“Tomorrow, your avatar will be able to visit a virtual store and allow you to virtually test and then physically order real products.”
For several months now, the concept of the metaverse has been making waves. Much more than a fashion phenomenon, 3D virtual universes foreshadow an evolution from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0, which should heavily impact the economy and our lifestyles.
There is no academic consensus on the definition of the metaverse, except that it is certainly the future of the internet. Facebook, the video game Fortnite, Microsoft… Each stakeholder seems to be designing their own vision of the metaverse. For Matthew Ball, author of the book Metaverse Primer and speaker at the Orange Silicon Valley Hello Show in early October 2021, “the Metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered, persistent 3D virtual worlds that support continuity of identity, history, objects, and payments, can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users.”
The beginnings of a new world
The term metaverse, a contraction of “meta” and “universe,” refers to a virtual world in the science fiction novel Snow Crash, where it first appeared in 1992. The concept was given a notable incarnation in 2006 with the virtual universe Second Life, which became popular with individuals, companies and brands who explored its use to open virtual stores, organize events, hold training, do marketing, etc. The arrival of social networks, however, plunged Second Life into obscurity.
For their part, video games have been seeking to offer players a more immersive and social experience for decades, with the addition of features that enrich player interaction. Games such as Dark Age of Camelot, Eve Online and, more recently, Fortnite, have developed metaverse features by immersing their users in a persistent world that allows you to customize the environment, avatars and the game. The movie industry is also pursuing this quest for immersion with blockbuster films such as The Matrix, Toy Story, Spiderman in 3D or shown via complementary virtual reality experiences. This is thanks to creation tools shared with video games, such as the “Unreal” and “Unity” 3D rendering engines, and which make it possible to easily transfer 3D, AR, and VR elements to digital media.
Breaking down technological barriers
While speed, low latency and the need to display millions of polygons in 3D environments have long limited the uses of the metaverse, the progress made in recent years on augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) opens up the field of possibilities in the private and professional spheres. Virtual reality headsets and augmented reality glasses allow for immersion in the physical sense of the term. This offers economic opportunities: e-commerce, product placement, virtual shopping, virtual events, work meetings in a virtual space, etc.
Luxury brands, in particular, are already at the forefront. Many of them have created virtual worlds to increase their visibility, capture a new audience and facilitate purchases — like the Italian fashion house Gucci or even Balenciaga during the pandemic. “Tomorrow, your avatar will be able to go to a virtual store in a metaverse and allow you, from a cellphone, tablet or VR headset, to virtually test and try out and then physically order real products,” emphasizes Morgan Bouchet, Digital Content & Innovation Director at Orange, in charge of Metaverse & XR activities. “You will also be able to virtually dress your avatar (a figure that resembles you) and personalize it, to stand out from others in the virtual world.” The 5G network will be able to carry the required amount of 3D data with low latency.
On the road to immersion!
A digital operator such as Orange has long been engaged in research to study how its products and services will in future be able to embrace the immersion habits of its customers, to the point of imagining and preparing a totally augmented and intelligent world. “In B2C, we support our clients in new forms of use and entertainment through AR/VR/360° technologies,” explains Morgan Bouchet. “Live concert broadcasts in a virtual environment, immersive video to watch a soccer game or immerse yourself in a 360° documentary with dolphins… We have also reintegrated part of the Orange TV services’ ecosystem into our “Immersive Now” beta platform, an Orange virtual exhibition, allowing our test customers, wearing their Oculus Quest headsets or simply via their cellphone/tablet, to experience 2D content immersed in an idyllic setting, to discover 360° content and then, in the very short term, to be able to invite their close friends and share these moments with them.”
People dancing in the metaverse
The organization of remote events, such as Travis Scott’s Fortnite Concert in 2020 (or Ariana Grande’s in 2021, etc.), have provided a first glimpse of the benefits of the metaverse in its current state. The multiple instances of this concert gathered 12 million “spect-actors” on the first night. Singer Travis Scott is said to have gained considerable time with zero air travel (the concert was captured in a 3D capture studio), drastically reduced production/rehearsal time, increased visibility and earned much higher revenue from virtual purchases.
Metaverses open up other opportunities related to leisure and culture, such as the immersive discovery of heritage, museums and cities, remotely and with friends. Video games, fashion, music and tourism are just a few of the sectors likely to participate in the rise of these new living and economic spaces.