A Country In The Metaverse: How The UAE Is Institutionalising Futurism


Whenever someone asks me about the metaverse, my off-the-top-of-the-head answer is this: You’re already there. When that answer elicits visible confusion, I reiterate that the moment we signed up for the world of online commerce, hand-held devices, and immersive applications, we began our journey to the metaverse.

So, I continue, the more pertinent question today should be about which stage we are in the metaverse journey. As often as not, this conversation inadvertently leads to one place: The UAE.

Emirates’ penchant for the metaverse is not exclusionary; it is part of its futuristic worldview, which birthed the Burj Khalifa and the like. So, while metaverse features in standalone digitalisation initiatives of progressive nations, it found its true admirer in the UAE, where its uptake is visible across economic sectors. And if some recent developments are any indication, the Emirates is methodically gaining a competitive edge in a domain where possibilities go as far as the imagination can take you.

Foremost among the recent related initiatives is Abu Dhabi’s bid to create a digital twin of Yas Island, which is a microcosm of the nation’s burgeoning service economy. An entertainment capital in its own right, Yas Island — in its virtual form — will soon be accessible in the metaverse to its entirety: Theme parks, residences, and malls. To me, this endeavour is metaverse adoption at its pinnacle in terms of both scale and ambition. For the uninitiated, the following sections will provide a perspective.

Metaverse multiplies real-world opportunities

In its nascency, the metaverse was merely a holy grail sought by consumer brands driven by the need to be ahead of the curve. At the time, brands had not scratched beneath the surface; they wanted to experiment, check for feasibility, and build a presence which could give them a competitive edge when the metaverse comes of age. That pursuit has enabled brands such as Gucci, Nike, and Coca-Cola to build an advantageous presence in the metaverse, where shoppers are being engaged through immersive experiences and user-generated content. While community-based engagement is helping brands’ marketing campaigns, it also provides valuable insights and unlocks new revenue streams.

The UAE stands to unlock the same opportunities in the metaverse of Yas Island, but at an unprecedented scale. People, irrespective of where they are on the globe, can visit Yas Island virtually, interact with fellow visitors, shop, revel in festivities, and enjoy everything the idyllic island offers. As a result, the Yas Island metaverse could draw numerous brands and visitors, creating a parallel economy with real-world implications. Unlike the real world, where there are limitations to visitations, transactions, and interactions, the metaverse offers greater leeway, thus multiplying the opportunities.

Metaverse-powered nation branding

Today, the marketing equation is incomplete without the experience element. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call customer experience (CX) the cornerstone of MarTech. As the metaverse hinges on highly immersive experiences and interactive environments, it offers the most ideal avenue for new-age marketing. In the metaverse, the innate immersive experiences, combined with MarTech-driven hyper-personalised offerings and customer engagement, can give branding a whole new meaning. For its part, the UAE is leveraging the metaverse for its national branding.

To that end, policymakers have concurrently launched different blockchain-related initiatives. The Dubai Metaverse Strategy is perhaps the best case in point. Aimed at creating 40,000 virtual jobs and adding $1.09 billion (AED 4 billion) to the economy over the next five years, the ambitious national-level strategy is arguably the first of its kind globally. Meanwhile, the UAE Ministry of Economy has entered the metaverse with an office, and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has launched its “DEWAverse”. Such efforts are, in a way, marketing the nation’s competitiveness, administrative efficiency, transactional transparency, and futuristic vision — factors that global investors, talents, and brands gravitate towards.

In the metaverse, the customer is still the king

The tailwind for the metaverse is its blockchain fundamentals: The immutable digital ledger and NFT-based transactions. In the contemporary business ecosystem, where trust is a scarce commodity, the promise of blockchain and associated applications is monumental, to say the least. The transparency and accountability they bring will bridge the trust deficit, ultimately benefitting the end users. Therefore, it is unsurprising that forward-thinking brands and nations are increasingly embracing Web 3.0 — the confluence of the metaverse, NFTs and other blockchain applications.

Dubai’s early blockchain strategies, aimed at digitising administrative records, visa applications, license renewals, etc., exemplify that school of thought. The “non-fungibility” and “immutability” are consequential for administrative processes and brands’ copyrighted campaigns, artwork, and creative assets. That is to say, the result is a level playing field for all stakeholders — a paradigm shift from the Big Tech-monopolised internet designed to dictate what consumers must consume. In the metaverse, consumers can be producers, having a say in what they seek from brands. That is the promising future that excites me. In the UAE, that future is arriving sooner.

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