaverse and also examining the short and long-term economic benefits this new technology area can bring.”

“The buzz is very much real, and this is being converted to reality through some of the activity that is taking place right here in the UAE and the broader region.”

Khan said both public and private sector entities are engaging in metaverse-related initiatives in the region.

This includes the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF), which leads foresight and technology exploration for emerging technologies, and government entities such as the police department in Ajman, which recently introduced an initiative where members of the public can also meet and interact with Ajman Police in the metaverse, where avatars of officers will answer people's queries.

“The leadership in Dubai has recently created a committee to investigate the opportunities of the Metaverse and how this could support economic growth in the future,” said Khan. “This is a great step not just for the region but as a global industry overall to help build the foundations of a highly fast-growing industry.”

“From a thought leadership perspective and leading the conversation, this year Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the deputy ruler of Dubai, has announced the organizing of a first futurists conference organized by the Dubai Future Foundation in October 2022. This conference will cover many topics about the future, including the metaverse and its impact.”

“We also have private and public sector entities conducting pilot tests and experiments with the matters.’

“This includes the example of the Ajman police department interacting with the public through the metaverse, while Dubai Municipality has also suggested it will be participating in the Metaverse and creating a virtual city. Dubai has also been the home to the first wedding on the metaverse. Now that’s a first.”

Regionally, Saudi Arabia is also taking a big step toward developing the gaming ecosystem, said Khan.

“Saudi is organizing a week-long gaming festival in Riyadh this summer. These and many other activities are fueling big growth in the Kingdom.”

“Bloomberg predicts that by 2024 the metaverse will generate in excess of $800 billion, and I believe there is an opportunity for the Middle East to take some part of that projected growth and create opportunities in the region that will support it.”

The Middle East’s foray into the metaverse will have wide-ranging economic benefits for the region, said Khan.

“Global gig tech giants including Microsoft, Facebook, NVIDIA, Google, and others who have a stake in the Metaverse through their hardware or solution offering perspective will find the region abundant in opportunity and are likely to expand their reach in the Middle East as a result.”

“We are already seeing mega technology conferences such as LEAP, HACK, GITEX, and dedicated gaming and metaverse events taking place. These are being attended by thousands of attendees and professionals from the world over and are a testimony of the region’s focus on emerging technology.”

Dubai burger joint Pickl has released images of what its restuarant will look like in the metaverse. (Supplied)
Dubai burger joint Pickl has released images of what its restuarant will look like in the metaverse. (Supplied)

In the not-to-distant future, the metaverse will also create jobs in the virtual world, said Khan.

“Jobs in the metaverse are likely to be in various sectors. This will include the gaming industry, retail, and professional services. With the rise in metaverse usage, both private and public entities can see growth in their user base, offering more experiential ways of engagement and serving the needs of participants in the metaverse.”

“There is also an opportunity to establish the Middle East as a hub for gaming, which in turn would open up multiple opportunities for economic growth.”

“The government of Dubai has estimated that the metaverse could add as many as 42,000 virtual jobs and an upwards of $4 billion by 2030. I do however believe that if things go the way they are currently being planned, these numbers may rise.”

“The metaverse serves as a channel of engagement, therefore is it highly likely that there will be people and participants in the metaverse that would want to interact with the metaverse.

“This could include making purchase decisions, buying digital or physical goods over the metaverse, and receiving and delivering services. We may not be far from the era where the metaverse becomes a sizeable channel for such exchanges.”

“The Middle East is also on its way to establishing a major gaming industry, which is heavily vested in the metaverse.”

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