The wellness metaverse is here right now in Singapore. Experts discuss the outlook of this trend in 2023.
If you’re not big on tech, the term ‘metaverse’ might sound like something out of a sci-fi show or Marvel movie. For the uninitiated, it refers to an immersive virtual world. It’s a 3D space that users can move in, explore, and harness to create new realities. But it’s not some far-off concept waiting to happen in the future – it’s already here in the present. We’re seeing it in trending next-gen social app Bondee and VR arcades. As predicted by the Global Wellness Summit in 2022, the wellness metaverse is beginning to sprout its roots in Singapore.
What does this mean? Well, with the ever-growing emphasis on self-care and mental health, the virtual world has become a playground for health-driven brands and enthusiasts. Think gamified fitness routines you can join from anywhere in the world. Or even AR and VR-led therapy to treat conditions like mental illness and brain injury.
Dawn of the wellness metaverse
If you take a closer look, you’ll notice the wellness metaverse made its presence known years prior to the pandemic – particularly in our educational sector (take note, PE teachers). In 2018 and 2019, AR sports company Hado Singapore reportedly arranged AR gaming and digital dodgeball sessions in local community centres for the young and old. In 2020, Touch Community Services developed an interactive VR experience to teach youth about anxiety disorders. The demand for such virtual health and fitness experiences boomed when stay-in protocols were announced around the world.
“Covid-19 acted as a super accelerator for cultural, societal, and economic trends everywhere. Wellness was heading in that direction anyway, it just got there quicker,” says Martin Capstick, co-founder and CEO of Exceed Sports and Entertainment – the organiser behind the upcoming Glow Festival in Singapore this February. The tech-forward wellness event will utilise technology and bespoke scents to evoke deeper emotional and physiological responses amongst audiences.
Samantha Shuttleworth, product strategy director of R/GA, sees the wellness industry positioned to capitalise on new opportunities from emerging technologies. Singapore is the perfect testbed for virtual experiences that meld physical and digital environments. “It’s the first country to be fully covered by standalone 5G, which provides faster downloads and low latency for metaverse experiences,” she says.
But with the world opening up and physical events returning in full force, the big question is: will virtual experiences in the wellness metaverse remain in demand?
Opportunities for wellness in the virtual realm
According to experts, the future looks bright. “80% of fitness consumers plan to continue enjoying digital workouts post-pandemic,” says James Graham, chief strategy and business affairs officer at Les Mills International. Last February, they launched Bodycombat VR. The fitness VR app was subsequently christened Best App of 2022 by Meta. “The unique appeal of VR has also enabled us to attract a younger, gaming-focused audience. It’s an opportunity to create new pathways into fitness that will lead to lifelong healthy habits,” he says.
His sentiments are echoed by Kriskay Choo, co-founder and CSO at CGame, a metaverse agency in Singapore. He believes this exposes the younger generation to the availability and necessity of wellness services. “Users might one day view their personal progression from the very first fitness session. This could be a huge motivational factor that will encourage them to persevere.”
“[There’s also] the idea that individuals can curate personalised experiences in a safe space while connecting with like-minded people,” Martin adds. After all, we enjoy being part of larger communities that share the same passion and goals. He also alludes to the practical applications that virtual reality tools can have in the medical realm.
Beyond treating afflictions and mental health issues, this can change how doctors approach treating and educating patients. “Think of interacting in a virtual doctor’s office. Or being able to analyse real-time health data through advanced medical equipment,” says Alan Kueh, co-founder of Web-3 platform, Memotics.
Wellness brands are also turning to play-to-earn (P2E) experiences to expand consumer knowledge of health as they earn ecosystem rewards. However, before brands in the wellness sphere hop onto the metaverse train, there are a couple of things to consider…
What separates the winners from the losers
Samantha references the exercise brand Peloton. The Covid-19 fitness darling has since been in the news for falling sales and revenue loss. While its paid membership grew in 2022, rising inflation rates may lead to individuals cutting back on expenditure. This means cancelled gym memberships and fitness app subscriptions. “It will be a tradeoff between the quality of experience and what people can afford,” she says.
Hardware is also a barrier for those looking for opportunities in the wellness metaverse. “VR headsets are $500 a unit and aren’t yet accessible to mainstream users. Apple just announced the launch of its anticipated AR glasses has been delayed indefinitely. Not all smartphones are AR-compatible either,” Samantha adds.
“Companies need to prioritise how to create an efficient and accessible metaverse for ease of use. This includes guiding consumers who have never stepped into such a space before,” Alan says.
According to Martin, tech platforms that offer sophisticated multi-functionality and creativity will remain on top. Especially with the surging post-Covid appetite for in-person traditional formats.
So, how will the wellness metaverse develop?
Samantha predicts a surge in fitness apps offering virtual experiences. “It’s considered the most engaging and sticky metaverse experience,” she says. “People can record their Apple Health app stats while doing a Zwift or Holofit workout. They can even share their results with friends in Strava. It’s created a connected health ecosystem with high emotional engagement.”
Borders will become less relevant, taking wellness to a much wider and younger audience. “Our favourite instructors could become quite literally on-demand. They’ll appear wherever we wear our mixed reality headsets, and in whatever language we require,” James adds. “Members can virtually join their club’s group exercise studio in the metaverse from anywhere in the world.”
Kriskay anticipates that 2023 will be a year for companies in Singapore to test the responsiveness of their products and services. Especially when integrated with the metaverse. He even foresees that social apps will face competition with the ever-growing metaverse and its slew of wellness offerings.
As for us, we’re hyped for the growth of the wellness metaverse. The opportunities it brings have the potential to help us take control of our health and well-being like never before – regardless of age, lifestyle, or location.