South Korea has become the latest major player to engage in the metaverse craze by launching an alliance between 17 of the country’s industry leaders. The initiative comes as market experts believe the metaverse will be the next step in the evolution of the internet.

The initiative from the nation’s Ministry of Science and ICT will work towards creating a shared virtual space where users can engage with each other via digital avatars.

The alliance includes industry leaders such as major wireless carrier SK Telecom, industry groups like the Korea Mobile Internet Business Association and car giant Hyundai Motor, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The government-led alliance will collaborate to establish ethical and cultural practices as well as sharing insights on technology trends and to launch joint metaverse development projects.

What is the metaverse?

As the term suggests, the metaverse refers to a digital realm where users can share virtual experiences. Still in the early stages of development, GlobalData’s thematic researchers have identified it as a critical theme in the tech, media and telecoms industry.

Often seen as the next step of the internet, the metaverse will enable users to share shopping, social media,  entertainment and a smattering of other experiences. It is intimately linked with the accelerating development of artificial intelligence, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 5G and cloud computing.

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Given its emphasis on building virtual communities, it is hardly surprising that the gaming industry has been leading the charge so far.

Epic Games, the developer of the battle royale mega hit Fortnite, is one of the companies that have created worldwide events tied in with the metaverse. When not going toe to toe against Google and Apple in the courts, the video game developer has been busy blurring the lines between offline and online through its gaming platform, turning celebrities into avatars, gamers into celebrities and digital dough into dollars.

Another example is provided by people who have hosted weddings and graduation ceremonies in the Nintendo game Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

But the metaverse could potentially reach far beyond gaming. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent report, the accelerated adoption of video conferencing tools à la Zoom also ties into this trend thanks to their ability to provide tech-enabled shared experiences.

Some readers may have wondered what on Earth Hyundai would contribute to the South Korean metaverse alliance. However, Hyundai is not the only car manufacturer to test the virtual waters.

BMW is, as an example, using Nvidia’s metaverse platform Omniverse to create a digital twin of a factory. A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset, system or process. The benefit of this is that the carmaker will be able to assess modifications and adjustments to its production lines in the early stages of planning before investing in construction.

Other potential use cases include using augmented or virtual reality to voyage to new locations. Hopefully, though, they will be more well-received than when Mark Zuckerberg took a bizarre virtual tour of Puerto Rico in 2017 as a way to promote Facebook’s social VR tool Spaces. Given Puerto Rico had suffered a horrendous natural disaster at the time, the Facebook’s founder’s digital trip was branded as “disaster tourism” by some critics.

Tone-deaf publicity stunts aside, GlobalData’s analysts expect that there will be a surge in activity and investment in metaverse technologies in the next few years. The South Korean metaverse alliance seems to prove their point.