The crowd settle into the private cinema room with its plush red carpet, cosy grey armchairs and framed promo posters adorning the walls.
The screen lights up, the spotlights dim and the movie begins, with immersive surround sound transporting viewers to the heart of the action.
Moviegoers chomp down on popcorn, wrap themselves tightly against the February breeze and sink their feet into the sand because this isn’t any cinema room — this is the Palm Jumeirah’s West Crescent.
And, this isn’t reality — this is the metaverse.
On Thursday, a revolutionary "cineverse" event beamed 200 film buffs directly into a virtual cinema from the W Dubai — The Palm’s luxury beach.
The pop-up movie premiere was hosted to celebrate the launch of MContent, a metaverse crowdfunding platform designed to connect content creators with investors. Eight months after inception, it already claims to be worth more than $100 million.
As the VR headsets come off, eyes are wide and barnets ruffled as the well-heeled crowd imagine the benefits to their social media pages.
Supercar Blondie, one of MContent’s celebrity partners, talks animatedly with organisers while YouTube star Mo Vlogs gazes into the sunset, no doubt dreaming of futuristic videos to come.
But the virtual world is not only reserved for the world’s elite and according to MContent founder and chief executive Umair Masoom, everyone in the UAE will be leading an alternate life in the metaverse in a matter of months.
“I think by the end of the year the metaverse is going to be part of our everyday lives and for a lot of people it already is,” Masoom tells The National. “You can go to the extent of having your own characters within the metaverse and they could be programmed to speak any language.
“You can make friends, you can interact, you can buy a car — there are so many things happening in the metaverse already. It’s going to be a major change that affects everyone. It is possible to have an alternate life.”
Claiming to be the world's first blockchain and NFT-backed crowdfunding platform, MContent aims to give opportunities to content creators who would otherwise struggle to find funding.
The platform is supported by the leading UAE conglomerate Gargash Group in partnership with multi-firm network PricewaterhouseCoopers, while the original films at the premiere were produced by Dutch companies Insight TV and Villain Studios.
And, according to Masoom, his success is only possible because the Emirates matches his visionary nature.
“It all boils down to the leadership of Dubai,” he says. “These are people who dream big, really big, and that’s how they’ve created this whole space within a desert.
“Dubai is always the first to welcome anything new in the world and it’s all because of the country’s leadership. It’s about the environments they have created where young people are able to take risks and they’re encouraged to do so.”
Recently, metaverse apps have made headlines around the world with children’s charities slamming the “dangerous by design” technology, and Masoom, a father of two, admits that regulation of the metaverse concerns him.
“When something disruptive happens, there is always a good side and a bad side to it, which is why I absolutely agree that regulation is important,” he says. “In my opinion, that’s something that needs to be collaborated on by institutions and governments of the world. It’s not something that can be done in isolation by one entity.”
Like social media and online gaming before it, technological advancement is inevitable, as is the change to society that comes along with it — for better or worse.
“Web3 refers to the metaverse, Blockchain and NFTs and it’s coming faster than you think,” says Masoom. “It’s all accessible, it’s all around you. You don’t even necessarily need the VR equipment, you just need to buy the NFT.”