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Making money in the metaverse: Early adopters seek real-life fortunes in virtual world

Welcome to the Metaverse
CBS Reports | Welcome to the Metaverse 46:29

Watch the CBS Reports documentary "Welcome to the Metaverse" in the video player above. It premieres on CBS News streaming Sunday, March 27, at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. ET.

The metaverse has recently become a buzzword in the tech world and beyond. It represents a further migration from the real world to a digital reality, and it's also a place where users can own their virtual assets thanks to the blockchain. Blockchain, the underlying technology of cryptocurrency, is a digital ledger that records transactions and securely tracks digital assets. 

In the metaverse, these assets can be digital art, video game characters and even parcels of virtual land, which have seen meteoric rises in value in the last year. In November 2021, a plot of land in the virtual world Decentraland sold for $2.4 million. 

Some early adopters of the metaverse are making real-life fortunes in the virtual world — though it's not without risk

Kevin "KevinOnEarth" Clark

Kevin Clark says he was first attracted to the metaverse after feeling cut off from the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clark used the metaverse to reconnect with people and go to virtual events while much of the real world was shut down. 

"That was sort of the moment when I realized that something that was taken away from us could be reaccessed through the metaverse," he said.

Clark first bought land in Decentraland at the end of 2020 for $700. Today he says it could sell for over $20,000. Clark used his land to build a metaverse news station. His show, "The Decentraland Report," is live-streamed on Twitch. His goal is to tell the stories of the metaverse's early adopters and document the history of Decentraland. 

Kevin Clark, aka KevinOnEarth, in Decentraland. CBS News

"I said, I am the Decentraland reporter here on the scene," Clark says. "I showed up somewhere, started interviewing people and just asking them, 'Why are you here? What was your inspiration?' And then from there just people in the community were like, 'I want my story told too.'"

Jaiden Stipp

The digital assets that help make up the metaverse are known as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Each NFT is a completely unique digital asset — unlike bitcoin, which are interchangeable. An NFT can take the form of parcels of virtual land, music or digital art. 

Jaiden Stipp, 15, started making art in July of 2020. His work, entirely digital, drew inspiration from Nintendo and video games like Kirby. In February 2021, less than a year after starting, he decided to "mint" one of his pieces —  turning a digital file into a NFT. 

"I didn't even know what an NFT was at the time," he recalls. "I just minted it because I thought it was cool, you know."

Jaiden Stipp CBS News

Stipp was hoping his piece could sell for $50, but within two days the bidding was already into the hundreds. His piece then attracted the attention of FEWOCiOUS, one of the NFT world's most popular artists. FEWOCiOUS placed a public bid on Stipp's work, which sent the price skyrocketing. Eventually it sold for 20 Ethereum — valued then at over $30,000. Stipp minted four more pieces that week, with each NFT selling for more than $30,000. 

"I have no idea how much money I have made over the past year, all I know is that it is definitely over a million in sales," Stipp says.

Brenda Gentry

After growing up in Kenya, Brenda Gentry spent more than a decade working as a mortgage underwriter for USAA. She says she loved working there but wanted more than the traditional 9-to-5 job. 

"A friend of mine at the bank retired last year," Gentry said. "And she kept saying, 'Hey girl, just keep going, you got 20 more years to go.' When she said that I think it made me sad."

Brenda Gentry at Haze Radio CBS News

Gentry's daughter Cynthia studied computer science in college and started becoming interested in blockchain technology. 

"My daughter goes to college and she's like, 'I don't like computer science, mom. I don't like computer engineering,'" Gentry said. "We're talking about a different technology now. We're talking about blockchain. And it became a conversation where every time she talked about it, it would excite her."

She followed her daughter into the world of digital assets, buying cryptocurrency and NFTs and developing a social media following as "Cryptomom." 

Soon, Gentry was getting involved in consulting for Web3 products — Web3 being the much-hyped next phase of the internet, including innovations like NFTs and cryptocurrency — and advising NFT creators on how to launch products. After 15 years in banking, Brenda was able to quit her job and, along her daughters, start Gentry Media Productions, an NFT marketing company. 

"Before I got in crypto, I was making about $4,000 per month," Gentry says. "[Now on] the investment side, I am doing well — where I'm like, hey, seven figures here in a bit. But yeah, I'm doing good. I'll just say that."

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