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Facebook stunned the world last October when it rebranded itself as “Meta.” With the name change, the social media behemoth that helped shape the internet over the past two decades seemed to have made the decision to ride the hype of the metaverse boom that almost hijacked the latest cryptocurrency bull run.
And Meta wasn’t the only one. Microsoft announced it would adapt its signature software products into its own corporate version of the Metaverse shortly after, as hundreds of crypto projects attached themselves to the new buzzword, adding related words such as NFTs, AR, and VR to their messaging. By the end of 2021, real estate sales in the Metaverse topped $500 million. For entrepreneurs less acquainted with the concept: yes, that means people spent millions of real U.S. dollars on clubs, nightlife venues and stadiums that only exist virtually.
Another lesser-known fact? Most companies building products centered around the Metaverse — a more fully immersive internet involving virtual and augmented reality — use blockchain as a major component. Metaverse developers incorporate key crypto-industry features, such as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and utility tokens, to power their ecosystems.
To some degree, the intertwining of crypto and Metaverse makes total sense. If you’re creating a virtual space in which people can experience real-world events with other real people, such as live music shows and even wedding proposals, you’re going to need a digital-native currency to power that world’s economy. On the other hand, the association with and reliance on crypto made such startups vulnerable to the dramatic volatility of the crypto industry.
As such, they were just as affected by the crash that sent the crypto industry into a bear market in May, catalyzed by the collapse of Terra (LUNA) from $120 to 2 cents — a 99.9-percent correction — that sent shockwaves through the market. The Metaverse sub-sector of the broader crypto industry was probably hit harder than the DeFi industry (decentralized finance), of which LUNA seemed almost integral.
Just as the value of real, tangible properties skyrocketed nearly 19 percent over the last year, the average price per parcel of virtual lands across the six major Ethereum Metaverse projects dropped 85 percent in August. The agreed-upon reason for the price plunge might be waning interest. Still, there’s a macro-level trend to be aware of: Very shortly, it’s reasonable to predict that Metaverse land prices won’t recover for months or even years. Not until the next bull run drives hype around it again.
Both the Metaverse and DeFi can be considered two very different brainchildren of Bitcoin, the first-ever cryptocurrency and application of blockchain technology. Yet each will fare quite differently in this bear market. Unlike the NFTs that made up the backbone of the blockchain Metaverse industry, of which a massive swath was proven to be scams, the institutional demand for DeFi exposure remains strong.
Related: How NFTs Could Change Real Estate
In June, JP Morgan Chase‘s blockchain unit announced plans to bring trillions of dollars of tokenized assets into DeFi, also initiating “Project Guardian,” which trials institutionally compatible DeFi via liquidity pools, constituting tokenized deposits and bonds. A month before that, Wall Street giant Jane Street entered into a loan agreement with BlockTower Capital to borrow $25 million, with plans to scale it to $50 million.
But why do institutions retain an interest in DeFi while Metaverse projects and NFTs tank? Surely there are plenty of scams in DeFi, too.
It all goes back to real-world usability. While partying in a virtual world with an NFT avatar might sound like fun, people have proven to prefer the real, tangible world over any Metaverse experiences. The demand isn’t there yet, which might be because Metaverse projects need to build a better bridge between the real and virtual worlds. Until people prefer to spend time in Decentraland, they will travel to New York City and party in Brooklyn — especially now that pandemic-era restrictions are gone.
Conversely, DeFi platforms are offering investors ways to spend the yields they earn via staking on physical commodities. Take EQIFi, a regulated DeFi platform backed by EQIBank. The platform gives users various financial services, including a yield aggregator, loans and deposits. In early August, EQIFi partnered with crypto-to-retail bridge Shopping.io, which will let holders of its EQX token spend tokens they’ve staked on real-world goods at top retailers like Amazon and Walmart.
In that sense, DeFi is starting to find ways to fulfill Bitcoin’s original promise to empower the little guy to make money through decentralized protocols. It is also following through by letting him spend that money at places that matter.
As DeFi continues to open access to and expand on traditional investment vehicles, cross-chain launchpads such as Synapse Network, which jumpstarts businesses with customizable offerings ranging from anti-bot solutions to tokenomic models, will help them scale. In turn, the rate at which DeFi as an industry matures and changes everything we know about finance will accelerate.
That’s not to say the Metaverse won’t rise again or that blockchain won’t play a significant role. With major players like Meta and Microsoft actively bringing their visions to fruition, it’s almost inevitable that smaller innovators will reenter the game. The Metaverse as a use case of blockchain and NFTs is much younger than the more traditional financial applications. In the Bitcoin family, as in most families, the older child paves the way for the other siblings.