The metaverse has been hyped since it first entered the vernacular late last year, thanks to Facebook’s transition to parent company Meta. The future picture touted by like-minded advocates is of a large integrated social network where everyone will virtually live, work, and play. A sort of gamified 3-D version of the web, supported by user-generated content, NFTs, blockchain, Web3 technology, and VR/AR.

Yet, the metaverse, or rather, individual ‘metaverses’, are in a sense already here. Businesses and brands across the globe have been buying in, selling NFTs, and purchasing virtual land on digital platforms such as Decentraland and The Sandbox. And while some big tech companies talk about the metaverse as an inevitable reality that will transform society, the reality at the moment is more of a forest-for-the-digital-trees one – the metaverse is largely TBD.

CivicScience stepped in to help map out the early lay of the land. Note, we didn’t use a VR headset, but we did use our innovative polling system.

Public Reception of the Metaverse

Despite its novelty, a high percentage (69%) of Americans aged 13 and older are already familiar with the term “metaverse” (n=6,078). However, just a few (12%) feel at all positive toward the idea, while 30% harbor negative feelings. 

All in all, sentiment among the aware is largely divided. A little more than half feel either positive or neutral about the metaverse, suggesting they may be open to engage with the developing technology now or in the future.

As expected, younger audiences are significantly more open to the idea of the metaverse. Around one-quarter of Gen Z and Millennial generations feel positive about it. In stark contrast, positive sentiment is barely there among adults 55 and over, of whom a large percentage haven’t even heard of the metaverse. 

But it turns out Gen X has the strongest feelings of all – even though they are more likely to be familiar with the metaverse than Gen Z counterparts, half of these aware Gen Xers feel sour on the idea. Perhaps they’ve read Neal Stephenson’s 90’s cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, which first introduced the idea of the metaverse as part of a futuristic dystopia, and even coined the term.

Real Estate In the Metaverse

As of today, “the metaverse” is more of a variety of different proprietary digital platforms where people can navigate with a digital avatar, meet others, play games, and buy and sell NFTs (non-fungible tokens) or other digital assets. Those platforms range from gaming giants Roblox and Fortnite; to Meta’s Horizon Worlds; to digital spaces such as The Sandbox and Decentraland, where you can do things like purchase NFTs (including virtual land) and attend events (fashion shows, concerts, etc). 

Celebrities like Paris Hilton and Snoop Dogg have already scooped up land to create their own experiential worlds (the ‘Snoopverse’). Other early big-name property investors range anywhere from Nike to PwC to the South Korean government. 

A look at land-buying among consumers suggests that a tiny percentage of U.S. adults have purchased property in the metaverse (3% of survey respondents, n=5,648). More than twice that is interested in buying virtual land.

Land grabs are occurring across a range of different metaverse platforms, some going for millions. A separate survey (n=3,335) gauging which platforms are most popular found that close to one-quarter (23%) of respondents had heard of at least one of the five platforms they were asked about. The Sandbox ranked as the most used among this group, followed by HyperVerse. Despite Decentraland being one of the most talked-about metaverse platforms in the media, it actually ranked last on the list, with just 7%.

Fashion In the Metaverse

The fashion industry is emerging as an early pioneer of metaverse platforms. It’s estimated that 17% of Vogue-index brands are already experimenting with NFTs. Users on different platforms can purchase virtual apparel, including clothes, shoes and other items to outfit avatars. And sometimes for a steep price – as early as last year, a digital Gucci bag sold for more than $4K on Roblox, even more than the price of the actual physical item.

CivicScience learned that 6% of U.S. adults have purchased a virtual apparel item before, which is higher than virtual land-buyers, and an additional 7% are interested in making a future purchase (n=4,950).

Women are more likely to be interested in buying digital apparel, but men have also made these kinds of purchases or are interested in them.

The numbers change dramatically when segmenting by age. Data reveal that a stunning 46% of Gen Z adults are into the concept of virtual fashion. Twenty percent have already made a purchase, while more than one-quarter are interested.

Gaming In the Metaverse

Buying virtual apparel isn’t a new concept for gamers who are used to making in-game purchases. Gaming is of course a major aspect of the now and future metaverse. And gaming platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite Creative that allow users to create their own games and content, play other user-generated games, interact socially, and buy and sell digital assets via in-game marketplaces, are leading metaverse development.

CivicScience looked at five major gaming platforms roughly in this category (n=2,960). Results show that 22% of adult respondents currently use one or more of the platforms. Among users, Minecraft and Roblox were the most popular, while Meta’s Horizon Worlds was the least.

NFTs See Mild Growth

Crypto-purchased, blockchain-backed NFTs are considered by many to be the building blocks of the metaverse. But today it easily looks like the wild west. Some platforms use NFTs, and some don’t (such as Fortnite). Some require users to use their own cryptocurrency (e.g., LAND), some require Ethereum, while others have their own in-game currency (e.g., Robux). 

Today, just 6% of respondents have invested in NFTs. Although it’s estimated that NFT market growth has slowed, self-reported investment appears to be up from 5% in October of 2021. That said, more people today report they are uninterested in investing in NFTs while potential interested investors remain static, so the market may be saturating, at least for the time being.

If you build it, will they come? The question still remains as to how commercially viable the new hyperreal field of dreams is bound to be. Current survey results suggest that interest in and use of metaverse technology does exist, especially among younger generations, but ultimately the metaverse is still extremely fringe. We’ll be tracking this closely, so check back for more insights into this rapidly developing arena.