Metaverse: everything you need to know about this virtual universe that attracts tech giants

For several months, the “metaverse” has been at the heart of discussions in the tech world. Let’s decipher what could well represent the Internet of tomorrow.

What is the metaverse?

The metaverse is an experience in a three-dimensional virtual environment, where it is possible to evolve through an avatar or a hologram. This alternative reality allows you to chat with other people, but also to learn, work or play. The metaverse uses augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create a collective universe. Thanks to these cutting-edge techniques, the metaverse uses verbal and non-verbal communication rules 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 “The Virtual Samurai”, written by Neal Stephenson. The world described in the novel is a science-fictional one, which could be close to our future reality.

The metaverse, a source of inspiration in the cultural world

Books, films, video games… The virtual world inspires many cultural sectors. In the cinema, the dystopian world of The Matrix comes to mind, as does Steven Spielberg’s film Ready Player One.

At the same time, the video game giants are betting big on this parallel world. During the health crisis, games such as Fortnite, Roblox and Animal Crossing – all of which offer metaverses – saw their player numbers explode. For example, in May 2020, Fortnite had 350 million registered players. Even stronger, the Battle Royale mode had accumulated 3.2 billion hours of play in April 2020, when it was first confined.

When the metaverse becomes a lucrative space

A new community space means new business opportunities for brands looking for visibility. While it seems that we are witnessing the beginnings of the metaverse, the most creative companies have already seized 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 organisation and broadcast of a live concert in the video game. In total, more than 12 million players attended the live event when it was first broadcast on 23 April 2020.
Roblox and Gucci, with the creation of a limited-time virtual exhibition space alongside the physical Gucci Garden event. The luxury brand, which decided to market its products in virtual format for the occasion, managed to sell a virtual bag for more ($4,115) than its physical version (sold in shops for $3,500).
The creation of virtual influencers on social networks, such as Lil Miquela, a virtual personality with 3 million followers on Instagram. Brands such as Calvin Klein, Samsung, Prada and Spotify have already collaborated with the influencer. According to OnBuy, a sponsored post on Lil Miquela’s profile would cost £6,550.

Of course, the metaverse is easily linked to NFTs, which provide access to unique digital property titles. For example, the decentralised NFT fund BlackPool acquired the land where the Eiffel Tower is built in the Over The Reality metaverse for $105,000.

The metaverse therefore offers multiple opportunities for brands. However, it is important to distinguish between the consumer and the avatar he or she has created. Indeed, users imagine a character in their image, while modifying the details of their choices. Marketing actions are therefore aimed at fictitious representations, and it becomes difficult to envisage personae that are as close as possible to the reality of the final consumers. Cathy Hackl, Metaverse strategist and lecturer specialising in augmented reality, even talks about a new customer relationship: the 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 embedded in society. It would seem that the various confinements have accelerated the process of digitalisation in everyday life (virtual aperitifs and games between friends, live concerts on social networks, series to be watched simultaneously etc.), but also in companies.

In 2014, for example, Facebook bought the virtual reality company Oculus VR for $2 billion (a profitable investment when you consider that Mark Zuckerberg paid $14 billion for WhatsApp). Then, in 2020, Facebook launched Horizon, a virtual reality and multiplayer social network running on the Oculus VR headset. After entertainment, Facebook 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.