Parallel virtual universes: will metaverses keep their promises?

The term “metaverse” (deflation of the “meta universe” in English, in French “metavers”) has been around for a few months thanks to the name change of the Facebook company, which was renamed Meta, on October 18, 2021.

Clarification: The publicly listed company founded by Mark Zuckerberg, like Google that rebranded itself to Alphabet, wanted to make an impression at a time when it was going through the structural difficulties associated with the successive takeover of the social networks WhatsApp, Instagram and virtual reality glasses Occulus VR – difficulties that he exposed It is a former employee. It was a good excuse to reassure the markets about diversifying their areas of development, beyond just the realm of social networks.

The time of the pandemic seemed well chosen by downplaying video conferencing and virtual events, but also online co-op gaming revived with periods of confinement. Mark Zuckerberg spoke at length about a differentiation strategy » By presenting his vision for the “metaverse”, and promising to create 10,000 jobs in the European Union…

Originally a video game

The concept of a parallel virtual universe has been around for decades in science fiction (see the novel Simulacron 3 by American Daniel Galloway (1964), brought to the screen by Fassbinder in 1973). term “meta-universe”, Become ‘Metaverse’ Attributed to the American Neil Stephenson, published in 1992 snow crash (Translated by virtual samurai ), featuring a millionaire creating a parallel world where you challenge yourself to sword duels to win over your opponents.

His attempt to turn it into a video game failed in 2010, backed by billionaire Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and a donation of $500,000. Let’s mention another failure: Second Life, which in 2003 enabled a startup company, LindenLab, to raise millions of dollars in six months, by selling fictitious meeting spaces to 3.5 million individuals or ethics (including IBM, Cisco, etc.) . It’s all gone.

Parallel world, virtual or cyberspace

The meta-universe is a parallel virtual world, sometimes accessible by a 3D vision helmet, augmented reality goggles, or a biologically integrated human/machine interface. In such a “cyberspace”, avatars or holograms interacting in a virtual environment with various imaginary objects coexist.

Since 2017, the game has once again been the first to smile at The Sandbox, co-founded by Sebastien Bourget, Telecom SudParis engineer, publisher of games on smartphones. More recently based in Hong Kong, it became a unicorn, having raised $93 million in November 2021, and therefore a valuation of $2 billion.

Its success is due to the implementation of the blockchain, in the multi-platform game CryptoKitties, which allows the purchase of products using non-exchangeable tokens called NFTs (Non-fungible tokens).

Innovators of 3D virtual games in “Blockchain Games” Thus it can be compensated. They have their “map” or virtual land (virtual land) and their currency. This is the world of “play to earn”.

This “open source” platform is open, unlike the so-called “proprietary” platform from Facebook (Horizon Worlds), Microsoft or Roblox – and it bypasses the GooglePlay and AppStore download platforms.

The meta world, the “cyberspace” where avatars or holograms interacting in a virtual environment coexist with various imaginary objects … (c) AdobeStock

new economy

Thus a new digital economy is created with buyers of “assets” (assets) making it possible to develop gaming experiences and invest them in the markets.

For this, you have to create and draw descriptive universes – cities – buildings, museums, art galleries, etc. – The rules of the game, and thus captivating content, with fictional characters, scenarios… Different talents are thus attracted: architects, designers, illustrators, developers, planners, screenwriters… Their success is measured by the audience they generate.

Two goals: marketing and training

On the marketing side, big brands see it as a channel to get closer to customers and pursue consumers’ ‘experience’, building loyalty by rewarding them and supporting communities. Let us mention Galeries Lafayette which, at the end of 2021, with 50 brands, invited customers to play street performers, by indulging in a pop-up shop. Or luxury brand Gucci, which organized and then sold a Dionysus collector’s handbag for more than $4,000.

Another useful case: Nike has acquired RTFKT, a creator of virtual clothing and 3D avatars. Or even Samsung that asked a TikTok star to launch its Galaxy S22 smartphone to animate a world focused on his character Zero.

In the world of training and education, it is also reasonable to imagine tangible benefits, with or without augmented reality. Learning by playing has been proven effective for a long time!

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