Tasteful, Japanese-themed furnishings. A view of the city. Elevator access. After Clerkclirk saw the penthouse apartment, he quickly decided to pull the trigger. And because he liked the neighborhood so much, he bought another 70 properties there.

In total, Clerkclirk dropped $92,000 on the condos. But the 31-year-old Indonesian speculator isn’t a real estate magnate, and none of the condos qualify as real estate, despite their desirable locations. The units are digital plots in Worldwide Webb Land’s metaverse, a virtual world stored on servers.

“You can’t say ‘no’ to profit,” said Clerkclirk, who said he planned to sell his properties when the price rose. Like many traders in the metaverse, Clerkclirk declined to give his legal name.

Startling amounts of money are being spent on virtual real estate inside Worldwide Webb Land and other metaverses. In June, a metaverse investment firm called Republic Realm spent $913,000 on a parcel in Decentraland, another metaverse. It was the largest deal of its kind at the time. About six months later, the same firm bought 792 plots in Sandbox, still another metaverse, from video game company Atari for an eye-watering $4.23 million.

The idea of the metaverse goes back decades. Second Life, a virtual gathering place that started in the aughts, is one of the oldest. Fortnite, a video game with a building component, is a newer, more sophisticated example, as are Roblox and Minecraft. At its most basic, a metaverse is a shared, persistent digital space for meetings, games and socializing. Some observers see a future in which many metaverses interconnect, though others envision a variety of independent digital realms with their gates drawn.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg reignited and spread interest in the concept when he rebranded Facebook as Meta, a nod to the Silicon Valley giant’s ambitions to make its mark in the metaverse the way it did in social media. It’s been a topic of discussion at trend-setting conferences, like last week’s SXSW festival and this week’s Game Developers Conference.

A penthouse in Worldwide Webb Land.

Worldwide Webb Land

In recent years, the growth of blockchain ledgers has helped birth new metaverses that make it easy for people like Clerkclirk to buy parts of them. The digital property deeds, or non-fungible tokens (NFTs), that represent ownership are recorded on blockchains, allowing them to be sold again in the future.

The two leading metaverses are Decentraland, which started in 2017, and Sandbox, which flickered onto the internet two years later. New virtual lands are being created almost every month. Worldwide Webb Land, where Clerkclirk bought his penthouse, is four months old.

“What sets us apart is our interoperability and accessibility,” a spokesperson for Worldwide Webb Land said. The interoperability refers to the metaverse’s integration with over 300,000 NFTs — if you own one of the supported NFTs, you can use it as an in-world avatar. Worldwide Webb Land’s 2D graphics also mean it can be played smoothly on most computers and phones. When asked if the project’s land sales are driven by speculation, the spokesperson said that “there are too many factors driving the market to point just one out.” Decentraland did not respond to a request for comment.

Clerkclirk was early to blockchain-integrated metaverses. After buying $500 in bitcoin in 2017, he chanced upon $Mana, another cryptocurrency. He soon discovered $Mana was the currency of Decentraland, which promised to be the first virtual world owned by its users. Decentraland is made up of 90,000 parcels, which are recorded on the Ethereum blockchain as NFTs.

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