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From cryptocurrency to Christie's: How an Indian metaverse king made his fortune

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On Jan. 23, several hundred partygoers packed into an unusual art gallery. Champagne flowed into glasses that floated above a black disco floor. Guests’ avatars danced to electronic music, unhindered by gravity. The host, an Indian cryptocurrency investor who goes by the name of MetaKovan, wore a purple crown.
MetaKovan – real name Vignesh Sundaresan – was holding the event in the virtual metropolis of Origin City to celebrate his recent $2.2 million purchase of a series of images by the digital artist Beeple. Sundaresan had hired architects to build the gallery in an online “metaverse” to display the works. Now, he was launching a crypto token giving buyers a stake in the art pieces.
It was a spotlight-grabbing move by MetaKovan. Two months later he would go further still. At a sale by Christie’s, he bid $69 million to win another Beeple piece – “Everydays: The First 5000 Days.” It was the first time a major auction house sold a digital artwork in the form of a new crypto asset called a non-fungible token (NFT), a digital certificate of ownership. It was also the third most expensive artwork ever sold at auction by a living artist.
The purchase shook the art and crypto worlds. Sundaresan had become the top spender in the hottest area among crypto investors.
For several years, interest in NFTs simmered on crypto culture’s fringes as fans paid small sums to designers, artists or third parties for cartoon cats and pixelated characters. In the months before the auction, NFTs exploded in popularity. The Christie’s sale set off a gold rush that continues today, with celebrities from Lionel Messi to Paris Hilton launching NFTs for people to buy.
While some observers deride NFTs as a speculative asset, devotees see them as the building blocks of a new digital economy and the next evolution in art collecting. The notion that the internet will develop into a metaverse – a parallel universe of virtual spaces – has gathered such momentum that last month Facebook changed its name to “Meta.”
Sundaresan says he buys NFTs chiefly as investments. He has likened owning them to “having an autograph from your favourite artist.”
When Sundaresan shot to fame this year, little was known about him. In a blog after the auction, he sketched a rags-to-riches story of emigrating from South India to Canada and finding success in the guise of MetaKovan, which can translate as “King of Meta” in his native Tamil. His Beeple purchase was proof, he wrote, of how the “equalizing power” of crypto was enabling the rise of the “global south.” In June, he told the Financial Times the $69 million acquisition was “much less” than 10% of his net worth, which he said was almost entirely in crypto.
To chart Sundaresan’s rise, Reuters spoke with some 40 people who have worked or invested with him and reviewed documentation including corporate records and a previously unreported whistleblower complaint. The reporting reveals Sundaresan trod a sometimes rocky path in accumulating his assets, leaving behind frustrated customers and investors who say they lost, in total, millions of dollars.
Over the course of three interviews with Reuters for this article, Sundaresan said he faced some “setbacks” during his career but denied any wrongdoing. “It is very hard to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “I would never do something to hurt someone financially.”
Sundaresan represents a new generation of investors: the cryptocurrency kings who have created fortunes out of sight of financial regulators. Their true net worth is obscure because their assets exist mostly on the semi-anonymous blockchain, a kind of digital ledger that underpins cryptocurrencies, not in bank accounts, shares or property.
With little government supervision or legal recourse, crypto investors accept a significant risk of losses in any project. Some regulators have warned of the dangers of the new markets. The space is “rife with fraud, scams, and abuse,” U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler said this year, in a speech about crypto’s intersection with national security. In one recent case, a director of a crypto exchange called BitConnect pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court for his role in a scheme that defrauded investors out of more than $2 billion, the Department of Justice said. The director, Glenn Arcaro, is due to be sentenced this month. The exchange has closed.
Regulators have not named Sundaresan in any such context. The SEC had no comment for this story. In a podcast interview in April, Sundaresan described the crypto market as the “Wild Wild West,” with many ways for a “stupid person” to lose money. “Crypto is like walking in a street in Somalia with cash in your pockets,” he said.
Now, he and other figures who profited in this world are piling into NFTs in the same way that past billionaires spent their riches on masterpieces by the likes of Picasso and Monet. Sundaresan told Reuters he financed the Beeple purchase from his personal investments in cryptocurrencies. “I’ve been lucky to be part of various projects that, you know, blossomed,” he said.
Christie’s declined to comment on the Beeple sale and its financing, citing client confidentiality. Beeple didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“SOMETHING NEW”
Sundaresan was born in 1988 in the Indian city of Chennai. He has said his family expected him to find a stable job and follow the example of his father, a mechanical engineer. “Society had a plan for me,” he said in a podcast in 2020. He took up coding at high school and, after class, he and a friend built websites for local companies. They earned $20 per job – “big money” they spent on computer parts, his school friend, Neela Muhil Vannan, recalled to Reuters.
The youngsters poured over articles about Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs and questioned why India wasn’t producing tech entrepreneurs of similar “rock star” status, Muhil Vannan said. Sundaresan has said he drew inspiration from the book “Ignited Minds” by India’s then president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, born a poor Tamil Muslim.
In 2006, Sundaresan began a mechanical engineering degree at a university in Dubai. Back in Chennai, while researching how to design code to automate bank transfers, he stumbled across bitcoin in 2012. “This was something new,” he told another interviewer. At the time, a single bitcoin cost around $10, compared with around $60,000 today.
In May 2013, Sundaresan quit his job as a developer at a newspaper and launched an online crypto exchange called Coins-E, which enabled customers to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. At meet-ups in a Chennai cafe, he taught other students how the blockchain functioned. He told them crypto would give them the freedom to do whatever they wanted, one participant, Akhilesh Arora, now a developer in the Netherlands, told Reuters.
Sundaresan left India to pursue his ambitions. That September, at age 25, he enrolled in a technology innovation master’s program at Ottawa’s Carleton University. His focus, however, remained on Coins-E, which was gaining thousands of customers. During evening classes for the master’s, instead of listening to lecturers, he worked on improving the site’s interface, said a classmate, Adeleye Afolabi.
Coins-E was drawing attention for other reasons. In early 2014, around 50 traders posted on a bitcoin public forum complaining that Coins-E had not returned deposited funds worth tens of thousands of dollars, despite their repeated requests. Sundaresan, using an account called “coins-e support,” responded that he would resolve the issue. Four traders interviewed by Reuters and other traders who posted again in the public forum said their money never was returned. The traders who spoke to Reuters said they lost around $5,000 in total. Reuters was unable to reach other traders in the anonymous forum.
In interviews for this article, Sundaresan said Coins-E scaled up so quickly that he struggled to deal with customers’ demands. It was a stressful time, he said. He denied deliberately withholding funds. He said deposits were intact when he sold the business in May 2014 for 315 bitcoins, about $180,000 at the time.
The buyer of Coins-E was an Ontario-based businessman, Saif Altimimi. The contract, which was reviewed by Reuters, said Coins-E held 456 bitcoins for customers, worth $260,000, and Sundaresan had “honoured all transactions made by users.”
Altimimi didn’t comment for this article. Coins-E has since closed. Reuters couldn’t determine why. Sundaresan moved on to a new project. He agreed with three other crypto enthusiasts that same year to establish a start-up, BitAccess, that would make “Bitcoin ATMs.” These would enable users to deposit physical cash and receive crypto. To keep costs low, the founders took a modest wage. Sundaresan drove a clapped-out Nissan Sentra that kept breaking down.
“You’d think he was a starving student,” said Ryan Wallace, a BitAccess co-founder. Their first customer was a local entrepreneur in Toronto named Anthony Di Iorio. Speaking to Reuters, Di Iorio recalled telling the BitAccess partners about a blockchain network called Ethereum he was co-founding. The partners decided to contribute to a capital-raising tool called an “initial coin offering” for Ethereum. An ICO is similar to an initial public offering, but instead of shares, investors receive a crypto coin. Ethereum used ether, now the most popular cryptocurrency after bitcoin.
Sundaresan has said his Ethereum investment was the “fountainhead” for his later ventures. In his interviews with Reuters, he said he bought about 20,000 ether during the ICO, worth some $6,000 at the time. An investment of this size would have grown to about $37 million by the time of the Christie’s auction this year, according to Reuters calculations that were vetted by two analysts. Sundaresan told Reuters he sold some of his ether to invest in other ICOs over the years, however. He didn’t reveal how much.
By 2016, Sundaresan wanted to launch an ICO to fund an Ethereum-based trading platform he was building with BitAccess colleagues, according to four people who knew him. Around this time there were reports of hacks on other exchanges, and Sundaresan’s partners considered the project too risky, these people said. Frustrated, Sundaresan left BitAccess in November 2016, with little financial gain, he later said. In Twitter posts shortly after his exit, he complained that some people obstructed others’ ambitions like a “virus in your narrative.”
He set out on his own.
“BUILDING THE METAVERSE”
In early December 2017, Sundaresan gathered prospective investors for a dinner at a French-style wine bar in San Francisco. Over deviled eggs and croque monsieur, he told them about his idea for Lendroid, a platform he said would “reimagine trading.” It was an early version of the so-called DeFi, or decentralized finance, products now surging in popularity. Traditionally, borrowers have looked to banks or brokers. By contrast, Lendroid envisioned a “lending pool” of deposited crypto that would facilitate peer-to-peer loans, by allowing users to lend and borrow crypto funds directly, without an intermediary.
With Sundaresan was Paul Martens, a San Francisco-based digital strategist he hired partly to drum up investor support. Sundaresan told the two dozen attendees that Lendroid hoped to raise about $3 million in an ICO. The mood was “very optimistic,” Martens recalled in an interview with Reuters.
By the time the fundraiser launched in February 2018, with billions of dollars washing into the ICO market, the total target sum of the fundraising rocketed to 50,000 ether, the equivalent at the time of almost $48 million. Sundaresan incorporated a company in Singapore to operate the ICO.
Lendroid successfully raised the target sum, corporate filings show. The company said it did so within two days. But progress on the project stalled. Instead of hiring additional employees, Sundaresan shrank the nine-person team, according to Martens and two other people involved. Sundaresan told Reuters difficulties in getting Singapore work permits for staff were partly to blame.
A Reuters review of Lendroid’s corporate records in Singapore, its software on code-hosting platform GitHub, and its blockchain data shows that development largely halted after 2019. Most of the ether from the ICO was sold or transferred by Lendroid to unspecified entities, the review found. By the end of 2019, Lendroid had just $85,431 in crypto left on its books, equivalent to just over 650 ether at the time.
Sundaresan told Reuters that Lendroid sold the ether on various cryptocurrency exchanges at the end of 2018 to pay for expenses and kept cash proceeds of $5 million. He said Lendroid is a “serious company” whose “mission still stays. Every dollar that belongs to Lendroid … is audited and accounted for.”
Asked by Reuters to provide documentation confirming details of the sale, Sundaresan did not respond. Lendroid’s Singapore auditors, Entrust Public Accounting Corporation, did not respond to requests for comment. Investors, posting on a Lendroid chat group, grew angry over delays to the launch of the platform and a collapse in the price of the coin they received from the ICO, called a “Lendroid Support Token,” or LST. One investor accused Sundaresan of running a “school project.”
Martens said he quit Lendroid in August 2018, unhappy about the project’s lack of progress and an absence of communication from Sundaresan about the route forward. The following May, he submitted a whistle-blower report to the Ontario Securities Commission, accusing Sundaresan of fraud.
“Very little to no progress was made on the software,” he wrote in the report, which was seen by Reuters. Martens shared with Reuters a timeline he drew up in which he documented the slow pace of development.
In an emailed response to an enquiry by Martens this August, the OSC’s Office of the Whistleblower informed him “we carefully reviewed your information and closed the file.” The OSC response, seen by Reuters, did not say if the review led to any action. An OSC spokesman declined to comment about Martens’ complaint or whether there was an investigation.
Sundaresan said Martens was “disgruntled” and had “nothing to do with management.” A spokesman for the Monetary Authority of Singapore said it does not regulate Lendroid and referred Reuters to the Singapore Police Force. The police said they had not received any reports regarding Sundaresan or Lendroid.
THE LURE OF DIGITAL ART
Now splitting his time between Chennai and Singapore, Sundaresan went on a virtual spending spree in the emerging NFT market. In 2019, he paid $112,000 for a digital representation of a diamond-encrusted Formula One car from an online racing game, the most expensive NFT that year. He snapped up hundreds of acres of digital land in online worlds to build a virtual property empire.
In early 2020, Sundaresan assumed a new online identity: MetaKovan. He would later describe this alter ego as an “exosuit” created for the task of “building the metaverse.” MetaKovan was only unmasked as Sundaresan after the Christie’s auction in March, by U.S. journalist Amy Castor.
As MetaKovan, Sundaresan began accumulating a trove of digital art, including a piece called “Contemplation (of Creation),” a portrayal of an apparent divine being, which he used to represent his new identity. In mid-2020, still as MetaKovan, he unveiled a fund called Metapurse to invest in NFTs. “NFTs are the perfect medium for crypto,” MetaKovan wrote on Twitter. He didn’t disclose the size of Metapurse, which he said he alone was funding.
At a series of NFT auctions that December, MetaKovan’s fund snapped up 20 artworks by Mike Winkelmann, the American digital artist known as Beeple. It paid a total $2.2 million in ether and promised in a blog to flip the art world “on its head.”
So it was that on Jan. 23 this year, MetaKovan opened the Metapalooza party at his virtual art gallery in Origin City. He thanked the crowd for attending a “historic event,” according to a recording. Attendees could buy a digital token called B20 to get a stake in MetaKovan’s Beeple collection. “Art belongs to everyone,” read a billboard at the party. A website for the tokens described them as “keys” to “unlock the financial upside” of the artworks.
Metapurse issued 10 million B20 tokens, with 25% allocated for public sale, initially priced at 36 cents each. Metapurse received payment in DAI, a cryptocurrency pegged to the dollar. Overall, half of the tokens were held by MetaKovan and half were split between the public and some of MetaKovan’s friends and business partners.
Then, in mid-February, Christie’s announced the auction of Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days.” Marketers predicted the sale’s publicity would boost B20’s price. One of the marketers, Andrew Steinwold, issued an “Investment Summary” saying B20’s total value could reach $200 million.
By the time of the auction, B20’s price was booming, hitting a high of $29 per token on exchanges including Uniswap, according to cryptocurrency tracker CoinGecko. “It was total mania,” said Chris Nunes, a Colorado-based NFT enthusiast who spent around $30,000 on some 6,000 B20 tokens.
Around the time the Christie’s auction closed, B20’s price collapsed. Data collected by blockchain analytics firm Nansen shows a handful of wallets helped to drive the crash by selling several millions of dollars’ worth of B20. The wallet publicly labelled as belonging to MetaKovan did not sell its holdings.
Steinwold, who runs his own NFT investment fund, told Reuters his clients were among the sellers, though he declined to identify them. Asked about his earlier investment summary, he said he was shocked by B20’s price collapse. “I still think that B20 is undervalued, but it’s also art, so it’s very subjective,” he said.
Investors were left with a token currently valued at $1.10, a fraction of what many of them paid. When one investor accused MetaKovan’s team on Twitter of moving on to “the next cash cow,” Anand Venkateswaran, a representative for Metapurse and an old friend of Sundaresan from Chennai, retorted, “I don’t owe you anything.”
Asked by Reuters about investors’ discontent with B20’s collapse, Venkateswaran said, “You have to do your own research.”
Sundaresan told Reuters he did not discuss B20 with Christie’s ahead of the auction, did not focus on B20’s price and didn’t tell anyone to boost the value. “It’s not about the money,” he said, wearing a jacket with “$CARTEL” emblazoned on its lapel.
The winning bid for Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” was paid with 42,329 ether through the crypto exchange Gemini. A few days later, U.S. journalist Castor revealed MetaKovan’s true identity. Crypto influencers celebrated Sundaresan as a “crypto billionaire.” And in a statement issued by Christie’s, Sundaresan called the artwork his portfolio’s “crown jewel.”
For six months, Sundaresan held the work quietly in his crypto wallet. Then in early September, Metapurse unveiled the work’s “first physical event.” Fans were invited to view the Beeple piece on a giant screen at a Nov. 4 exhibition in New York. “NFTs come alive,” the announcement said. Cost of admission: up to $2,500 a person.
Copyright©2021 Living Media India Limited. For reprint rights: Syndications Today

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Lamina1 Presents Inaugural “Open Metaverse Conference” Connecting the Worlds of Blockchain and the Metaverse for a Next-Gen Internet – Business Wire

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Featuring a keynote from co-founder and futurist Neal Stephenson, the first-of-its-kind event aims to empower creators and coders to build the Open Metaverse together
LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Lamina1, a Layer 1 blockchain optimized for the Open Metaverse, today announced its role as founding sponsor of the Open Metaverse Conference, a first-of-its-kind industry event bringing together the worlds of the Metaverse and Web3 to build a more open and immersive Internet. The two-day conference will take place from February 8-9, 2023 in Los Angeles, California, and will gather experts and builders spanning Metaverse experiences, Web3, and entertainment.

Co-founded by Neal Stephenson, renowned futurist and science fiction author who originally coined the term “Metaverse,” and cryptocurrency pioneer Peter Vessenes, founder of the first VC-backed Bitcoin company, Lamina1 will provide the infrastructure to empower rapid expansion of the Open Metaverse. As the founding sponsor of the Open Metaverse Conference, Lamina1 will provide a forum for critical conversations around identity, privacy and interoperability, while exploring how audience engagement, creative storytelling, and the technicalities of blockchain can work hand-in-hand to make the vision of the Open Metaverse a reality.
The Open Metaverse Conference will feature keynotes from renowned technologists and storytellers who are pioneering visions for the next era of the Internet. Attendees will hear from Lamina1 co-founders Neal Stephenson and Peter Vessenes, as well as Philip Rosedale, founder of virtual world Second Life (Linden Lab) and co-founder of virtual platform High Fidelity, John Gaeta, Oscar-winning VFX pioneer (The Matrix) and CCO of character persona company Inworld AI, Cathy Hackl, Metaverse and Web3 strategist and founder of design consultancy Journey, and other industry crossover leaders to be announced. Keynote sessions will be complemented by diverse speakers and side events spanning games, art, entertainment, and commerce. To connect these key areas of culture with the technology that enables them, the Open Metaverse Conference will also facilitate technological deep dives for attendees from leaders in Web3, immersive computing, and technology standards groups. Presenting partners include the Metaverse Standards Forum, the Open Metaverse Interoperability Group, and the Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 (OMA3), all organizations fostering interoperability.
“We are at a moment in time when developers, creatives, and producers can finally design the seamless and persistent experiences we’ve dreamed about,” said Jamil Moledina, Vice President of Games Partnerships and Media at Lamina1. “The Open Metaverse Conference will serve as the big tent for everyone who’s thinking about creating never-before-possible experiences that allow creators and consumers to enter unique virtual worlds on a level playing field.”
“OMA3 is pleased to collaborate with Lamina1 and the Open Metaverse Conference in promoting interoperability,” said Robby Yung, CEO of Animoca Brands. “OMA3 looks forward to developing talk tracks to encourage the creation of a more open and immersive internet.”
The conference will encourage interdisciplinary dialogue through debates, pitch sessions, roundtable discussions, and networking opportunities to help drive new ideas and connections.
“We felt a real sense of urgency to facilitate discussion with our colleagues and creators across the spectrum,” said Rebecca Barkin, President of Lamina1. “We know that the Open Metaverse will be built collaboratively and with a set of shared values, and we’re happy to provide this forum to address the needs of the community and to solve big problems together.”
For more information on the Open Metaverse Conference, visit www.openmetaverseconf.com.
About Open Metaverse Conference 
The Open Metaverse Conference (OMC) is an industry-first event presented by Lamina1 focused on bringing together the Metaverse and blockchain technology. The conference gathers key stakeholders spanning developers, creatives, producers, product owners, and executives to ask and address big questions around the development of a truly Open Metaverse that leverages open-source, collaborative principles and blockchain decentralization.
About Lamina1 
Lamina1 is a Layer1 blockchain optimized for the Open Metaverse. The brainchild of legendary futurist Neal Stephenson (who first conceptualized the term “Metaverse” in his 1992 best-selling novel Snow Crash) and Peter Vessenes, a foundational leader in the crypto space from the early days of Bitcoin – Lamina1 is on a mission to deliver the blockchain technology, interoperating tools, and decentralized services that will establish it as the preferred destination for creators building a more immersive Internet. It is the first provably carbon-negative blockchain in the world.
K.C. Maas
Wachsman
kc.maas@wachsman.com
K.C. Maas
Wachsman
kc.maas@wachsman.com

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Facebook Founder, Zuckerberg Drops Out Of 10 Richest Men After Losing Half Of Fortunes – SaharaReporters.com

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According to Forbes, the Facebook founder has lost more than half his fortune—a staggering $76.8 billion—since September 2021, dropping him from No. 3 on The Forbes 400 list of the U.S.’ wealthiest people to No. 11. Worth $57.7 billion on this year’s list.
 
Meta chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg has lost his spot in the list as one of the 10 richest people in America.
According to Forbes, the Facebook founder has lost more than half his fortune—a staggering $76.8 billion—since September 2021, dropping him from No. 3 on The Forbes 400 list of the U.S.’ wealthiest people to No. 11. Worth $57.7 billion on this year’s list.
Zuck trails Walmart heir Jim Walton, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and other tech moguls such as ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. No one in America has lost as much money over the past year as Zuckerberg.
He has the cratering stock price of Meta (formerly Facebook) to thank for his exit from the top 10. Shares have plunged 57% since last year’s Forbes 400, which used stock prices from September 3, 2021. Tech stocks are generally in a slump with the market downturn, but Meta’s fall outpaces both the Nasdaq (-9.8%) and the S&P 500 (-13.5%), as well as Microsoft’s 14% decline, Google-parent Alphabet‘s 25% drop and Amazon’s 27% dive.
Investors are spooked by a privacy policy update from Apple last year that made it harder for tech companies to track users across apps, impacting Meta’s ad sales. Meta reported its first-ever quarterly revenue decline in July–a 1% drop, to $28.8 billion.
“Facebook makes most of its money from advertising, and now it just doesn’t have that data anymore,” says Mark Zgutowicz, an analyst at research and investment banking firm Benchmark.
“All those data signals went away, which basically means that advertisers are having trouble telling whether a campaign was successful or not.”
Compounding the problem for Meta, TikTok is luring away advertisers, along with lucrative Gen Z and millennial users. In February, Meta announced its first-ever quarterly loss of daily active users. A recent internal report showed that Meta’s TikTok clone, Instagram Reels, is struggling to compete, according to Wall Street Journal report.
Under normal circumstances, a slight dip in revenue might be manageable, but Meta is also investing heavily in virtual reality and the metaverse, which is dragging down operating profit. In 2021, the company’s metaverse division, Meta Reality Labs, lost $10 billion. While the metaverse is all Zuckerberg wants to talk about, investors are less enthusiastic so far. “It’s a long tail investment and, for now, it’s kind of a cash suck,” Zgutowicz says.
Zuckerberg first became a billionaire in 2008, just four years after founding Facebook. At 23, he was the youngest self-made billionaire at the time, debuting at No. 321 on The Forbes 400, worth $1.5 billion. By 2011, Zuckerberg’s net worth had increased nearly 12 fold to $17.5 billion.
This year isn’t the first time Zuckerberg’s net worth has taken a dive. After Facebook’s famously disappointing IPO in 2012, Zuckerberg fell from No. 14 to No. 36 on The Forbes 400. But it didn’t last long. The following year, Zuckerberg bounced back and, up until now, his fortune has continued to climb. Despite the litany of controversies and scandals plaguing the company, Facebook’s ad machine had reliably churned out enough money to impress investors, sending Zuckerberg’s net worth soaring to $134.5 billion last year, his highest net worth ever.
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Disney CEO Bob Chapek plotting a metaverse for Disney+ that will recreate their parks online – Daily Mail

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By Alex Oliveira For Dailymail.Com
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Disney is plotting a metaverse that would let people experience the most magical place on earth without ever setting foot in the theme park.
CEO Bob Chapek said the media giant’s metaverse would exist on its streaming platform, Disney+, and allow ‘the 90 percent of people that will never ever be able to get to a Disney park,’ to experience it in virtual reality.
‘We call it next-gen storytelling’ Chapek said in an interview with Deadline, noting that he didn’t like use the phrase metaverse ‘because it has a lot of hair on it.’
But regardless of whatever Chapek prefers to call the planned platform, many have responded by calling the move out of touch with Disney’s fanbase, and argued that if the parks stopped hiking prices more people would be able to visit.  
The move comes as Chapek – who took the helm at Disney in 2020 – struggles to make a name for himself in the shadow of his innovative predecessor, Bob Iger, and keep afloat amid controversies ranging from the park’s rising prices, to Disney’s stance on Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill. 
Just last week, Chapek broke a months-long silence on an apology he issued in an attempt to quell Disney staff who were outraged by his failure to speak out against the controversial bill last spring, saying he chose to remain mum on the matter because he didn’t want to get Disney caught in a ‘political subterfuge.’ 
Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the media giant’s metaverse would exist on its streaming platform, Disney+, and allow people to experience park rides in virtual reality
Disney’s metaverse move comes as Chapek – who took the helm at Disney in 2020 – struggles to make a name for himself in the shadow of his innovative predecessor, Bob Iger
Chapek characterized the Disney metaverse as a way to experience the theme parks for the multitudes of people who are unable to actually make the trip in person.
‘We wish every person would have the opportunity to come to our parks, but we realize that’s not a reality for some people,’ he told Deadline, ‘we have before us an opportunity to turn what was a movie-service platform to an experiential platform and give them the ability to ride Haunted Mansion from a virtual standpoint.’
He said metaverse users would have an experience beyond what regular parkgoers have, and be able to step out of the ride-cars to explore sets and interact with characters. 
‘Maybe we’ll give them the opportunity what every single person in the park wants to do, and unfortunately too many of them do it, just to get off the attraction. See how it works, see how those ghost dancers move,’ he said. 

But many responded to the news by saying if Disney would just stop raising its prices, more of those 90 percent of people who cannot visit the parks would be able to.
‘Damn Disney. Just say it direct like that,’ wrote tech critic Juan Carlos Bagnell on Twitter, ‘90% of the HUMAN POPULATION is too poor to visit our parks, but hopefully some are less-poor-enough to own VR goggles and ride our rides in a metaverse clone…’
Commenters on the Deadline interview were equally unimpressed, with one saying ‘The reason 90% of people may not be able to experience the parks is because you keep hiking the cost of GOING to the parks beyond what most people can actually afford, Bob.’
‘Costs are up at the parks. Moral appears to be down. Iger had imagination and could adapt,’ said another.

Disney park prices have skyrocketed since Chapek was fully given charge at Disney in 2022. At California parks, ticket prices jumped 6 percent to $164 for single-park passes, while the price of getting into more than one park over the course of a day rose 9 percent to $319.
At the Florida parks the price to get into the park after 2pm rose to $169, while before 2pm fans were asked to fork over $194. Those prices could also rise based on an increased demand on any day.
‘If you’re the kind of person that budgets or saves for vacations, Disney Parks aren’t for you any longer,’ wrote a fed-up customer on Reddit, ‘That’s a Premium Physical Experience, and there’s plenty of national and international wealthy families to afford going indefinitely.’
And in August, as inflation scorched the US economy, Chapek warned those prices could continue to rise.
‘It’s all up to the consumer,’ he said, according to The New York Post, ‘If consumer demand keeps up, we’ll act accordingly.’
Disney’s metaverse would allow people to experience park rides like the Haunted Mansion without ever setting foot in Disney World
Chapek noted the virtual reality experience could go beyond simply sitting in the car and experiencing the ride the way park-goers do, but would allow people to step off of the tracks and explore the ride sets up close
Chapek has hardly been the happiest CEO on Earth since he took the reins at Disney.
After beginning his tenure in February, 2020, he was thrust immediately into the chaos of navigating Disney through the perils of the pandemic, which saw the media company’s primary revenue streams – theme park revenue and movie theater tickets – vanish like a pair of glass slippers at midnight.
To help steady the ship, Iger – much to Chapek’s ire, reportedly – was kept on in a leadership position through 2021.
But as soon as Chapek was given full control in 2022 his price hikes had customers raising eyebrows about whether he was up to the same scratch as the visionary Iger.
Those doubts were doubled-down on by Disney staff after Chapek decided to remain quiet on Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, a law which barred schools from discussing sexuality or gender with children between kindergarten and third grade.
Many Disney employees viewed the law as homophobic and an affront to the inclusive values of Disney, and publicly voiced their outrage that Chapek did not speak out against it.
Chapek said the metaverse would also work in conjunction with real-world visits to Disney theme parks
Disney is plotting a metaverse that would let people experience the most magical place on earth without ever setting foot in the theme park
He later apologized to staff, publicly decried the bill, and announced Disney had paused all its political donations within Florida.
Last week, Chapek addressed that apology for the first time since he issued it, saying he had struggled to balance the needs and beliefs of every one of his employees and customers.
‘What we try to do is be everything to everybody,’ Chapek told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview, ‘That tends to be very difficult because we’re The Walt Disney Company.’
‘We certainly don’t want to get caught up in any political subterfuge, but at the same time we also realize that we want to represent a brighter tomorrow for families of all types, regardless of how they define themselves,’ he said.

Published by Associated Newspapers Ltd
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