By akademiotoelektronik, 05/04/2023

What world does the metaverse draw for brands and individuals? [Update]

Welcome to the era of NFTs, VR and Web3.

For several months, it has been on everyone's lips in the world's tech sphere. Behind this name with hints of dystopian fiction perhaps hides the future of social relations, or even the next digital revolution. At least "the successor to the mobile Internet", according to Mark Zuckerberg, whose company is already showing its ambitions.

At the moment, they are called Fortnite, Roblox or Decentraland and illustrate one of the possibilities of the metaverse. What does this represent today? What opportunities for tomorrow for brands and users? Will NFT be its future business model? What could it look like in a few years?

For Réclame, Aurore Geraud, researcher at L'Atelier BNP Paribas, the foresight and innovation company specializing in the digital transformation of French banks, Mathieu Lacrouts, CEO and co-founder of Hurrah, a specialized agency in eSports and gaming, and Mathieu Flaig, co-founder of the consulting firm and training in digital transformation SYSK, envisage the virtual universes of tomorrow.

Welcome to virtual worlds

If we stick to the definition given by Wikipedia: " The metaverse (from the English metaverse, contraction of meta universe, is i.e. meta-universe) is a fictional virtual world. The term is regularly used to describe a future version of the Internet where virtual, persistent and shared spaces are accessible via a 3D universe. The free online encyclopedia also specifies that an "alternative definition states that it is all virtual worlds connected to the Internet, which are perceived in augmented reality. A concept described for the first time in the novel The Virtual Samurai (Snow Crash in VO), by Neal Stephenson, released in 92 and which has since inspired many literary and cinematographic works from the Matrix saga, to Avalon, Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline and by Steven Spielberg) via Tron or recently the series Upload (Prime Video) which depicts a metaverse of the beyond.

For Aurore Geraud, researcher at Atelier BNP Paribas, the very dystopian and futuristic sci-fi veneer of the term "metaverse" does not help in its appropriation by the greatest number. " It gives a very futuristic vision of the world and is not very popular for the general public, even though it is not such a complicated concept: they are online platforms where people interact with each other in social way or brands with future customers and users. A space where there is a real exchange of value between users or between the platform and the brands through content, products, or simply discussion. »

If he links the metaverse to the world of video games through his sector of activity and " because it looks like the most tangible thing today ", Mathieu Lacrouts, CEO and co -founder of Hurrah, an agency specializing in e-sport and gaming, describes it as a " virtual living space ". Spaces that will undoubtedly have to extract themselves from this universe with the entry of new actors.

On the other hand, when one is "an old Internet person", as the co-founder of the consulting and training firm in digital transformation, Mathieu Flaig, portrays himself, the metaverse(s) is actually quite an old topic. "It's an artificially generated alternative world to reality in which different actions are allowed, whether superhuman or totally human depending on the platform. »

He thus summons his memories to evoke The Second World, created by Canal + Multimedia in 1997, " the first virtual universe to [s]a knowledge ". A world where the virtual community of players, called " les Bimondiens " evolve in a reconstruction of Paris in 3D through their avatar.

Here is a little journey through time, proposed by Le Monde (the newspaper that one) dated March 2, 1997 which described this " significant innovation ": " We connect to the Second World, using a CD-ROM and the Internet to communicate with people, to approach them more easily than in real life and thus to meet new people, hiding oneself, if one wishes, under borrowed personalities. In the schools of the Second World, classes may take place at fixed times and on given subjects. Conferences too. Contests, games. We can of course organize work meetings and do our shopping there. We will be a full “citizen” with the right to vote, Chamber of Deputies (elected), Constitution, etc. ".

Stopped in 2001, The Second World can be considered as the precursor of another virtual universe which will know its hour of glory five years later, in 2006, Second Life. At that time, brands and political parties jostled to appear in this real "eldorado", recalls Mathieu Flaig. The battle for the 2007 presidential election was also teleported into this universe: Jean-Marie Le Pen, Ségolène Royal, Nicolas Sarkozy, Dominique Voynet and François Bayrou had set up a virtual office there. Popularized in 1992 by Neal Stephenson in his famous book, the term avatar was democratized by Second Life at the same time as virtual universes.

Today, GTA online (an open universe), Minecraft, Roblox or Fortnite are descendants and rely on different uses such as emulation, simulation, construction (a player recreated the entire Earth in life-size in Minecraft and RSF saved hundreds of censored articles), competition (Fortnite and League of Legends), exploration (Pokemon Go) or just chatting (Facebook Horizon and VRChat).

Record audiences

Travis Scott's concert on Fortnite in April 2020 set a record by gathering 12 million simultaneous players. Minecraft remains to this day the best-selling game in history with 238 million copies, followed by Grand Theft Auto V – and its online open universe – with 150 million copies sold. And Mathieu Flaig to list other impressive figures:

– The 2020 virtual Tour de France brought together 50,000 participants of 130 different nationalities;

– Second Life peaked in 2006 with 1 million " residents " on the platform before seeing its number of users dwindle over time (between 500K and 600K followers according to its publisher Linden Lab), internal crises, and especially the arrival of social networks. It was only with the confinement of 2020 that Second Life regained its audience;

If the subject raises the question of transhumanism and the matrix (being connected to something and living a life in a virtual universe), the existence of such projects tends to illustrate the future they aim to shape. "People are more and more comfortable with the integration of their virtual life into their real life, on the other hand, they do not seem totally ready to push the door of these virtual universes which are still mainly occupied by young people. generations, like Facebook at the time", he observes. We bet that with the digital transformation at work in our societies (e-commerce, dematerialization, 5G, etc.), it will only take a few years for our elders and the public as a whole to become familiar with these innovations. Do we talk to them about NFT or do we wait a bit?

The NFT, future economic model of the metaverse ?

From digital art to skins, sneakers and other virtual objects, the NFT (Non Fungible Token) is now inseparable from virtual universes where almost anything can be bought and resold. Most of these platforms have created their own currency: " V-Bucks " in Fortnite, " Robux " on Roblox or even " Linden Dollars " on Second Life. However, while each online community has its currency, it "cannot be exchanged digitally between users, nor exchanged for US dollars, euros and other real or virtual currencies", explained Epic Games, publisher of Fortnite. , at the beginning of the year. And it does not seem inclined to rub shoulders with NFTs, considered a " speculative mess ", according to its co-founder Tim Sweeney.

Yet other metaverses like Decentraland have their own digital token, MANA, which serves as currency and is built on Ethereum. Blockchain-based virtual land is snapping up at a hefty price: the digital real estate investment company Republic Realm, backed by American billionaire Novogratz, paid out $900,000 recently. A real estate price directly indexed to the NFT market boom this year. In April 2021, Atari opened its casino in Decentraland, based on its own Ethereum-compatible token (ATRI).

What world does the metaverse draw- it for brands and individuals? [Update]

Becoming rich in this type of metaverse would then be like being rich in real life. " The NFT is the most tangible way to transfer property titles between people in the future ", believes Mathieu Lacrouts of Hurrah agency. A future that will undoubtedly take a little time, the current metaverses are still very much anchored in the world of video games and work, for the most part, on a freemium model: free with the possibility of carrying out micro-transactions within Game.

"It's still a business model where the money has to come back to the publisher. The more we move away from video games, democratize the metaverse by making it accessible, especially from a mobile, the more we will see a business model where the NFT will be at the heart of the process. At that time, it will be truly crucial in this economy ” Epic Games therefore has no interest in its players being able to trade or resell a digital item in Fortnite via NFT while it receives the profits from all transactions made. in the game. This partly explains the words of its co-founder as well as his "epic" battle with Apple.

Unlike a company like Facebook which may be less interested in micro-transactions and more in what is exchanged in NFT on its platform via the cryptocurrency that the network is trying to implement. "Companies that have their own virtual currency will favor NFTs to circulate it", predicts the CEO of Hurrag Group.

Will future metaverses develop a second-hand market for virtual artifacts? "The logic of collectors already exists in these virtual universes. NFT therefore integrates logically and creates less frustration,” says Mathieu Flaig of SYSK, who sees the idea of ​​a second-hand market developing on certain platforms. However, he believes that a cultural gap will necessarily have to occur on the side of the creators of these virtual goods. With the risk of seeing the appearance, as is already the case on the traditional art market, with collector's editions, in particular NFT, of purely speculative products.

Metavers > metabrands?

All the professionals interviewed are unanimous: metaverses represent real opportunities for brands. Many of them are already present in these universes and are experimenting with new interactions while duplicating the points of contact with the public.

In this respect, the world of luxury and fashion in general is at the forefront and Gucci the leader: Roblox (with the Gucci Garden), the Sims, Tennis Clash, and even recently Fortnite, the Italian house has long understood the interest of flirting with these worlds " parallel " to ours. Not only to diversify their sources of income — a virtual bag has sold more than its physical version — but also to interact with the consumers of tomorrow, who are deemed to be difficult to access.

Especially since these brands are not content with the virtual, they regularly create a bridge between the physical and the metaphysical. As Aurore Geraud of L'Atelier BNP Paribas points out: "With its collection, Balenciaga and Fortnite virtually dress an avatar, but also allow access to the brand's online store to buy these products for real life. The world of luxury also offers branded NFTs or objects in real possession like on Roblox with Gucci. »

During the Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda in Venice, the Italian duo unveiled Collezione Genesi, a collection of nine NFT pieces produced in collaboration with UNXD, a marketplace specializing in luxury and digital culture, including 5 pieces designed for reality with their NFT version. All parts are intended for use in the metaverse.

In the Vans World of Roblox, you can hang out and rollerblade with friends in the skate park, shop or win free items, but also buy a pair of glasses or a hoodie for your avatar or for yourself -even with the virtual currency of the platform.

– event sponsorship.

“The subject here is less the metaverse than the mix between real and virtual and the propensity to live part of real life in a virtual universe, explains Mathieu Flaig. The question for brands is whether they just want to do a PR stunt without impacting sales or if it is a real strategy behind it. You have to be clear about the objectives and the means you want to give yourself. »

The future of interactivity?

In an article in Wired titled 'Metaverse is coming' (less scary than the White Walkers though) Roblox founder David Baszucki explains, "The Metaverse is arguably just as big a shift in communication online than the telephone or the Internet. In the coming decades, its applications will exceed our wildest imaginations. Perhaps the greatest opportunity it presents is to bring people from all walks of life together and foster a civil digital society. In 2021, this new society will begin to emerge for real. »

“Not going there means missing out on one of the marketing mixes of tomorrow,” warns Mathieu Lacrouts. If tomorrow, the entire population uses this type of tool, not having dedicated products or collections in the metaverse and its physical equivalent may be an aberration. You will have to think about selling price, product, distribution and metaverse. »

However, do we want to see metaverses polluted by brands as the Internet is today? Mathieu Flaig concedes that it's complicated: "I know what advertising and marketing have done to the Internet and social networks: if we let everything and anything happen, people will leave. Brands must understand the platform and be in perfect user/player integration, without interruption. The worst that can happen to social gaming platforms is to let brands, because they have money, degrade the environment that makes the richness of the virtual universe. »

"It is the experiential, rather than the flat content that attracts users to these universes, continues Aurore Geraud. It takes real storytelling work, like Louis Vuitton's 'the Game', created in partnership with digital artist Beeple. It is necessary to appropriate the codes of the platform. The main difficulty today is its popularization and democratization, this work must be done. »

The metaverses of turfu

In 2007, when Second Life was THE place to be, Guillaume Champeau, founder of Numerama, now at Qwant, asked himself: " Will this bubble end up burst, or will Second Life end up by force of self-persuasion to create a real universe that goes beyond the borders of marketers? For the moment, few clues suggest a bright future for Second Life. No offense to the media. “Change Second Life by NFT or metaverse and 14 years later, we are more or less at the same point.

For Mathieu Lacrouts, the future of metaverses will depend in particular on the immersion offered by VR headsets: " A niche in the next 5 to 10 years ". On the other hand, the switch between the JV universe and the virtual universe will be the first stone of a real democratization of the metaverses, according to him, bringing with it billions of potential mobile users.

No democratization without true interoperability between platforms. The user will then be the true owner of these digital assets (account, skins, etc.), which he can exchange on another metaverse before reselling on Vinted an object purchased on Roblox. "The metaverse will be agnostic platforms. No matter what game or platform we will be browsing, we will be able to trade and consume in the metaverse as in real life. This universe will be possible when the creators of the platforms have understood that they must leave their purchases to those who acquire them. We try to embrace the circular and responsible economy in the real world, there is no reason that the virtual world does not allow it. The day when this is the case, our parents will also be interested in it," underlines Mathieu Lacrouts.

An interoperability that Aurore Geraud does not see occurring in the next 15 years. Count 30, to hope for an immersive "metaverse application" on which we connect and navigate as needed. "For now, we will have to settle for individual platforms with experiences on them". The road still seems long before reaching a "seamless" immersion.

Thinking about it, the researcher says she fears the entry of the giant Facebook into the metaverse market: "This leads to a rather worrying complexity in the use of data. After the recent global outage lasting several hours, we can ask ourselves: where is our data, what happened? Facebook wants to interconnect its different messengers, but when Facebook goes down, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp also fall. The Interconnection is not that “good”. Do we really want something interconnected? Not sure. A monopoly? Certainly not. »

The researcher at L’Atelier BNP Paribas, on the contrary, sees potential in multiplying the platforms, with the possibility of jumping from one to the other with fluidity. "This is the whole point of the blockchain (on which NFTs work, editor's note), reminds Aurore Geraud, it allows interoperability, is non-monopolistic since it is decentralized: everyone owns their own little bubble, and the system is more secure. »

Then, from McDonald's, Atari, and Tiktok, to Emily Ratajkowski, the world of cinema or that of agencies, there is no shortage of experiences around NFTs, the same goes for gaming platforms. Blockchain technology nevertheless remains closely associated with cryptocurrencies, which is only one application (see the episode of the In Brief mini-series devoted to it on Netflix), which could hinder its adoption: "The blockchain does not not reduce to that. When we have democratized this idea, we will have taken a new step", wants to believe the researcher.

Metaverse: Infinity War

The metaverse battle could be played out between JV development studios, various social platforms and startups specializing in AI and blockchain. An innovation is not really an innovation until it has attracted the covetousness of a GAFA (especially Facebook).

Last July, in an interview with The Verge, Mark Zuckerberg outlined Facebook's ambitions to become "a metaverse company"* [see the update at the end of the article, editor's note]. The metaverse being " the successor to the mobile Internet ". An ambition immediately qualified as an "alarming lack of imagination and a less alarming love for fashionable tech terms" by Wired.

" The GAFA battle has already started with the announcement of Facebook and its metaverse ! The social network comes with many advantages: a staggering budget, an established pool of users, and features similar to what one would expect from a metaverse (social and brand interactions, content consumption, transactions, etc.) ), explains Aurore Geraud. He will nevertheless have to convince that he has changed in terms of ethics (communication on the subject has also begun). And it's off to a bad start for the company, which has been receiving criticism from "whistleblowers", has a recent file against the Wall Street Journal and obviously lawsuits for anti-competitive practices, its difficulties in moderating comments and hate speech, its management of private data and its role in spreading misinformation. »

A situation that is actually quite common to most GAFAs and large tech companies. Currently, however, we are seeing "a change in the minds of users of this type of platform with a desire for greater respect for private data, especially among new generations. »

According to Zuckerberg, Facebook will move from a website accessible via phones and laptops to a next-generation computing platform where the focus is on a user's "presence" (as an avatar ) and accessible by virtual reality via Facebook's Oculus headset, or other Facebook products like Portal.

Facebook's announcement is at least an entry into the market and a bet on the future of these virtual universes. It is clear that it did not raise the crowds and Google does not seem able to think of a major social project outside of YouTube (remember Google Plus). Who can tell us who the leaders of tomorrow will be? GAFAs did not exist at the time of the first web giants of the 2000s - Yahoo, Lycos or AOL - and the "old Internet users" know that nothing is taken for granted in the new technologies market. Who was waiting for Epic Games on Fortnite and could have bet that they would become so powerful and a benchmark (for brands) for virtual reality? " In the medium term, platforms like GAFAM are not necessarily the best placed for that ", believes Mathieu Flaig.

"Today, Facebook is in a bad position, from its desired dismantling to the crisis of advertiser confidence, new platforms are appearing and after more than 10 years of existence, the network is entering a logic of aging. He has the ability to do it, but will people want to do it with him? asks Mathieu Flaig. The metaverse of the social platform still under development, Facebook Horizon, newly baptized Horizon Worlds, "doesn't necessarily make me want to". Especially since you have to have a Facebook account to use the Oculus Rift Quest 2 headsets, which was not the case before.

As for Google, " it is doing well, but is struggling with innovation ". Being big and good in some areas is not the key to being good everywhere. Especially since they crystallize a lot of mistrust. And we will have to count on issues of sovereignty and security: many countries, especially European ones, have already said no to the Cloud Act implemented in 2018 by Donald Trump.

As for Microsoft, its CEO, Satya Nadellay also went from his verse on his desire to create a " corporate metaverse ". That is, " a new layer of the infrastructure stack " where " the digital and physical worlds converge ". An enthusiastic speech from the pundits of Silicon Valley that sounds more like a speech aimed at investors than at future users.

"The GAFAMs are obviously all in the process of positioning themselves on the subject. And other behemoths such as Epic Games or Roblox could very well add to the GAFAM list tomorrow by becoming key figures in the metaverse. In any case, the battle already exists, ”confirms Mathieu Lacrouts of Hurrah Agency.

Always more virtual?

Do we just want, if not need, more virtual in a world already cannibalized by digital? Ironically or not, these last two years have shown us that the virtual can be superimposed on the real and reinvent a thwarted, or even non-existent, sociability. "The challenge is not so much to add extra layers, as to make the sociability offered by video games and virtual worlds accessible to as many people as possible," says Mathieu Lacrouts.

Might as well say it, digital is not going to stop its mad swerve overnight, or even stop altogether. What digital world do we want? For Mathieu Flaig, the challenge is to know "how to integrate it into our lives without ending up with virtual reality glasses or flashing slides displaying 'Buy this!' every two seconds".

A certain pragmatism will have to be put in place to set up safeguards. The co-founder of SYSK points out the drifts that the virtual already generates. Like this surgical trend of wanting to look like your 100% filter-quality digital avatar, Snapchat dysmorphia. What will happen tomorrow in more immersive universes? As its value explodes on the digital art market and collector's editions multiply, will the NFT become the differentiation tool of tomorrow? The one we offer ourselves to shine in a given virtual universe where users own and control their own data.

The Web3 revolution

Does the metaverse represent the apogee of Web3, a worthy successor to Web 1.0 (Internet in its infancy) and Web 2.0 (interactive, social, mobile and dominated by the GAFA)? An open, decentralized and secure Internet since all information is true and authenticated. The various blockchain protocols serving as the driving force behind this movement.

Despite the interest that the metaverse arouses among tech giants, Mathieu Lacrouts doubts the emergence of new players offering more free and decentralized metaverses: "The metaverse is sociable by nature, and its business is played on development of platforms and infrastructures large enough to support millions of users. It is expensive, and only the largest corporations have the funding to date to position themselves on it. The technological innovation to use decentralization and blockchains simply does not exist today for small players to come and encroach on GAFAM's toes on the subject of metaverses. »

However, the millions spent by these heavyweights have never guaranteed the success of a product, service or platform. It is not technology that drives innovation, it is uses.

“There is hope, however: perhaps we could imagine an independent studio launching a metaverse that would become an overnight sensation? There are indeed a handful of development studios that have managed to launch independent video games bringing together millions of players on their servers in a few weeks. The latest? Mediatonic and its Fall Guys which in December 2020 had reached 1.5 million players in 24 hours, before being bought out 3 months later by… Epic Games! ".

To democratize the metaverse as it is imagined and "sold" today, it will be necessary to find the application that will create consensus and lead to mass adoption, that is to say popular and not limited to a community (that of gamers for example). The question of its “ecology” will obviously be a future issue that is already being debated.

For Aurore Geraud: “Web3 will be able to do well, because it brings many reassuring advantages for users:

– better data security thanks to the blockchain and particularly in terms of identification and transactions (we go back to the source if there is a problem) ;

– new types of virtual products, but with real value in the financial markets (NFT) ;

– and therefore new sources of additional income or even new professions that are being created and which do not require a physical presence in an office (designers, influencers, crypto-investors, etc.);

– a principle of interoperability which at this stage is non-existent on the platforms that we currently call metaverse: we imagine the possibility of moving from one decentralized application to another, with the same avatar, the same wallet of fluid way, because based on the same technology;

– and finally, a non-monopoly of these environments which, in fact, are decentralized. »

The whole question will be whether publishers, developers, creators will let go of the grisbi a little for the benefit of the user who, if he does not see a universe that looks like him and in which he can evolve, discuss, share , learning and having fun (work, networking and socializing), will return them sooner or later. The millions made by Epic Games and others prove it.

With Web3, end consumers regain ownership of their own data. Instead of giving up their data and privacy to big tech companies, they are able to control it within a cryptographic, decentralized cloud that rivals Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform. The next digital revolution may not be the one we expect.

Update of November 3, 2021: on October 29, the Facebook group was renamed Meta by the voice of Mark Zuckerberg during a Facebook Connect event.

The CEO of the group also unveiled the contours of the firm's future metaverse. A video and ambitions that made the canvas smile (not to say laugh) to their heart's content in a festival of memes.