A European Union plan to throw a virtual "party" in the metaverse to engage young people in its policies flopped spectacularly after only six people turned up.
The EU Commission’s foreign aid department splashed £332,000 to create the metaverse on which people could log in to a virtual concert to meet people and learn about the bloc.
The event, with its own virtual DJs playing music on repeat, was supposed to be so digitally enticing to young people that once they were there the EU would be able to educate them about its development policy.
But a correspondent for Devex, an international development website, exposed the disappointing turnout.
“I’m here at the 'gala' concert in the EU foreign aid department’s metaverse. After initial bemused chats with the roughly five other humans who showed up, I am alone," Vince Chadwick posted online.
The warning signs, however, were there. Only 44 people had "liked" the online promotional video which featured futuristic avatars bopping along to pulsating house music. The metaverse is a new social media platform of online meeting rooms from the company that runs Facebook.
Event targeted at young people who are 'neutral' about the EU
The event’s target audience, according to the European Commission, was 18-35 year olds “who identify as neutral about the EU and are not particularly engaged in political issues”.
Brussels unveiled the metaverse back in mid-October but it struggled to gain support from even those working in the EU department which created it.
Devex reports that one source from within the European Commission called the special metaverse, “digital garbage.”
And the fiasco has drawn scorn from a number of EU watchers.
“It’s a travesty that an EU institution feels the need to throw hundreds of thousands of euros behind this nonsense,” Jacob Kirkegaard of the German Marshall Fund told The Telegraph.
“Anyone with a brain knows the metaverse is a dud.”
Responding to the criticism, an EU spokesperson told The Telegraph: "The metaverse is not meeting our expectations. In its current state, its user interface is not user-friendly and appealing enough."
"It is still performing better than our static, traditional websites and of course we will learn from the shortcomings," they added.
This metaverse was specially set up as part of something called the “Global Gateway” - a £257 billion public and private investment plan proposed at the end of 2021 to try to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Beijing has spent the past decade flooding Africa, Asia and Latin America with money for infrastructure projects to increase its economic and political power in the countries which accept it.
The EU’s "Global Gateway" offering to those regions is heavily reliant on the European Commission’s projections that it can also “mobilise” European investors to back the plan with their own cash.
The question is whether it is all simply an EU rebranding exercise.
Maria Jose Romero, policy and advocacy manager at the European Network on Debt and Development, said: "We already suspect that the Global Gateway is an attempt to repurpose development funds to suit EU interests. This metaverse is an example of large sums of money that should have been solely invested in ending poverty and inequalities in poor countries."
The launch party is over but the special EU metaverse remains live online with one or two people milling around on it at any given moment.