The emergence of the metaverse in Saudi Arabia

18 September 2023 4 min. read
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Carrying the promise to reshape the technology paradigm and fundamentally reengineer industries, the metaverse is one of the most exciting technologies around. A new report sheds light on the buoying metaverse market in Saudi Arabia and some of the scene’s most notable advancements.

The concept broadly termed as the metaverse is an interconnected digital realm, merging the virtual and physical worlds in what some experts believe will be the next iteration of the internet – with the eventual goal being to create a single, immersive, 3D virtual space that is shared among all users.

While the high-flying concept is rapidly gaining interest in major markets, its uptake and maturity differs by region and country, with the US (where the metaverse was conceptualized) and China at the forefront of the sector’s developments.

The emergence of the metaverse in Saudi Arabia

In the region, Saudi Arabia is a notable metaverse leader, alongside the UAE, as outline in a benchmark study by Strategic Gears – one of the largest management consultancies in Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, the metaverse market was already worth $1.1 billion last year, with the market size to boom to $7.6 billion by 2023.

The addressable market for services providers – including strategists, implementation consultancies and IT companies – stood at around $185 million last year, although that number could be higher than reported, due to the size and scope of metaverse involvement in the country’s economic transition and the challenges that come with spend tracking.

Key areas of applications

In Saudi Arabia, metaverse activity has been piloted (and sometimes even scaled) across various industries, including retail, online, tourism, education, and media, with metaverse solutions taking all kinds of forms and shapes.

One of the largest projects to involve the metaverse to date is NEOM – the infamous desert city which was announced in 2017. More than $1 billion has been invested in the creation of an immersive digital twin of the location, helping to sell property in advance, by allowing people to experience NEOM before it has been built – while also incorporating digital experiences with real ones, creating a market for cryptocurrency and NFTs transactions as part of everyday life.

In the tourism space, the Royal Commission for AlUla laet last year launched an immersive 3D experience of Hegra’s Tomb of Lihyan, Son of Kuza, enabling digital users to enter the metaverse realm. The experience was created on Decentraland, making it possible for tourists from all over the world to take virtual, near ‘real-life’ tours.

Integrating digital services into ordinary life could also have huge benefits in the health sector. For example, the researchers point to Seha Virtual as “the first virtual hospital” – and its ability to offer advice to remote users as well as to coordinate hospitals across the Kingdom with supplies and logistical support – as the potential metaverse technology offers healthcare.

Meanwhile, in the education sector, virtual reality headsets and software can make online and e-learning more accessible than ever – simulating immersive learning environments to improve remote student engagement and performance.

According to Strategic Gears, these use cases and the advent of many more in the making present a major opportunity for metaverse deployment in Saudi Arabia. This year, the market is expected to grow to a size of $1.5 billion, with double-digit growth forecasted for consecutive years.

Even so, that growth is comparatively slow to the global potential of the technology – and the consultants believe that forming a national strategy might be key to getting the most from the metaverse in Saudi Arabia.

Pointing to China’s forecast $1 trillion metaverse industry size for 2023 – in contrast to (much) lower figures in the US and Saudi Arabia, neither of which have defined national plans for the technology – Strategic Gears noted that “the Chinese government has invested heavily in virtual reality and augmented reality technologies and has set ambitious goals for the development and implementation of a metaverse platform.”

Fortunately, the researchers also found that “the Kingdom has been formulating different strategies” in order to capitalise on the sector via things like e-sports and digital tourism – suggesting that more will be done to maximise the potential of metaverse revenues in the country’s economy soon.