For Michael Perry, there was no perfect time to start a virtual-world real estate empire. As the founder of Metaverserealty.com, he began the journey more than two years ago, during the financial crisis and the real estate downturn. That’s when “a lot of firms in the real estate industry were shrinking and closing their doors,” he says. “When I knew I wanted to do this, we knew in those depressed times that it wouldn’t be easy.”
Today, though, his virtual real estate empire continues to expand. Revenue at his site, which has more than 14,000 clients, nearly tripled last year and Perry expects to see similar growth in 2016. Additionally, the firm has more than doubled the number of properties on its site, from just 30 in 2014 to almost 60 this year. “We’re actively adding properties to our site as we speak,” Perry says. “The real estate industry has been revived.”
While MetaverseRealty is just beginning to build its empire, others have already been flocking to the digital world. In 2015, games like Zillion and Cut the Rope quickly grew their communities to more than 15 million players, as did e-commerce businesses such as furniture seller Etsy, among others. Increasingly, one of the key features of virtual worlds is fast, easy and consistent transactions. Many of them also generate substantial revenue.
“We [believe] we’re the first company in the space that’s truly scalable,” Perry says. “We don’t need constant server capacity, high-speed connections or expensive hardware. We have all the infrastructure we need at our fingertips and we can deliver really rapid transactions.”
Virtual world real estate also offers a wide range of improvements to properties that traditional real estate agents simply can’t provide. Unlike landlords who own a physical property, virtual-world real estate agents don’t really own properties at all; they merely complete transactions through the use of software, chat rooms and other online modes of interaction. But that’s where they gain a sizable advantage. For one thing, they don’t have to charge a yearly membership fee to occupy a property, which means they can market and sell virtual properties without spending any money. The second advantage is very specific: “These properties get to be available to anyone in the world for as little as $5 an hour,” Perry says. “It may seem outrageous, but there are about 20 million hours on any given day spent logging on to one of the more popular social networking sites. That’s a lot of time to be spending in virtual real estate.”
It seems to be a lot of people — MetaverseRealty has around 100 agents, half of whom are independents. Perry says his company’s rapid growth is partly thanks to an increasingly popular focus on marketing in the digital world.
“Twenty-five percent of our site is advertisements that are generated from marketing efforts that are online,” he says. “We have a whole department here that works exclusively on marketing and digital assets.”
Those natively digital assets include a search engine optimization program, a chat widget, videos and maps that track geographical location to determine the property’s best location. To help customers speed up transactions, MetaverseRealty also built software that lets them download property photos and other documents. The software, according to Perry, is “the centerpiece of our business model.”
Along with continually adding new properties to the site, MetaverseRealty is now creating one of the first websites for virtual reality. “We already have a portal set up that will provide an immersive experience for our customers,” Perry says. A spokesman for the Metaverse Real Estate website says that the site, which can be viewed via 360-degree video, can be used in conjunction with virtual reality devices.
Whether virtual-world real estate is a major step forward or a temporary fad, both industry experts and consumers are likely to continue using the space at least as long as the business sector continues to prosper. As Perry’s predictions suggest, though, the future of virtual reality may be a part of the future of virtual real estate just as virtual reality itself became a part of the future of mobile computing.