In a region that prides itself on being forward-looking, United Arab Emirates (UAE) game developers and other companies are now looking to enter the metaverse to unleash the endless possibilities and numerous benefits offered by the technology. The government has been a major player in the push to develop the metaverse and gaming industries in the country.

“The metaverse is a new economic equaliser and under the vision of our leaders, we will continue to pave the way for a new era of opportunities that accelerate our knowledge-driven economy,” UAE Minister of Economy Abdulla bin Touq Al Marri said during an event unveiling the new metaverse version of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The virtual Yas Island build uses three of the most popular platforms in the current metaverse landscape: Roblox, the Sandbox, and Super League Gaming. Once the virtual environment is complete, visitors will be able to ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World or drive a race car on a virtual F1 track at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit.

The virtual Yas Island project, which is supported by AD Gaming and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), partnered with local real estate development company Aldar, destination management company Miral, media and entertainment production company twofour54, along with Abu Dhabi Motorsport and Flash Entertainment.

“The metaverse and gaming go hand in hand, with so many new ways of bringing high-quality gaming and esports content to global audiences through metaverse ecosystems,” said James Hartt, director of strategic partnerships at AD Gaming, which is an organisation that aims to build a self-sustaining gaming and e-sports ecosystem in Abu Dhabi. “Metaverses also bring a host of opportunities to gamify areas such as education in a truly immersive way, resulting in a significant positive social impact for the community.”

Another example of Abu Dhabi’s embrace of the metaverse is the partnership formed in January between AD Gaming and AA Meta, a local metaverse and Web3 development company. AA Meta will provide the metaverse infrastructure, with Web3 technology providing the solutions that enable next-generation gaming.

Over the next five years, the UAE’s metaverse plan will generate 40,000 jobs and contribute more than $4bn to the Gulf economy.

The country’s digital infrastructure and internet connectivity, as well as an active push to roll out large 5G networks, are critical for further development of the sector. The Abu Dhabi Global Market last year launched an arbitration centre in the metaverse to provide virtual dispute resolution services. The UAE has also prioritised research into these emerging technologies, opening the AI and Digital Science Research Centre at the Technology Innovation Institute.

Metaverse market watch

Worldwide, companies are examining how the metaverse fits in with their business strategies.

Consultancy EY asked gaming executives how the metaverse will fit into their organisation: 50% said they understand what the metaverse is and how their organisation will participate in it; 26% understand what it is, but they are not sure how they will participate in it. Lastly, 24% understand the concept of the metaverse, but don’t know the details of how it works.

“Many industry watchers expect the gaming industry to play a prominent role in the early stages of the metaverse and our survey respondents agree,” EY finds. “Most of them (97%) believe the gaming industry is the centre of the metaverse today and all of them expect companies across industries to establish a metaverse presence in the near future.”

Meanwhile, 48% said the metaverse creates opportunities for new business models and 49% are prioritising investments in virtual, augmented or mixed-reality experiences; 40% said the technology allows brands to build closer relationships with customers.

“Executives also know that their employees will need a new mix of skills to harness the full potential of the metaverse,” EY’s report reads. “Almost half (45%) cited a need to think differently about hiring because of the new skill sets they are seeking.”

Recognising the importance of equipping a workforce with these skills, the UAE launched a programme called the UAE Chainalysis Centre of Excellence at the end of 2022 to give government employees training in metaverse technologies, as well as AI and blockchain.

This is just one example of how the UAE is focusing on upskilling its workforce to be prepared for the jobs of the future.

With the potential of the metaverse starting to be realised in Abu Dhabi through upskilling employees and rolling out new virtual projects, the emirate is well-placed to attract the innovators and investors that will help to shape the new virtual industry landscape.

The metaverse is a new concept with endless possibilities, and in Abu Dhabi, those possibilities are being tested and realised through the support of government initiatives and programmes.

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