Adrian Cheng Chi-kong, the third-generation scion of Hong Kong conglomerate New World Development , said his idea of buying a piece of land in a virtual world was partly sparked by the South China Morning Post’s foray into The Sandbox and a conversation with Joe Tsai, vice-chairman of Post owner Alibaba Group Holding. Cheng, an influential investor in property as well as the arts in Hong Kong, grabbed attention in the city’s financial and technology community last year by announcing an investment, in a personal capacity, into blockchain platform The Sandbox, owned by the Hong Kong gaming and blockchain unicorn Animoca Brands. Cheng said during a panel discussion moderated by Tsai this week at the Jumpstarter 2022 start-up event held by the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, that his idea of putting money into virtual property actually came about after he and Tsai had “cigars one night”. Tsai said he remembered introducing a Post project to Cheng about using the newspaper’s expertise, including infographics, to rebuild Hong Kong’s landmarks in a digital way in The Sandbox. The Post’s metaverse experience, a digital recreation of the Hong Kong Star Ferry Pier, opened to the public for free from March this year in The Sandbox. China’s new metaverse committee emerges amid flurry of government activity “I wanted to get a big piece of land, bigger than [SCMP’s], next to your land,” said Cheng, explaining his thoughts. After a “great chat” with The Sandbox, he realised that the concept was “so simple [in terms of] ownership and commercialisation”. Cheng’s journey towards owning a virtual land plot was revealed in the Jumpstarter 2022 forum, which aims to provide a platform for entrepreneurs and young people to exchange views on how to “jump start their dreams in Hong Kong”. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse were among the most-discussed topics at the event, which closes on Saturday, in spite of an ill-timed market crash for cryptocurrencies this week. Hong Kong has developed a vibrant investor community around NFTs, and many traditional businesses are exploring ways to incorporate the metaverse – a virtual world in which people can own and trade items – in their business. The Times Square mall in Causeway Bay, for example, is tapping the virtual world to lure more shoppers by partnering with the popular Bunny Warriors and AiR Metaverse, which has produced a replica of Hong Kong in the online world . Yat Siu, co-founder and chairman of Animoca Brands, said in the same panel discussion that the metaverse is “a place where we can actually have true digital ownership of the things that we spend time on and involve ourselves with online”, which has been made possible today because of blockchain technology. Regal Hotels, Standard Chartered invest in virtual land on The Sandbox Siu said that The Sandbox is “a major employer of metaverse architects”, people who are developing mini games full-time for a living, and likened the game to a “virtual society” that is generating economic activities equivalent to “a small island nation”. The Sandbox now generates an “economic output” of two to three million dollars a month, he said. The Sandbox is one of the biggest blockchain games in the world by income. It ranked third among all blockchain games by income in the past 30 days, during which it brought in US$169 million, according to market tracker DappRadar. Siu’s Hong Kong-based Animoca Brands is among a group of companies worldwide that are pushing for a future billed as Web3, a term that refers to a new iteration of the internet based on blockchain technology and where people’s online experiences revolve around blockchain-based assets, such as cryptocurrencies and NFTs. Web3 companies typically promise that with blockchain offering decentralisation, users will be able to “truly own” their virtual assets and data. While most of the Jumpstarter 2022 panels were themed around NFTs and Web3, the winners of its start-up pitch competition are not participants in this emerging space. The two winners - medical imaging device maker Gense Technologies and marine service infrastructure provider Open Ocean Engineering - won a total of US$4 million in investment from Cyberport and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP). New World’s Cheng said that the real and virtual worlds will coexist and one day it “will be commonplace to buy clothing or goods online which come with a digital version”. The cryptocurrency industry has just endured an extremely volatile week, though – even by its own standards – with more than US$200 billion of market value wiped off popular tokens, driven primarily by the collapse of Luna, a cryptocurrency operated in conjunction with the TerraUSD stablecoin. Popular NFTs saw their prices drop by more than 20 per cent, amid a global risk-off move by investors, while active wallets trading NFTs on OpenSea, one of the biggest NFT marketplaces in the world, shrank from more than 32,990 in the beginning of May to 7,560 on Thursday, according to DappRadar. Alibaba invests in Nreal, an AR glasses maker with eyes on the metaverse The cooling NFT market has also been felt by artists such as Akiko Yamashita, who said in another panel dicussion at Jumpstarter 2022 that they are having a harder time selling artworks as NFTs as the market becomes increasingly saturated. “About a year ago, a lot of artists sold a lot of artworks. Nowadays I hear from my friends that it is getting more difficult to sell. I feel like the first boom is gone,” said Yamashita. “It’s becoming an attention battle, [it’s now a matter of] who gets the most attention by great marketing,” she said.