On 11 July 2023, the EU Commission adopted a new strategy on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds, in order “to steer the next technological transition and ensure an open, secure, trustworthy, fair and inclusive digital environment for EU citizens, businesses and public administrations.” In its “Communication on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds” the Commission states that “the EU should act now to become a major player in nascent markets related to Web 4.0 and virtual worlds”, and invites the European Parliament and the Council to endorse the strategy and work together on its implementation.
After having highlighted digitalisation as one of the key drivers of the EU economy and Web 4.0 as a major technological transition in its outlook of the EU economy beyond 2030 in March this year, this is the EU’s next step in addressing technological developments.
The EU strategy on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds is based on four pillars:
- Empowering people and reinforcing skills to foster awareness, access to trustworthy information and build a talent pool of virtual world specialists.
- Business: supporting a European Web 4.0 industrial ecosystem to scale up excellence and address fragmentation.
- Government: supporting societal progress and virtual public services to leverage the opportunities virtual worlds can offer.
- Shaping global standards for open and interoperable virtual worlds and Web 4.0, ensuring that they will not be dominated by a few big players.
The strategy builds on the Commission’s work on virtual worlds as well as on consultations with citizens, academia and businesses. In April 2023, the Commission hosted the closing session of the European Citizens' Panel on Virtual Worlds in Brussels, which allowed citizens to make recommendations on the values and actions needed to create attractive and fair European virtual worlds. The Citizens’ Panel, which brought together 140 randomly selected citizens from 27 member states (of which one third was between 16 and 25 years old), made 23 recommendations based on 8 principles to ensure that virtual worlds in the EU are fair and relevant to citizens (for more details see the European Citizens’ Panel’s factsheet here):
- Freedom of choice
- Human centred
- Education & literacy
- Safety & security
What are the actions proposed by the EU Commission?
The EU Commission proposes 10 actions (see “Communication on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds”, pages 8, 12, 13 & 15):
- Action 1: Support skills development for virtual world technologies (Digital Europe programme), including for women and girls, and for creators of digital content and audiovisual professionals (Creative Europe programme) ; and promote the EU as an attractive destination for highly skilled specialists from non-EU countries [Q3 2023].
- Action 2: Promote the guiding principles for virtual worlds put forward by the Citizens’ Panel and support research on the impact of virtual worlds on people’s health and well-being through Horizon Europe, including specific research on the impact on children’s health and well-being [Q4 2023].
- Action 3: Develop a Virtual worlds Toolbox for the general public, as well as resources on virtual environments for young people under the Better Internet for Kids strategy [Q1 2024].
- Action 4: Explore, in consultation with Member States, the launch of a new European Partnership to develop an industrial and technological roadmap [Q1 2024].
- Action 5: Support EU Cultural and Creative Industries to test new business models in virtual worlds through Creative Europe [Q1 2024]; foster matchmaking between virtual world developers and industrial users [Q1 2024]; and leverage the European Digital Innovation Hubs and Enterprise Europe Network to support virtual worlds hubs and to promote the uptake of new virtual world solutions [Q4 2023].
- Action 6: Support the development of standards for open and interoperable virtual worlds [Q4 2023]; explore the potential of new digital cooperation models [Q4 2023]; develop a toolbox to fight counterfeiting including in virtual worlds [Q4 2023]; and promote the use of virtual worlds regulatory sandboxes by Member States [Q2 2024].
- Action 7: Support public flagships for smart and sustainable cities and communities, CitiVerse, and for the development of the European Virtual Human Twin under the Horizon Europe and Digital Europe programmes [Q4 2023]; and encourage European Digital Infrastructure Consortia (EDICs) in areas relevant to virtual worlds and Web 4.0 [Q4 2023].
- Action 8: Bring Member States together to share common approaches and best practices on the development of virtual worlds and the wider technological transition to Web 4.0 through an expert group [Q4 2023].
- Action 9: Engage with existing multi-stakeholder internet governance institutions to design open and interoperable virtual worlds [from Q4 2023]; and support the creation of a technical multi-stakeholder forum to address certain aspects of virtual worlds and Web 4.0 beyond the remit of existing internet governance bodies [from Q1 2024].
- Action 10: Launch a structured approach to monitor the development of virtual worlds across all industrial ecosystems together with Member States and stakeholders [from Q1 2024].
What does this mean?
As the Commission estimates the global virtual worlds market size to grow from €27 billion in 2022 to over €800 billion by 2030 (see Factsheet “Virtual Worlds and Web 4.0”), the EU is taking the right step to avoid being overtaken by developments. However, it has set its sights very high - it remains to be seen whether it can fulfil the hopes raised by its strategy. We will monitor the developments and keep you informed here.