Southeast Asia is waking up to the metaverse

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Indonesia has shown a very strong appetite in developing virtual initiatives as tech giant Facebook building their own metaverse in Southeast Asia.

Apart from providing platforms for trading non-fungible token and cryptocurrencies, enthusiasts say the metaverse has the potential to ‘level up the playing field’ by providing users side incomes from play-to-earn games.

Facebook’s CPO Chris Cox speaks online about the metaverse during the 2021 Web Summit in Lisbon. Photo: EPA-EFE

After Indonesian singer and influencer Syahrini announced last December a metaverse tour sold as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), they were sold out hours after it was launched.

Powered by Binance, a cryptocurrency exchange firm, the 17,800 NFTs came under three categories of increasing exclusivity. The most rare of the digital artworks contained Syahrini’s signature phrase #CetarMembahana, which translates to “so beautiful it’s shocking”, while those in the next tier transpired the quote #MajuMundurCantik (“beautiful every step of the way”). The least exclusive of the three had the term #Huss-Huss-Sanah, which is merely a gibberish phrase in Bahasa Indonesia.

Binance said the singer and influencer, who has 38 million Instagram followers, was also interested to launch a “metaverse tour in Binance Smart Chain games, namely Glory Planet, Rara, [X World Games], and others”, though it did not give the specific time on when this would happen.

Syahrini isn’t the only celebrity in Indonesia jumping on board the NFT trend. Anang Hermansyah, her duet partner, also launched own tokens called ASIX that can be used as a utility in a blockchain-based, play-to-earn game that he’s developing with local firm IDM Co-op.

No full-fledged metaverse has been created yet – although that may change within the next few years. In the SEA region, the metaverse is now largely taking shape in the form of P2E(Play-to-earn) games, the most popular would be Axie Infinity, created by Vietnamese unicorn start-up Sky Mavis.

The game boasts 2.4 million daily active users, half of them from the Philippines. It records at least US$33 million in daily transactions. Sky Mavis, backed by billionaire Marc Cuban and renowned Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, is now reportedly valued at US$3 billion.

Others in the gaming and decentralised finance field – include Thailand’s GuildFi, Vietnam’s Ancient8, and Yield Guild Games Southeast Asia (YGG SEA) from the Philippines.

As a gaming guild, YGG SEA’s business model is to buy into NFT assets of different blockchain-based games and lend them out to their guild members, or “scholars”, so they can start to play P2E games such as Axie Infinity. They currently have more than 4,000 scholars from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, and aim to pocket over 5,000 scholars before their next fundraising early this year.

“Most jobs give you a fixed amount of money whether you produce little or a lot, but in our play-to-earn scholarships, players take 70 percent of what they produce,” says Gabby Dizon, co-founder of Yield Guild Games, the parent company of YGG SEA.

“This levels the playing field for people to earn a good supplemental income in developing regions, such as Southeast Asia, without leaving their region to be a migrant worker in a more developed country.”

Evan Spytma, CEO and Co-Founder of YGG SEA, said that the company’s main growth challenge was to find funding for the NFT purchases, which was required to boost their users’ growth.

The firm last December announced it had bagged US$15 million in a fundraising exercise led by Capital, Animoca Brands, MindWorks Ventures, and others.