Recalling a sci-fi landscape or a matrix universe in which virtual has become reality, the metaverse is gradually becoming a hunting ground for multinationals, especially GAFAMs. Facebook group with its strategic change of identity in “Meta” coupled with a titanic human and financial investment (by causes of 10,000 people to employ and $10 billion invested), has revived an abandoned concept of the 90s .

Metaverse – Definition

From the contraction of the English wording “meta universe”, the metaverse refers to the transformation, the mutation of current web spaces in virtual 3D landscapes, easily accessible and sharable. It is an online world, deeply embedded in virtual, with the will of being more immersive.

According to Andrew Bosworth, in charge of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality department in Meta Group, metaverse is a set of virtual spaces which provide opportunities for creation and exploration along with people who are physically far apart from each other.

For Mathieu Flaig, digital strategy advisor, metaverse will take the form of an “audience crossroads”, where people from all over the world can virtually meet instantly. Each individual can be an actor in this online universe, live there in an avatar or a hologram form.

Meta, which has made the term “metaverse” popular again, aims at creating more social interactions without needing to travel. Meetings, training courses and more can be organized virtually and every avatar will be able to participate. Epic Games through its flagship online game Fortnite is already leading the way into the metaverse with virtual celebrity gigs. We can mention for instance example Travis Scott’s concert which welcomed no less than 12 million spectators in April 2020.

Metaverse – Background

The concept of metaverse is born through Snow Crash, a Neal Stephenson’s book in which metaverse tends to describe an almost indefinable reality, one inscribed in a virtual and almost dreamlike universe. The ancient Greek particle “meta” in the term metaverse refers to transcending what is commonly perceived, what goes beyond things. This concept introduced by Neal Stephenson aims at speaking of a virtual world that exists outside the real world, a type of parallel universe which also represents another facet of the world in which we all interact.

Neal Stephenson goes further in his description of the metaverse. He conceives it as a universe in its own, based on computer laws and governed by economic principles, comprising transactions and monetary exchanges between virtual protagonists and/or legal persons. Those protagonists are each represented by a virtual avatar which will facilitate interactions, the sharing of emotions, etc. The individuals are all visible here and are no longer reduced to a single number as on collaborative platforms we now have on the web.

Using or accessing Metaverse

The Meta group’s metaverse, according to Mark Zuckerberg’s vision, is accessible using a virtual reality headset, able to fully transport its user to this virtual world. This is made possible by the ability of the VR headset to completely cover the eyes of its user. Meta group proposes its VR headset, the Oculus Quest 2 for this purpose, which is equipped with remote controls for each hand allowing those who controls it to move their avatar around the metaverse. The group’s future ambition is to equip metaverse users with augmented reality glasses, compatible with the metaverse, glasses which are more ergonomic and more practical and will clearly make a better bridge between the virtual and the real world. The question is who will be the first to commercialize and make accessible the use of augmented reality glasses. Microsoft with its Hololens is getting ahead but not quite there yet, while Apple is still in the thinking phase.

Meta to make itself even more believable, is in the process of designing a pair of electronic gloves, connected to the metaverse and capable of making feel the seized objects in this virtual dimension. The point is to simulate as closely as possible to reality, the haptic sensations for a better immersion in the metaverse. This remains a colossal technological challenge for Meta, which faces many difficulties in the design of this type of tool: The glove must be able to detect the texture of the affected object, as well as the user will to grab the object, without taking into consideration lots more complex parameters, which will result in a far later release of this tool.

How it works

Metaverse aims to be a world that brings together as many services as possible. It aims to be a place of sharing in which everyone offers to share what they want and have. Developers have the ability to enrich the future of metaverse through an interactive journey, for example, by bringing together virtual shops, culture or entertainment spots, tourism, etc.

Since everything virtually takes place in the metaverse, a cryptocurrency payment method will be set out. Meta recently invested $10 billion to bring this ambition to life. Many large groups are already waging war around the metaverse and investing huge sums of money in the hope of not missing this opportunity. Epic Games, a Roblox’s first competitor, has forecasted a billion dollars this year for its metaverse success, while Microsoft imagines metaverse more within a collaborative framework, a “Corporate metaverse”type.

The forerunners

World of Warcraft-style online multiplayer games, or simulating social life games like The Sims, or even GTA-style open worlds, are all certainly grounds of a metaverse-type universe. But what comes closest to the modern design of the metaverse is without a doubt the online 3D game Second Life, released in 2003. At its peak, Second Life virtual world had more than a million users simultaneously connected. There were also conferences, political events and avatars would meet in existing real life stores but virtually present on Second Life. One of the reasons this metaverse was ahead of its time and did not last is the technological potency at the time. Loading times grew longer with each new connection and it quickly became difficult to appreciate this virtual world. 5G seems to be reaching out to the metaverse, whose full potential will surely be exploited.

Metaverse and Branding

Brands, always on the lookout for ways to get more audiences, are rushing into metaverse, which represents current and future profit potential. With Fortnite for instance, it is possible to organize events (Travis Scott concert), to sponsor items or skins (accessories, etc.). It is also a way for brands to create NFTs and sell them to their users, who will have, as a matter of fact, exclusivity on the purchased goods. Metaverse will directly connect brands to their prospects. Interaction being regular in this virtual space, each brand will have space to connect with its prospects, to gain leads, to create commitment and to build brand loyalty, by highlighting its brand image or what it has to offer. It will also be relevant to adapt each speech to this context, deeply rooted in the virtual, in order to better grasp your target.

Gucci brand has been fast to understand metaverse potential and has already got into those universes, especially through Fortnite or Roblox game. Balenciaga brand has not been hesitant either and is part of this metaverse race, by marketing skins on Fortnite. The point here is to have them worn by players who in return will make product placement by dressing their avatar in branded products. The real advantage is that these items are a bridge between virtual and real world in a way that a Fortnite player whose avatar wears Gucci can, in real life, afford these clothes or accessories, via the online brand store.

Metaverse potential for brands is enormous and is growing steadily. Soon it will be a matter of integrating NFT marketplaces into metaverses. Although there are platforms dedicated to buy and even sell NFTs, metaverse is the only 3D universe allowing a true NFTs growth, fostering as a result the need to produce 3D NFTs, in order to anticipate the future.