Running powerful servers that process the interactions of an entire community in virtual reality isn’t easy or cheap. Platforms need ways of monetizing that are affordable to the user. While many on the list may be considered obnoxious, one or more will be a likely go-to strategy for any for-profit VR company.
(1) Product Placement
Advertising is clearly a powerful industry. Product placement is already a well-known practice in movies and TV. Video games have also had in-world ads for years. Virtual worlds offer companies the opportunity to create 3D virtual replicas of their products without the cost of physical resources and maintenance.
(2) User Data
Anyone who’s lived through the 2010s know how controversial the idea of user data mining has become. The practice has been around long before the late 2010s with “free” social media sites (even old sites like MySpace sold your data), but it became front and center news after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018.
Data brokers would see a goldmine in virtual environments. User data could not only include the usual information you give to social media, but new data areas such as body tracking (eyes, hands, heart rate, etc) that could be correlated to the virtual environments you travel through.
(3) Special Access Areas (VIP)
Some virtual areas or rooms will likely be blocked except for premium account users. Much like how many apps are free, but have in-app purchases, the same would apply to virtual reality. You get used to a virtual environment, and eventually you have a curiosity for the parts you haven’t explored.
(4) Subscriptions / Rent
One-time payments for special access rooms won’t be enough to keep the company lights on though. Nowadays everything has to be a subscription. Adobe Suite, Microsoft office, Apple music – what was once a one-time purchase is now a monthly payment. To exist in these virtual worlds with your own little space would cost “rent” or a subscription to the platform.
(5) Sales tax / transaction fees
Meta had a controversial announcement several months ago when they planned to have a 47.5% transaction fee for any purchase or trade made in their platform. There was a bit of hypocrisy as well, as Meta had complained about Apple’s 30% fees for in-app purchases for apps listed on their store. Even if VR companies don’t have fees this high, there will likely be some fees for any commerce done on their platform.
Ownership in virtual reality will likely be in the form of NFTs. While NFTs are decentralized certificates of ownership, private companies will likely continue to take advantage of them for stuff in their world. Deeds to virtual homes, awards, or any VR object could become an NFT. When these NFTs are sold, the company can take a cut even if sent off-world. Every time the NFT is resold in the future, the original owner can still get a royalty.
(7) Hardware developers
Free software exists… free hardware not so much. Companies that produce the VR headsets and haptic suits, as well as the companies that mine the materials, will make a fortune off the demand. Sometimes an investor will not only look at the main companies’ hardware product, but the 3rd party chip manufacturers (this is not investment advice).
(8) Cloud services
Virtual worlds take up a lot of data, and companies will need large data centers (at least until DNA data storage becomes a thing – you can store insane amounts of file data in DNA strands). To allow for more lightweight devices, most of the computing can be done offsite on company servers. Offsite GPUs could become more of a thing as well.
Planned scarcity, restricted access areas, ads, subscriptions and transaction fees sound like our physical world capitalistic barriers plastered into limitless reality. Open source, decentralized server based worlds where personal assets are held on blockchains might be a solution to a profit-driven virtual reality internet. Cryptocurrency and NFTs can be moved off-world if you no longer like their services. Time will tell if these systems will merge, take over the other, or simply coexist.