Metaverse, the persistent virtual universe - Digital Immersion
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metaverse

Introduction

 

You’ve probably heard or read this word for the first time recently and this is partly thanks to Mark Zuckerberg.
Indeed, the CEO of Facebook announced at the Connect conference on the future of the company a choice that seems strange: Change the name of the company “Facebook” to “Meta”.

 

Facebook devient Meta

The new logo of Mark Zuckerberg’s company

The message here is clear: Mark Zuckerberg’s company is banking heavily on this technology, this service that is the metaverse.

But first of all, what is a metaverse ?

 

Definition

 

The word metaverse is the contraction of meta and universe.
Meta which comes from the Greek is a prefix meaning “beyond”, “more complete”, “transcend”.
The proposition here means: beyond the universe, transcend the universe.

The goal of a metaverse is to propose a persistent virtual environment in which users interact with each other, and with a software, in a shared 3D world.

Before going into the details of what this choice means for Facebook, let’s go back to the origins of the metaverse.

 

The first signs

 

The very first experience that can be defined as a metaverse dates back to 1978 in a MUD game that stands for Multi-User Dungeon: “MUD1” .
This is a far cry from recent metaverses and the idea of them, but it is the very first online multiplayer environment in which several users can move and interact within a shared map. The experience was conducted via a command terminal (telnet), with users sending sentences to the server to give actions, moves or ask questions, and the server responding in sentence form as well.

mud1 premier metaverse

mud1 first metaverse

1978 so no image was present in this very first metaverse.

 

Precision of the concept

 

It is only in 1992 that this concept of metaverse was for the first time described in the form that we currently imagine.
It is Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel: Snow Crash.
In this novel, humans, in the form of avatars, interact with each other and with software that acts autonomously, all in a 3D virtual environment. Neal Stephenson describes his environment as a successor to the Internet based on virtual reality.
This metaverse is based on the principle of real estate managed by a company, real estate that can be bought and improved by the users.
In order to access this environment, a kind of virtual reality heasdset is needed and there are so-called deviant behaviors of users who choose to remain continuously connected to this metaverse.

HTC Vive Flow

HTC Vive Flow

Stephenson’s vision is very close to the current experiential vision.
A metaverse called Active Worlds was created in 1995, directly inspired by this novel, and remains open until 2019.
A subscription was necessary to enjoy the experience, it was a “citizenship price” of $19.95 per year at the release of the game and increased to $69.95 per year in 2002.

Let’s now move on to an application case that gathers all the typical dynamics of a metaverse.

 

The case of Second life

 

Second life was launched in 2003 by Philip Rosedale and remains today a reference of a successful functional metaverse.
This application takes all the codes of the metaverse: a persistent virtual universe accessible to all. You can create an avatar with the image you want and meet any player connected at the same time as you and talk with him.

The map is composed of islands that can be bought or rented thanks to a virtual currency: the Linden Dollar. Linden dollar for Linden Lab, the name of the company behind Second Life.
It is a virtual currency exchangeable in € or $ according to the stock exchange rate in place.

It is a so-called “sandbox” application in which the only limit is the imagination of users.
Concerts, conferences, seminars, exhibitions and weddings have been held within second life.
Some universities like Stanford have even given online courses to their students via Second Life.

This world lives thanks to its users who create content and some have managed to make their work like Anshe Chung, whose real name is Ailin Graef, by selling clothes in Second Life, training and especially real estate. She created a virtual real estate agency which, thanks to its success, was even bought directly by Linden Lab to integrate it natively in second life..

From an initial investment of $9, Anshe Chung became a millionaire in only 2 years in 2006 thanks to this market in a virtual environment.

AnsheChung BusinessWeek second life

Ansche Chung on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine

Second Life had a crazy growth for the time and reached a peak of one million users with constantly 40,000 users connected simultaneously.

Some companies also decided to be present in this metaverse, seeing a market opportunity.
We find the Caisse d’épargne, a french bank, since 2007 which presents its services, Dell where it was possible to order in Second Life a computer and receive it in real or Toyota by creating virtual doubles of their vehicles to sell them.
French presidential candidates were also present in Second Life to promote their campaigns like Nicolas Sarkozy or Ségolène Royale.

At the beginning of 2020 with the health crisis, the game has also seen its figures of new registrants increase by 133% in France in the week of 8 to 15 March 2020.

 

Pop culture presence :

 

Ready Player one

 

Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel adapted to film by Steven Spielberg in 2018 shows a pervasive and completely realistic metaverse in a world affected by poverty and climate crises in 2045.

Ready Player One Metaverse

Equipment to access the Ready Player One metaverse

In this work, the metaverse called Oasis is pushed to its limits:
– accessible via a futuristic virtual reality headset
– connected gloves to retranscribe hand and finger movements
– reproduction of the senses thanks to haptic feedback suits that allow you to feel in real what your avatar feels.
This film shows a fantasized vision of what technology could one day offer and how it is used by some people to escape from a real world that seems unbearable and insipid.

Free Guy

 

Free Guy Metaverse

The metaverse in Free Guy

More recently, the movie Free Guy released in 2021 presents a metaverse and takes the step of showing notably the software part with the non-human avatars, managed by artificial intelligences and how they come to enrich an experience and succeed in making it even more realistic.

 

Battle of the giants :

 

With the health crisis, online behaviors have multiplied as well as platforms wanting to dematerialize the events:
– concerts
– conferences
– courses
– exhibitions
– telecommuting meetings

This event has accelerated the transition of millions of users to new digital behaviors and confirms the willingness of several large players to have their metaverse to dominate the market.

 

Fortnite

 

This famous video game launched in 2017 by the company Epic Games could become the dominant metaverse on the market thanks to several undeniable advantages including the size of its community. We are talking about 350 million player accounts with a maximum of 15 million connected simultaneously. This strength allows Fortnite to integrate into their game many intellectual properties from various environments. Thus, we find the cast of Marvel or Star Wars movies in Fortnite, John Wick the famous character played by Keanue Reeves, characters from other video games such as Kratos from God of War which is historically a Sony exclusive or, on the Microsoft side, Spartan 117, hero of the Halo saga.
Sports are also part of the environments integrated into Fortnite with, among others, the addition of Neymar and Lebron James.

In addition to all these built-in user playable characters, what makes Fortnite a strong contender in the metaverse race is its ability to create events within its environment.
These include official movie trailer releases such as Tenet from Christopher Nolan.
But the ultimate in this type of event is the creation of exclusive concerts.
The most concrete example is the concert of Travis Scott which gathers in April 2020, on 5 concerts, 27.7 million connected users. This has increased the sales of his album by 80% the following week.
The experience is unique and revolutionary. Each user is propelled into a dedicated and exclusive environment of nearly 10 minutes. Ariana Grande was also entitled to its exclusive fortnite concert in August 2021.

Ariana Grande dans Fortnite

Ariana Grande in Fortnite

These two successes have allowed Fortnite to launch a series of concerts with all kinds of artists less internationnaly known such as Aya Nakamura for french speaking people who will also be entitled to his concert event.

Alongside these stars and characters, brands have directly integrated their products into Fortnite. Balenciaga in September 2021 integrates the game with the launch of a collection that players can buy if they want to wear these clothes in the game.

La marque Balenciaga dans Fortnite

The Balenciaga brand in Fortnite

4 outfits and several accessories are available in the game as well as an entire collection available in Balenciaga’s physical stores and on their website.

 

Facebook

 

We talked about it at the beginning of the article, facebook is interested and involved in the creation of its metaverse and is already present on this market.
In fact, they launched Facebook Horizon in 2019, a VR metaverse that can be used on computers and standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest 2.
Within this 6-degree-of-freedom VR application, interesting features make the user experience more immersive.
– Labial synchronization of the avatar according to the user’s words captured by the microphone
– Hand tracking on compatible hardware such as the Quest 2 which frees the user from joysticks.

 

Le metaverse Facebook Horizon

The metaverse Facebook Horizon

 

At the same time, Mark Zuckerberg’s company continues their R&D on new equipment and plans for the future.
From next year, a new headset presented under the name of Project Cambria should see the light of day and is described as a high-end product in which eye tracking technologies would logically be integrated.

Gloves with haptic feedback like those we can see in Ready Player One are also in development and would allow us to feel the virtual objects with simulated pressure

To further support this new direction for the company Meta, its series of headset named Oculus is renamed Meta. Thus, the Oculus Quest 2 becomes the Meta Quest 2

 

Market opportunities

 

The market opportunities are multiple and touch all sectors.
It is very likely that we will live again an era like Second Life where brands and personalities want to be represented in these metaverses but taking advantage of two things.
On the one hand, new technologies are much more permissive and immersive.
And on the other hand a much more mature reflection on how to integrate into these environments.
Fortnite with Ariana Grande or Balenciaga is a perfect example.

The market is also benefiting from an additional craze caused by blockchain technologies. Indeed, some projects such as Decentraland offer a decentralized environment that belongs to its users.
Indeed, as a project governed by a decentralized autonomous organization, it is the users who decide by voting how the metaverse evolves.
It is also a very interesting marketplace for brands and artists with the possibility to put digital products on sale as NFT (Non Fungible Token).

 

Le metaverse Decentraland

A projection of the metaverse Decentraland

 

Brief note on this subject: An NFT allows via blockchain technology to authenticate a virtual product. Thus, it becomes “official”, non-replicable, can have a base value and see it evolve according to supply and demand.

The Habbo game, which is also a metaverse, was the first major game to offer a collection of virtual items in the form of NFTs. All of the 10,000 nft put on sale in September 2021 were sold out in just 26 hours.

 

To conclude

 

Users are more and more inclined to be virtually present online via an avatar and Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life, was already talking about this in 2008.
At a Ted X conference, a person in the audience asked him his opinion on the possibility that people would prefer their virtual double to themselves, he replied:
“It’s a big change, but it’s inevitable.
So, no amount of backtracking, no amount of intention, no amount of political action is going to stop this technological evolution from connecting us, there’s definitely going to be a wave of change and that change is going to be enormously disruptive.”

If you want to discuss with us about a project related to these metaverse topics, NFT or an immersive project in general, feel free to contact us directly by email: info@digitalimmersion.com