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Inside the new digital side job

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Most days, Nikki Fuego rushes through her day-to-day tasks in just a few hours, clearing customer service issues for starting up a fitness machine before throwing herself into her real work – designing horned bodysuits and shiny geometric helmets that don’t work. can be worn or touched.

Fuego is among the growing group of people turning to the metaverse for extra income, turning hobbies into sometimes lucrative side pursuits in a series of virtual spaces that proponents see as the future of the Internet.

Betting that the metaverse will soon become the primary place where people shop, work and play, businesses and investors have poured money into building out the digital and physical infrastructure — which ranges from virtual reality headsets to video game-like environments like Roblox and Decentraland. . As gamers, tech gizmos, and advertisers with deep pockets poured into the metaverse, aspiring solopreneurs followed suit.

Nikki Fuego says she earns more from selling digital apparel in the metaverse than she earns in customer service for a startup.Thanks to Nikki Fuego

“I get gagged every day I wake up and remember that I’m making money doing this,” said Fuego, a 29-year-old recording artist in Kansas City, Missouri.

Fuego spends more than 40 hours a week in front of her computer with the Blender design software. She uses the program to manipulate dots on a mesh image and create original accessories that can be worn by avatars, the animated characters that send people through virtual spaces. Hers, which she uses in Decentraland, wears a form-fitting red-and-black bodysuit, a black visor, and red hair that splits into horns.

A single piece in Fuego’s digital clothing collections can take anywhere from a few hours to a whole month. They have sold for between two and 175 mana, the Decentraland currency roughly equivalent to a US dollar. In the past eight months, Fuego says she’s made about $40,000 selling her digital wares — more than four times her monthly daily income.

“I never thought I’d make money making digital items that don’t exist and paying my bills,” Fuego says. “That’s literally an artist’s dream, and I’m living it.”

Bragging rights with Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft hundreds of millions of users, there is a growing demand for avatar accessory designers, game developers, consultants and influencers to help accelerate the digital goods market in the metaverse. While the virtual worlds are ideally navigated in 3D using a VR headset, many are still largely in their infancy, often simulating browser-based video games. Today, anyone with a computer and internet connection can explore Roblox, the Sandbox or Decentraland as a digital avatar and buy goods on their respective marketplaces with cryptocurrencies associated with each market.

“People often think, ‘What’s the new job in the metaverse?’ And it actually creates interesting things that people would do when they get to the metaverse,” said Jeremy Bailenson, founder of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “Sometimes it’s engineering, where you have to build software and hardware. Sometimes it’s just by appearing and being a character in some sort of event.”

The avatar accessories, also known as ‘skins’, can be anything from a pair of pierced elf ears to a floating rainbow-colored flame aura. Or you can simply equip your avatar in Prada and Balenciaga from head to toe.

And thanks to creators like CK Bubbles, avatars can paint their nails too. The 36-year-old New Yorker, who uses she/she pronouns, began designing physical nail art at home after losing his job at the height of the 2020 pandemic. But after seeing musician Grimes perform in Decentraland in March, CK Bubbles thought they would try to nail the metaverse.

CK Bubbles, a 36-year-old creative director in New York who creates digital nail art for avatars in the metaverse.
CK Bubbles started creating nail art for real people after they lost their jobs early in the pandemic, then brought digital versions of their designs to the metaverse.Thanks to CK Bubbles

They took some pictures of real nail sets they had already made and sent them to a digital designer known as Mana Daiquiri. In one collection the two co-developed for LGBTQ Pride, the virtual nails are decorated with lollipops and bows. Another set sparkles in purple opal and glittering gemstones. Without any promotion, CK Bubbles said they sold about 30 nail sets for about 10 mana, which amounted to about $300.

CK Bubbles’ primary income comes from their work as a creative director in advertising, but they said the avatar nail art bustle is more than a hobby. “[The metaverse] has really exploded in ways I didn’t expect, to the point where hopefully it will become my full-time business,” they said.

An avatar in the metaverse wears CK Bubbles' nail art designs.
An avatar wears CK Bubbles’ nail art in the metaverse.Thanks to CK Bubbles and Mana Daquiri

Big brands are also looking at the growth potential of the metaverse. Already it is estimated that the market will reach $783.3 billion by 2024, an increase of 63% from 2020, according to to Bloomberg Intelligence. In the past year, brands from Snapple and Gucci to JPMorgan Chase have each invested millions of dollars to conquer virtual land in the metaverse where they can roll out games and sell exclusive items. Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg is refocusing the tech giant around the metaverse, saying earlier this year that he expects virtual worlds to generate hundreds of billions of dollars in digital commerce over the next decade.

To get there, companies spend a lot of money on developers who can build rich experiences in virtual spaces and influencers who can lure people there. As a result, much of the metaverse smacks of marketing, but that can still mean money in the pockets of tech-savvy side hustlers.

Meta is testing new creator bonus programs in its metaverse platform called Horizons World that will reward them for the time users spend in their worlds in it. Sandbox’s creators fund pays people between $2 and $60 for original artwork that the company can sell in its marketplace. Roblox told investors last November that nearly 1,000 developers had made more than $30,000 in the past 12 months.

Serena Elis, a 31-year-old former real estate agent in The Villages, Florida, saw the metaverse as the break she needed in her burgeoning singing career. After experimenting with cryptocurrency and streaming on Twitch, she decided to host her first event in Decentraland in 2020, featuring some of her synthpop songs. Only a few people showed up, but she said she saw enough interest to continue.

Serena Elis performs at the launch of Valde Beauty, a luxury lipstick brand, on January 27.
Serena Elis performs at the virtual launch of lipstick brand Valdé Beauty on January 27 in Decentraland.Thanks to Serena Elis

Over the past two years, her metaverse pursuits have expanded, thanks in part to brand partnerships. In January, she performed at the virtual launch of indie lipstick brand Valdé Beauty, creating a limited-edition crystal quartz lipstick barrel and nonfungible token (NFT) artwork for the company. She also performed at Metaverse Fashion Week for the nonprofit Crypto Chicks, which educates women in blockchain, cryptocurrency and other emerging technologies.

Elis now estimates that she earns the crypto equivalent of up to $2,500 per month from her metaverse performances and collaborations. That’s still well below the $4,000 to $10,000 a month she made as a real estate agent before leaving the field a year ago, and she says she’s been using her savings to cover expenses ever since. Elis says she doesn’t cash in on her cryptocurrency earnings and pays few bills, adding that she saves on rent while living with her mother — who doesn’t quite understand what she’s doing.

Serena Elis, a 31-year-old former real estate agent with a burgeoning singing career in the metaverse.
Serena Elis, a former real estate agent, has been working on her metaverse music career for the past year.Daryel Leyva / Courtesy of Serena Elis

“I know it’s very risky,” Elis said. “But I really, sincerely believe in what I do.”

Nikki Fuego said she sees a way to leave her customer service job and take on her metaverse projects full-time. She recently ventured into virtual car wearables in a Decentraland game she helped create, in which gamers can purchase an avatar that transforms into a glowing vehicle that resembles their character’s design. She said she has already sold hundreds of pieces for up to $175 each.

“People see the metaverse as fake, or like this fantasy or escape from reality,” Fuego said, “while I think it embraces our reality and embraces who we are as humans to the core.”

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