SINGAPORE – There was a “DJ” on a large lighted stage playing a remix of Coldplay’s song A Sky Full of Stars, and there were dozens of “people” dancing to the beat.
The iconic Supertrees from Gardens by the Bay seemed to be flying overhead, shining with pink neon lights. Light was emitting from the ground as well, and the building that looked like Marina Bay Sands was standing far away.
This party will cost the organizers an arm and a leg to host, as it will occupy nearly the entirety of the Gardens by the Bay site.
But the truth is, the organizers didn’t spend a single cent on renting the place, or on any material props, for that matter.
In fact, “I” was attending this party, not in my 28-year-old self, but in pixels, as a young character in hot shorts and a hoodie.
In other words, I was attending a concert at Metaverse.
The metaverse is a 3D virtual world where people socialize, work and play, and in this case, the metaverse was akin to a game world, where I had a specific character who could walk around and interact with the 3D environment.
The idea of the metaverse baffled me, being someone who hardly plays computer games.
So, when I heard that telecommunications company M1 was teaming up with Gardens by the Bay and electronic gaming company Electronic Sports Private Limited (ESPL) on Tuesday (September 27) for a demo of a metaverse concert, I joined in on the fun. .
The growth of the popularity of the Metaverse region
It seemed like a concept for the distant future, until I noticed that just last month, the couple had already get married In the metaverse, which they said was the first marriage of its kind.
In fact, the metaverse has been a buzzword for more than a year, since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg renamed his Facebook company to Meta in October of last year, signaling its big rush into the metaverse.
Since then, many local and global companies have delved into this concept.
For example, last month DBS Bank teamed up with The Sandbox, a decentralized virtual game world, to acquire a unit of virtual real estate in The Sandbox metaverse.
Even governments were locked in metaverses. The English language daily Khaleej Times reported last month that the UAE Ministry of Economy will have a new headquarters located in Metaverse, where anyone can visit.
Professor Lim Sun Sun, chair of the Department of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said whether the metaverse’s popularity will continue to expand will depend on an “ecosystem” of different stakeholders.
For example, technology such as 5G networks, access to immersive devices such as virtual reality (VR) headsets, and a variety of metaverse events must evolve at the same pace to keep the concept growing.
“It talks about the broader ecosystem, whether metaverse environments are attractive or not, whether they are welcome, whether devices become more comfortable, whether this kind of physiological experience of interacting with others (in the metaverse) becomes more palatable over time, Professor Lim said.
Both are live performance and video game
For the demonstration of the metaverse party, members of the media were invited to Floral Fantasy, an indoor garden in Gardens by the Bay, where we can use the various smartphones on display, which was supposed to be our window into the metaverse.
This wasn’t that special at first, as I initially thought having a VR headset would make the experience more immersive, by giving users a 360-degree view of metaverses. However, I understood that not everyone will have a VR headset, so a smartphone could be the primary mode to be accessed in the future.
According to M1 and Gardens by the Bay, getting the metaverse experience on a smartphone was a pretty impressive feat in itself.
Gardens by the Bay Executive Vice President Lee Kok Fatt said that only with a 5G network can the metaverse be experienced from typical mobile devices.
“The (metaverse) content is very rich and heavy, so before 5G came along, it required users to download a very large file to access the user experience,” he said.
He added that Gardens by the Bay, M1 and ESPL will work together to provide 5G connectivity indoors at Gardens by the Bay, and this will make such metaverse events accessible there.
What I found special about the metaverse is that it was a mix of both live performance and a video game.
The “Live Performance” came in the form of a real DJ, Jasmine H. Nera, who goes by the stage name DJ Red, playing at the demo event. However, her physical avatar was in another location within Gardens by the Bay, while her avatar was in the metaverse I can see from the phone, behind the DJ console.
There was a “live chat” function, where I could write messages or questions to Ms. Neira. You wrote: “How will the metaverse benefit you?”
Madam Neira’s physical face appeared on a large screen at the back of the metaverse stage and she was able to reply to me directly.
“The convenience is there because it just allows me to stream from anywhere… This provides me with a great way to talk to my fans, especially international fans, because they won’t be able to travel just for a show,” she said.
I found this functionality to be particularly distinct from the typical live performance, where performers are rarely able to respond to specific fans amidst a screaming chorus. He added an intimate touch to the event.
And with the performance viewed on a smartphone, it was a largely 2D experience, with the same sound quality as when watching a YouTube video. This paled in comparison to attending a live concert, as the feeling of grappling with the audience and having live music playing from the big speakers couldn’t be duplicated.
On the other hand, the whole experience also felt like I was playing a video game, with my avatar’s movements around the metaverse, from running to jumping, that you control.
In theory, it was supposed to give an avatar a measure of freedom in the concert venue. I certainly managed to weave in between the other party-goers and easily find myself at the front of the stage.
Currently, there was no way for me to change my avatar from woman to man, let alone customize the avatar’s appearance and clothing, but that was an option that would be added later, the developers told me.
Other pressing questions I raised were also addressed, specifically, whether there are any safeguards against harassment or abusive behavior in the metaverse. For example, could an avatar run around on stage and disrupt the show, or hurl vulgarity at other audience members?
ESPL Project Leader Roland Ong said that while there is nothing to stop users from posting what they want, there is the possibility that there are moderators on the platform, to ensure that anyone deemed offensive or disruptive to performance can be disqualified from Metaverse.
“Secondly, we can use software to capture unwanted words, so that they are immediately monitored,” he added.
Overall, it was a very new experience, one that I wouldn’t mind doing again when the OS is more refined and updated. It’s an opportunity for me to “attend” a show without spending a lot of time and money, but it also allows a certain degree of interaction that an online video can’t provide.
However, I can safely say that I don’t want the metaverse to replace actual live shows, as there is a certain texture around them that is hard to emulate.
The goal is not to replace direct performance: M1, GARDENS BY THE BAY
My fears that we were headed toward a completely virtual world devoid of “traditional” live shows were quickly allayed, because the goal of the metaverse was never to completely replace the real-life concert experience.
ESPL’s Mr Ong said the metaverse will allow tourists the opportunity to “explore” the parks alongside the bay without flying.
However, the end goal is still to get people to visit the actual place itself.
“(Gardens of the Bay)’s position as a global icon, which we can use to host local artists and show them to the world, is one of our other goals,” said Mr. Lee.
Willis Sim, Senior Corporate Sales and Solutions Officer, M1, said that beyond reducing rental costs for large spaces, the metaverse offers concert organizers the opportunity to expand their reach, either by holding an event entirely on the metaverse, or a hybrid. Events, where some audience live, while another group attends online.
“This will increase the revenues of the artists, the concert and the event organizer,” he said.
Members of the public can also hold their own events at Bay Gardens.
“If you book a wedding package, you can discuss it with us right away, if you want an option to also make it available on the metaverse,” said Mr. Ong.
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