all about this virtual universe that attracts tech giants

What is the metaverse?

The metaverse (or metaverse in French) refers to an experience in a three-dimensional virtual environment, where it is possible to evolve through an avatar or a hologram. This alternative reality makes it possible to discuss with other people but also to learn, to work or to play. The metaverse uses augmented reality (AR) as well as virtual reality (VR) to create a collective universe. Thanks to these advanced techniques, the metaverse uses the rules of verbal and non-verbal communication similar to reality: gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice…

From a historical point of view, the term “metaverse” appeared for the first time in 1992, in the novel “virtual samurai”, written by Neal Stephenson. The world described there plunges us into a science fiction universe, which could be closer to our future reality.

The metaverse, a source of inspiration in the cultural world

Books, films, video games… The virtual world inspires in multiple cultural sectors. On the cinema side, one thinks of course of the dystopian universe of Matrix or, more recently, of Steven Spielberg’s film Ready Player One.

At the same time, it is the video game giants who are betting big on this parallel world. During the confinements linked to the health crisis, games such as Fortnite, Roblox or Animal Crossing – which all offer metaverses – saw their number of players explode. For example, in May 2020, Fortnite had 350 million registered players. Even stronger, the Battle Royale mode accumulated 3.2 billion hours of play in April 2020, during the first confinement.

When the metaverse becomes a lucrative space

Who says new community space, says new business opportunities for brands looking for visibility. If it seems that we are witnessing the beginnings of the metaverse, the most creative companies have already been able to seize the opportunities it offers: virtual events, partnerships, product placements, virtual shopping… the options are endless. Here are some examples of marketing and commercial actions carried out by brands:

  • Fortnite and Travis Scott, with the organization and broadcast of a live concert in the video game. In total, more than 12 million players attended the live event, when it first aired on April 23, 2020.

  • Roblox and Gucci, with the creation of a limited-time virtual exhibition space alongside the physical Gucci Garden event. The luxury brand, which had decided to market its products in virtual format for the occasion, managed the feat of selling a virtual bag more expensive ($4,115) than its physical version (sold in stores at $3,500) .
  • The creation of virtual influencers on social networks, such as Lil Miquela, a virtual personality who has 3 million subscribers on Instagram. Brands like Calvin Klein, Samsung, Prada and even Spotify have already collaborated with the influencer. According to OnBuy, a sponsored post posted on Lil Miquela’s profile would cost £6,550.

Of course, the connection is easy between the metaverse and the NFTs, which allow access to unique digital titles of ownership. For example, the decentralized fund dedicated to NFTs BlackPool acquired the land where the Eiffel Tower is built in the metaverse Over The Reality, for $105,000.

The metaverse therefore offers multiple opportunities for brands. On the other hand, it is important to make a distinction between the consumer and the avatar he has created for himself. Indeed, users imagine a character in their effigy, while modifying the details of their choices. Marketing actions are therefore aimed at fictitious representations, and it becomes difficult to envision personae that are as close as possible to the reality of end consumers. Cathy Hackl, Metaverse strategist and lecturer specializing in augmented reality, even talks about a new customer relationship: Direct-to-Avatar (D2A).

Can the metaverse change the rules of our society?

In addition to the world of video games, the metaverse seems to be deeply rooted in society. It would seem that the various confinements have accelerated the process of digitization in everyday life (aperitifs and virtual games with friends, live concert on social networks, series to watch simultaneously, etc.), but also in companies.

Thus, in 2014, Facebook bought the company specializing in virtual reality Oculus VR for 2 billion dollars (a profitable investment when we know that Mark Zuckerberg had paid 14 billion dollars for WhatsApp). Then, in 2020, Facebook launched Horizon, a virtual reality and multiplayer social network powered by the Oculus VR headset. After entertainment, the Facebook group is now tackling the world of work with the Oculus Horizon Workrooms project, which proposes to use a metaverse to allow employees to meet virtually in a meeting room, as shown in the video below. below.

To go even further, Mark Zuckerberg now employs 10,000 people to work on virtual reality and augmented reality. In an interview conducted by The Verge, the entrepreneur said that he views the metaverse as “an Internet incarnate, where instead of just looking at the content, you are in it”. The race to conquer the metaverse is therefore launched, and Facebook has the attention to arrive first:

I think over the next 5 years, in the next chapter of our business, we will transition from people seeing us primarily as a social media company to being a metaverse company,” said Mark Zuckerberg.

On September 27, Facebook also announced a $50 million investment to ensure the metaverse is built responsibly, in partnership with global experts, consumer associations and policy makers.

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