January 31, 2023

Orlando: Building on Pioneering Efforts in Entertainment and Simulation to Become a Metaverse Technology and Economic Development Hub

By Elizabeth Haas with Tom Xia

When most people think of Orlando, Florida, images of Disney World, family vacations, and epic entertainment venues come to mind, and rightly so. But there is another side to Orlando that is equally exciting and as much or more of a draw: an emerging “hub bub” of momentum and energy that is turning the city into a metaverse destination. Orlando’s identity as a technology pioneer has been building for decades and has only recently emerged from the shadows of its more well-known reputation as a popular spot for anyone reliving his or her childhood. 

Orlando, like Cincinnati, the city we wrote about last week, relies on its unique community engagement and public-private partnerships to fuel and focus its ongoing efforts.  Leadership in both cities keep listen closely, to what community and corporate leaders deem as important and work hand in hand with corporate partners. And, as with Cincinnati, we look forward to being part of Orlando’s “ride” into the metaverse and beyond.


City Identity and Core Strengths: Building the Next Frontier of Digital Engagement 

Orlando is quickly becoming known for embracing the metaverse and building its city identity on opportunities made available by new and emerging digital and virtual technologies. The city’s economic development center, together with leading institutions, are capitalizing on Orlando’s decades of experience in pioneering key metaverse technologies. This capability, known as Orlando’s MetaCenter, is attracting talent and investment to the area from across industry and positioning the city as a hub for metaverse development.

Strong entertainment, travel, and technology industries are bringing creativity and technology together to create a friendly and familiar community for investment: Orlando, known as the "Theme Park Capital of the World," is home to a thriving sports base, a “must visit” destination in Disney World, and a supportive environment for the healthcare and tech industries. Another plus is the city’s location less than an hour’s drive from NASA’s Kennedy Center, a thriving aerospace leader and a global hub for modeling, simulation, and training (MS&T). This combination of tech and entertainment capability, coupled with a supportive community, makes Orlando an ideal location for testing, learning, and building digital engagement in the metaverse.

Leading Orlando-based companies and research institutions have also had a hand in fueling the tech and innovation atmosphere in the city. The University of Central Florida (UCF) has a strong research program focused on virtual and augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence, with the school’s proximity to NASA providing a rich resource for experimentation. Orlando’s resident metaverse industries already possess broad and deep technology expertise in AR/VR, AI, 3D reconstruction, gaming, and IoT, and serve as a complement to UCF’s efforts. Participating companies include Disney, Universal, EA, Iron Galaxy, Lockheed Martin, Falcon’s Creative, Brand XR, SoarTech, MindSphere, and Magic Leap, as well as many other leaders in digital technologies.

Orlando’s infrastructure adds even more to its attractiveness with a reliable and fast internet as well as an efficient transportation system. These demonstrated city strengths contribute to a collaborative tourism and enterprise environment, while providing an ability to support the large amounts of data and traffic required by the metaverse. 


Key Stakeholders and Influencers: Using the Orlando Economic Partnership to Form a Strategic Framework for the City’s Future

Orlando’s leadership initiated the Orlando Economic Partnership (the region’s economic and community development organization) as a collective effort aimed at engaging leadership, staff, and stakeholders in the development of a strategic framework for the region’s future. This partnership established the MetaCenter, with a goal of positioning Orlando at the center of metaverse technology development and innovation. For over a decade, under the leadership of Mayor Buddy Dyer, the region has built an attractive base for sporting events, youth sports, and healthcare and technology companies, as well as a collaborative working environment for attracting, and supporting, new enterprises and talent.

Targeted Outcomes: Driving Corporate Engagement and Investment with Federal Grants and Regional Attractiveness

Orlando MetaCenter Inauguration: The metaverse community witnessed a new milestone as Orlando proved it is “the MetaCenter” by hosting a business event in the ENGAGE metaverse platform for the VR/AR Association’s Orlando/Central Florida Chapter. The Central Florida Chapter of the AR/VR Association is one of the largest and most active chapters in the state, which acted as a catalyst for excitement surrounding this event. Participants joined using various VR devices such as Oculus, mobile devices, desktops, and MacBooks. It was a free event that was simultaneously streamed on YouTube to ensure the public could participate.

Digital Twin - Unity: Orlando is home to the largest density of Unity licenses in the U.S.  The Orlando Economic Partnership, along with Unity, the world’s leading platform for creating and operating real-time 3D (RT3D) content, unveiled a first-of-its-kind digital twin that showcases the entire Orlando region. Operational for the first time, the brand-new 3D technology maps 800 square miles of the region and recreates 40 square miles in high-fidelity, including Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties, which makes it the first large-scale regional digital twin in use by an economic development organization. By aggregating public and private sources of information, the digital twin serves as a critical resource for all decision makers in the area, making the technology a vital piece of Orlando’s future. It will also provide a platform for potential business partnerships to visualize and analyze the prospect of running business in certain locations.

UCF Receives $8.8M for Digital Twin Initiative: The funding, part of the federal “Build Back Better Regional Challenge,” is included in the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s $50.8 million award to Osceola County. This award is working with preferred partners, such as UCF, to position Central Florida to help lead the nation in semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing.


Value Creation and Delivery Engine: Engaging the Community Across a Broad Spectrum of Partnerships, Market Sectors, and Entertainment Venues

Tourism: Marketing Campaign - Unbelievably Real -- aims to introduce the City of Orlando to a global audience through tourism and business partnerships. By declaring Orlando the MetaCenter of the world, the campaign is designed to increase the city’s allure at the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds. The campaign and new brand tell the complete story of Orlando, highlighting both the fantastical and authentic elements, in both tourism and business, of the metro area. By collaborating with Orlando local artists, Unbelievably Real has been promoting Orlando’s culture-themed physical murals in different cities in the U.S.  Brooklyn, New York was one of the campaign’s first stops with a mural showcasing Orlando’s historic and cultural landmarks and influences. The city also sees the potential to display local art in digital collectables which will incentivize visitors to explore the cities.

Gaming: The video game industry in Central Florida is one of the fastest-growing video game regions in the country, partially due to the local talent. Ben Noel, the executive director of the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy at FSU, said, “Many of our graduates are obviously here in Orlando and at Madden football. And right across the street, in the Creative Village, is NBA Live.”

Sports: The Orlando Magic, a professional basketball team based in Orlando, is using blockchain to engage with fans. As an official team partner starting with the 2021-22 season, Socios.com and the Magic are providing new opportunities for innovative fan engagement by creating a true fan experience. In addition, Magic legend Hedo Turkoglu will be a featured spokesperson for the Magic and Socios.com partnership. As part of the collaboration, Turkoglu will be integrated into marketing and media assets for Socios.com in an effort to underscore the fan experience. Professional golfer Lexi Thompson and NBA star Damian Lilliard will also show off their moves in a capture designed just for fans, with the technology speeding up the animation process for video games and movies. 

Entertainment: NFT scavenger hunts - Universal Studio Park will enable visitors to participate in a Halloween-themed scavenger hunt that could result in minting some seven million total NFTs. Seven QR codes will be hidden at each park, and each will mint an NFT when scanned. Visitors who find and scan all seven codes will receive a special NFT, which Moonpay, the crypto payments service partnering with Universal on the project, said will unlock additional perks.

Technology: Magic Leap is using blockchain to create a decentralized platform for the metaverse. The platform, called Helio, is an AR-based web browser which will allow users to create and monetize their own virtual experiences, as well as buy and sell virtual goods and services. And most recently, Magic Leap has been bought by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund for $450 million, whose goal is to advance the metaverse interaction into a more natural extension of how people view and operate the physical world today. Magic Leap is just one of many examples of how Orlando is using blockchain technology to build the metaverse. It is likely that we will see many more applications of blockchain in the metaverse as it continues to develop and grow.

Lessons and Conclusion: A Model Built from Decades of Technology Commitment, Investment, and Partnership

With its deep commitment to short-term and longer-term technology and economic development efforts, Orlando is positioning itself to become a leader in shaping the metaverse. By acknowledging its key strengths and resources, Orlando is building a strong infrastructure to serve as the perfect hub for this exciting and transformative technology platform. The city’s capabilities span a broad range of industries bringing a strong tech and entertainment focus, as well as represent deep expertise and innovation from leading companies and research institutions. With the full support of public/government resources (local, regional, and federal), and private/corporate engagement and partnership, Orlando is building a metaverse ecosystem for itself and shaping a future-focused world. And, it appears that Orlando is already well on its way: estimates indicate that over $1 billion of new jobs associated with the metaverse have been added to the economy of greater Orlando in the past five years.


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