Numerous companies and organizations are working to make the metaverse the next iteration of the internet, a place to interact with others digitally, explore new worlds, play some games, and/or hang out with friends. Some are already projecting that it will be extremely lucrative, estimating a market opportunity approaching $800 billion by 2024 (the 2020 market was estimated at $500 billion). 

Several technology companies are already fighting to be king of the virtual hill, and two of them -- Nvidia (NVDA -2.68%) and Apple (AAPL 0.86%) -- are likely to have an outsized influence on the metaverse market, whatever it ends up being. Here's why playing the long game with these metaverse stocks could be a smart move.

Two people wearing virtual reality headsets.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Nvidia: Powering the metaverse

Close your eyes for a moment and picture what you think the metaverse will look like. Are there hyper-realistic avatars walking around in an ever-changing digital realm? Nearly unending virtual worlds you can explore? Nvidia is imagining the metaverse too, but when its executives close their eyes they picture huge actual data centers filled with computing towers of hard drives that are all equipped with Nvidia high-end graphics cards.

Like the internet, the metaverse is going to require a lot of physical hardware to create a virtual environment, and Nvidia's graphics processing units (GPUs) are quickly becoming the go-to choice for doing so. 

Consider that Meta Platforms announced early this year that it's using 16,000 Nvidia GPUs to power its Research SuperCluster supercomputer, which Meta says will "pave the way" for future technologies including the metaverse. 

And it's not just Meta that Nvidia's future GPU sales will likely benefit from. As other companies move further into the metaverse, demand for graphics processors will continue to grow and will add to Nvidia's current success in the data center market.  

The metaverse will create an estimated $400 billion market for hardware companies like Nvidia by 2024, and with the company already supplying GPUs for early metaverse builders, it's likely the company will keep tapping into this huge hardware market as it grows. 

2. Apple: A potentially massive metaverse hardware play

The metaverse is all about users being immersed in a digital world around them, and there are strong indications that Apple wants to be one of the companies helping people make the jump from the physical world to virtual worlds.

Apple has been working on a mixed-reality headset -- which could be a combination of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) -- that could debut soon. The company reportedly showed its board members a new headset just a few months ago, and Bloomberg has reported that Apple could start selling the device some time next year.

Why would Apple want to jump into the metaverse? Because there's huge potential in the headset market. Some analysts estimate that Apple could sell its headset for a premium price of up to $2,000 (with lower-priced options coming later), and that the device could generate $18 billion in sales just five years after its launch.

Apple, of course, doesn't have a headset on the market just yet. But Apple CEO Tim Cook has been very vocal about the company's interest in virtual reality worlds

"I couldn't be more excited about the opportunities we've seen in this space. And sort of stay tuned and you'll see what we have to offer," Cook said back in June. 

And at least one metaverse competitor is keeping a close eye on Apple's latest moves. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently told his employees that his company and Apple are in a "very deep, philosophical competition" to build the metaverse. Zuckerberg thinks the stakes are very high, with the winner determining "what direction the internet should go in." 

Whether Zuck is right or not, Apple's opportunity in the metaverse is clear. Global VR headset sales are expected to ramp up over the next few years and reach 40 million shipments by 2026, up from just 14 million this year, according to data from IDC. And with Apple one of the best developers of high-end tech, the company's upcoming headset could be one of Apple's most significant new devices in years.

Play the long game

Building out the metaverse the way that many companies now envision it will take time. So if you're buying Apple or Nvidia stock right now as a metaverse play, just remember to play the long game with your investment -- think several years versus quarters. 

Tech stocks are in the midst of some broader market volatility, so taking a buy-and-hold approach to these companies is more important than ever.