Warning! Since January, property prices have fallen by 85 per cent. Buyers who – like rapper Snoop Dog – rushed to snap up high-profile properties yesterday have surged. The crisis associated with fluctuations in cryptocurrencies does not affect New York, Paris or any other city, but a virtual space, The sandbox.
This online world, where brands and celebrities flock, is part of a new universe in the making. The Metaverse promises to add a third dimension to the Internet. Some see it as a dystopian nightmare. Others envision a future entrepreneurial paradise, at the source of a new industrial revolution. Mark Zuckerberg is among the most enthusiastic: Facebook, the company he runs, began its transformation into Meta last year and sees itself as a leader in the sector. At this point, however, the economy of this “meta-universe” under construction is more of a promise than a reality.
The outline of a new virtual economy
The Meta/Facebook galaxy is only one component of what this virtual universe could become. Google and Microsoft, among others, have announced massive investment plans there. It is rumored that Apple would also have projects in this area.
Video game developers have not waited for the giants of the technology sector: Roblox, Decentraland and Epic Games (the studio that develops Fortnite) already offer virtual worlds comparable to The sandbox, where people can meet, create, play, attend a concert and maybe tomorrow work, collaborate and learn. They rely on “equipment manufacturers”, such as Nvidia and Unity Software, who develop the technical, hardware and software infrastructure.
But what is the metaverse? In the absence of a definition that refers, we can try to sketch at least the outlines. The Metaverse offers its users a real-time bodily experience in three-dimensional persistent virtual worlds. Each of these worlds welcomes visitors, usually represented in the form of avatars that can interact with other participants and artificial intelligences.
The nature of these worlds allows the emergence of property rights, secured by blockchain protocols (blockchain). Thus, you can buy items there, such as branded clothes to dress your avatars, land to build homes, and artwork to decorate them. There are already open offices and business premises. The big brands are experimenting with new offers there. Some believe that these new territories, as virgin as they are virtual, could eventually give birth to a new economy whose revenues will amount to trillions of euros.
An adventure as promising as it is uncertain
It is still too early to give credence to these estimates: the economy of the metaverse has hardly gone beyond the prototype stage. The potential is nevertheless sufficient to arouse all desires. Starting with venture capital players investing more than $10 billion in companies in the sector by 2021.
This demiurgic project truly awakens the wildest entrepreneurial hopes and fascinates technophiles. However, science fiction fans will remember that the term “metaverse” was born in 1992 from the pen of Neal Stephenson in a dystopian science fiction novel, Snow Crash. Many people express fear of potential excesses and addiction. While the Internet was originally conceived as an open network, today the metaverse emerges in the form of proprietary worlds that regulate themselves. The modes of governance of these new spaces of social interaction and economic exchange remain to be defined.
It is up to the architects of the metaverse to demonstrate its utility. The task is all the more delicate, as the experiment is today inaccessible to the greatest number. Today, to take your first “steps” in the metaverse, you need a virtual reality headset, as expensive as it is cumbersome. A Meta Quest 2, the current market leader, currently costs around 450 euros. A significant practical and financial obstacle for the average consumer.
However, other avenues are being explored, such as holographic interaction (see, for example, Google’s Starline project). Tomorrow, other interfaces may allow access to the metaverse. Remember that the Internet took on another dimension when smartphone touchscreens replaced mice and keyboards.
From one galaxy to another
Another major obstacle, the few virtual worlds available to date are hermetically sealed. A Meta avatar cannot travel to Roblox – and vice versa. To emerge, a unified metaverse requires some form of interoperability between the galaxies that make it up. The stakes are high: a pair of Nikes in pixels has a completely different value if your avatar can transport it from one virtual world to another. No one knows exactly how this might come to fruition, but discussions about defining the standards for the metaverse have begun.
On a global level, an all-out race for innovation is launched. Surprised by the financial markets, the technology industry has found a new narrative of growth in the metaverse. In large companies, strategists are on the lookout, looking for new opportunities, but also for potential breakthrough innovations that could disrupt their businesses.
The most daring have already begun the exploration and are actually participating in the construction of the metaverse. Big names such as Adidas, Carrefour, Gucci and Samsung have thus announced that they have acquired places in The sandbox. For these pioneers, the adventure promises to be as exciting as it is uncertain.