The promises of the Internet of the future are no longer to navigate by clicking on links, but to be immersed in them, in 3D and interconnected environments, metaverses, through an avatar, an alter ego digital. For this first visit, the Humavatar will be our guide, a gentle punk in flip-flops, deprived of his dog, since we will tumble into these virtual universes without a penny: impossible to pass cryptocurrency on expense reports.
After customizing his avatar, a brief loading time brings us to a very colorful central square, where 3D characters dressed in the latest fashions rub shoulders with others in strange futuristic armor. Here we are in Decentraland, the most successful proto-metaverse available today. It is also the most accessible: you can connect to it with a simple Internet browser, but also enjoy it with a virtual reality headset.
Fashion Week virtual shows
During the day, we can not say that there is a crowd. This is much better during regular events held in the metaverse. At the end of March, many virtual Fashion Week shows were held there, for example, with their temporary shops. Some brands have complied with the game and have modeled their clothes despite the limitations of the 3D engine – with the possibility of purchasing to dress the avatars, of course. Others preferred to broadcast their physical parades on video.
The user finally finds himself looking at his avatar viewing a video himself. DJ set evenings, a kind of virtual nightclub, are also very popular, although, again, spending several minutes sitting at home staring at your alter ego wiggling your hips can generate a certain feeling of unease. But, above all, in Decentraland, we play poker, the casinos are crowded. The dealers – in the face of Pepe the Frog – advised the Humavatar that the minimum bet was $400. They would have firmly brought it back to the exit if these NPCs (non-player characters) had been programmed for.
Being able to afford a leather sofa… virtual
The Decentraland map, accessible with a key, acts as a navigation interface. Does it indicate an amusement park? In two clicks, the avatar teleports there after a brief loading time. A few rides are accessible, including a Ferris wheel and roller coaster, safe bets for taking advantage of the possibilities of virtual reality. Back to the map to visit art galleries where almost every work can be purchased. An NFT certificate assures the purchaser that he is indeed the owner of the original digital image.
Still from the map, you can access a cinema, a jazz club, fashion boutiques, a Samsung district, banks or luxurious lounge bars… By sitting the Humavatar on a leather sofa in a 3D villa , a sentence from the technical director of virtual reality at Facebook suddenly makes sense: “Not everyone can have a mansion. Not everyone can have a home theater. But these are things that we can simulate in virtual reality,” he explained.
Towards the city center, there are also real estate agencies to buy or rent in Decentraland: count 250 euros per month to rent land not too far away. When buying, you can negotiate spaces (the plots are 256 virtual m²) on the fringes of the center for a little over 10,000 euros, when a well-placed virtual building sold for more than 2 million euros, at the end 2021. All transactions are made in “mana”, a cryptocurrency that changes around 2.50 euros on average.
But it is not on Decentraland that Carrefour, Havas, Adidas, Gucci or even Axa have recently decided to buy virtual “lands”, but on The Sandbox. For now, this proto-metaverse still in alpha version (far from being the final version) does not yet connect its map – where you can buy virtual land – and its 3D worlds. Eventually, each owner will be able to erect whatever they want on their plot (each is 9,216 m²), thanks to the 3D engine provided.
In the meantime, you have to launch a program and go through a central place, a bit like in “Minecraft”, and the available content is very meager: a few digital art galleries and small games not folichons. The majority of users – 200 million claimed by the publisher – spend their time speculating and stringing together daunting missions to earn some in-game currency (1 sand is worth around 0.27 euros), heralding a new concept: “play to earn”, play to earn money.
The land built by the Hong Kong daily “South China Morning Post” has finished showering our hopes. Far from offering a new way of dealing with current events, it is a tribute in the form of a 3D reconstruction to the Star Ferry, a transport service in service since 1888…
An unbridled version of mercantile capitalism
Eventually, the stores will be legion, as evidenced by The Sandbox’s recent partnership with Arianee, a platform that “helps brands develop their Web3 solutions”; you will find large retailers like Printemps or Groupe Casino, or luxury goods like Moncler or Breitling. In a few years, will consumers really go shopping embodying their avatars in 3D environments?
A French entrepreneur who insists on his anonymity slipped on this subject: “I really don’t know what it’s going to give, nor what we’re going to do there, but as everyone goes there, we also bought on The Sandbox. As a result, some empty plots are on sale at 100 ethereums, or more than 3 million euros.
After the first moments when you have fun browsing this Internet limited in 3D, you have to face the facts, the beginnings of the metaverse look like an unbridled version of mercantile capitalism. Even in a game aimed at children and relatively protected as “Minecraft”, the first building that you see when you arrive in the multiplayer central square is a Lacoste store.
Ubiquitous advertising and gambling
And it’s even worse on “Roblox”, a game that claims more than 10 million players, children and teenagers, every month. Elsewhere, advertising and gambling are also ubiquitous, and there are many potential scams. Everything is bought and sold, with this vertigo of double buying: you can afford a T-shirt to wear in “real life” and the same for your avatar, in the metaverse. What the “Fortnite” game was the first to have widely exploited, by forging partnerships with luxury brands like Moncler or Balenciaga: the player can wear a real sweater at 900 euros, and dress his digital alter ego of the same sweater for a big ten euros.
For brands, it’s all profit: a digital object is reproduced with a simple copy and paste, you only need to “manufacture” it once to sell it in virtually unlimited quantities. Alongside the brands, there are cryptocurrency exchange platforms, a few banks – HSBC has just launched an investment fund based on The Sandbox – as well as an embassy from Barbados, the pioneer of tax havens established in the metaverse. .
According to a survey by an investment bank of 7,100 American teenagers, only 9% of them want to go to the metaverse. So he comes to them. Even the former candidate-president Macron got into it. After announcing, during its candidacy press conference, its desire to promote a sovereign European metaverse, its activists launched one, temporary, on “Minecraft”.
When you connect to the server, it gives an idea of its democratic vision: any discussion channel is cut off, and the avatars are not customizable – impossible to wear a yellow vest, for example. Inside, a town hall with the false air of Élysée, an empty campaign headquarters… Non-player characters, static and in costume, grossly praise the results of the five-year term. We can even come across Nemo, the presidential dog, who ensures that the price of kibble has dropped thanks to Castex… Above all, we see photos of Macron galore. In the cinema, you can only watch the campaign clip. As for the Palais des Congrès, it was used to broadcast the meeting of the candidate for Defense. Apart from walking around and undergoing the cobblestones of propaganda texts, there is nothing to do.
Animoca is swimming in cash
In addition to being generally very ugly, these completely privatized virtual worlds are well on their way to operating in a closed circle. We will not be able to walk his avatar from Facebook to Decentraland. Moreover, next to the multinational of Zuckerberg – which ignored repeated requests from the Humavatar to test its first applications in virtual reality – another giant is in the process of being constituted: Animoca. This Hong Kong company bought The Sandbox from its French creators, as did Decentraland and seven other programs aimed at metaverses.
It also owns OpenSea, the main platform for the sale of virtual land and around twenty games based on the blockchain, but also managers of cryptocurrency portfolios, infrastructures… Since the announcement of Facebook’s metaverse, Animoca, which was not , a few months ago, a small publisher of video games for mobiles, swimming in cash, has just raised an additional 350 million dollars. It now weighs more than 5 billion and made, in 2021, 530 million in profits, with more than 160 billion dollars in assets in cryptocurrency on its games.
Its boss, Yat Siu, is delighted with these results and believes that they “reinforce our view that building the open metaverse – which encompasses a multitude of metaverses within it – is extremely similar to building a entirely new society, akin to a community-based state”. According to him, the most important is the right of ownership, in the virtual as in everyday life. “States like metaverses serve their citizens by providing value. We believe that true digital ownership is the fundamental block that underpins the entire open metaverse: ownership of digital assets leads to economic freedom and opportunity,” he summarizes on LinkedIn.
The figures are flying, some evoke a cake of 800 billion dollars from 2024. The first opportunists are on the case: a Metaverse College was even born in Paris, a few weeks ago, offering for a little more than 10,000 euros l year a master’s degree in “management of cryptocurrency, NFTs and metaheritage” or a “Metaverse product design”.
The South Korean counter-example
Going against the current, South Korea wants to keep control of this Internet of tomorrow. She even wants to make it an asset in her “Living with the pandemic” plan. The country has banned online gambling, NFT speculation and unregulated cryptocurrency issuance. The State intends to use these virtual reality technologies to re-humanize the digital tool a little. The country is considering virtual classrooms in the event of the next reconfiguration with, on the program, the replacement of more than 255,000 computers, the equipping of 1,200 schools with tablets, the Wi-Fi coverage of 380,000 classrooms and setting up an e-learning platform. Seoul is also creating its public metaverse. It will be aimed at tourists, who will be able to visit the city in virtual reality, but also local users, who will be able to carry out their public service procedures online with their avatar, but accompanied by the alter ego of an agent or an intelligence artificial. Being reduced to creating a public metaverse to fight against the dehumanization of the dematerialization of public services is enough to drive you crazy.