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South Korea focuses on the metaverse while ignoring old tech

In January, South Korea’s government launched a US$170 million fund to invest in virtual reality and related digital technologies, signaling the country’s intent to seize the initiative in the so-called metaverse by the beginning of 2022.

Considering that South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has made investing in this technology a major priority, these funds will be used to set the stage for South Korea to become one of the world’s leading metaverse innovators by 2026. That notion was reaffirmed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin at the Global Innovation Conference in Seoul on December 9. Minister Park Jin said that the country is set to become a metaverse powerhouse.

The American director James Cameron, who is well-known for his use of special effects in movies, attended the Seoul conference, making a commotion. However, some industry insiders are skeptical of the ambitions and intentions of the technology.

The word “metaverse” is used to describe the distributed Web3 built around the blockchain technology that drives cryptocurrencies and consists of a network of 3D virtual worlds accessed using virtual reality headsets and avatars.

However, Microsoft Gaming and Xbox chief Phil Spencer recently referred to the metaverse as a “poorly conceived video game.”

An Dong-wook, CEO and chairman of South Korean AI and metaverse firm Miso Information Technology, has a different take on things.

Speaking with Forkast, he made the following observation: “Although [the Internet] has helped us cross geographical and temporal barriers, it is not a replacement for face-to-face interactions when dealing with sensitive topics.

This is why the metaverse is striving to replicate our physical world in every detail.”  Using the popularity of K-pop and other cultural exports and the country’s rapid technological development, An argued that South Korea will be a technological superpower in the era of the metaverse.

Companies and local governments in South Korea have enthusiastically embraced national government-led metaverse projects.

The South Korean capital of Seoul is essentially duplicating itself online so that it may provide digital versions of a variety of governmental services to its residents. Busan, Seongnam, and Gumi have all declared metaverse initiatives with similar goals.

The South Korean province of Eastern Gyeongbuk has dubbed itself the “metaverse capital of the country,” and it has launched a five-year plan to invest US$13.8 million in the “local metaverse economy.” The report estimates that this will add $780 million to the region’s value.

Naver, a South Korean internet company, claims that their metaverse platform Zepeto has 20 million monthly active users, making it one of the largest in Asia. The Ifland metaverse, run by telecommunications giant SK Telecom, is a popular alternative.

ZepetoX, the result of a joint effort between the Solana blockchain and Naver’s metaverse business, aims to let its users earn bitcoin for doing what they love. The ability to redeem Ifland points and awards has been made available to some users.

Banks and other financial organizations have also set up shop in what is now Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Shinhan Financial Group, KB Kookmin Bank, and NH Nonghyup Bank have all set up virtual branches in the metaverse or their own virtual platforms in an effort to attract the technologically aware to their financial products.

Further, since 2016, South Korean companies have filed 19% of the 7,760 metaverse-related patent applications for VR/AR, making them second only to American companies. The US and South Korea account for 75% of the total.

A comparison between the metaverse and video games

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology, the metaverse is a place where the boundaries between the real world and the online world blur, and where real-world and digital objects and people can collaborate to generate societal, economic, and cultural benefits.

Some South Korean online game makers took offense, particularly after government officials said they wouldn’t regulate metaverse platforms in line with existing guidelines for the gaming industry.

Although local experts have long argued that South Korea’s antiquated and unfair video game restrictions are holding back the country’s video game industry, their answer comes as the sector continues to struggle under their weight.

Video games have a bad reputation in South Korea, a country where children and teenagers face intense pressure to succeed academically and enter prestigious universities. South Korea’s so-called Shutdown Law, which for 10 years forbade anyone under the age of sixteen to play online games between midnight and six in the morning, was finally repealed this year.

One of the more recent South Korean rules on video games that has exacerbated the problem is an outright ban on incorporating blockchain components into games, which would include the popular play-to-earn genre (P2E).

In an interview, Henry Chang, CEO of South Korean blockchain gaming developer Wemade Co., said, “I call it cognitive sickness.” Chang argues that the metaverse is analogous to a game but cannot be classified as such due to legal restrictions.

Dongyang University professor of gamification Kim Jung-tae likened the current policies’ partition of the gaming world and the metaverse to a “comedy.” Kim argues that the word “game” has a negative connotation, despite the fact that the metaverse is conceptually similar to a video game.

Professor Park Hye-jin of the Seoul School of Integrated Sciences and Technologies’s Venture Capital MBA program says that while the metaverse does feature gaming elements, it has far more promise as a social platform and for business activities.

According to him, “existing norms or pre-deliberations” are not what should be encouraging innovation in the industry, but rather “industry self-regulation and regulatory sandboxes.”

According to SK Telecom, which recently implemented the redeemable point system on the site, Ifland is a social metaverse service that has nothing to do with games. Compare and contrast Ifland and Youtube.

While the game-not-a-game debate rages on in South Korea, an of Miso Information Technology said that the country should continue investing in the metaverse, albeit across a wider variety of platform developers.

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