Metavers. Our journey into the new avatar of capitalism

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, metavers, through an avatar, an alter ego digital. For this first visit, Humavatar will be our guide, a gentle punk in flip-flops, deprived of his dog as we will tumble into these virtual universes without a penny: impossible to pass on cryptocurrency on expense reports.

After customizing his avatar, a short loading time brings us to a very colorful central space where 3D characters dressed in the latest fashion rub shoulders with others in strange futuristic armor. Here we are in Decentraland, the most successful proto-metavers found today. It’s 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 Metaverse. At the end of March, many virtual Fashion Week shows were held there, for example with their temporary shops. Some brands have adhered to the game and have modeled their clothes despite the limitations of the 3D engine – with the option to buy to dress the avatars, of course. Others preferred to broadcast their physical parades on video.

The user finally looks at his avatar himself and watches a video himself. DJ nights, a kind of virtual nightclub, are also very popular, although it can again create a certain feeling of discomfort to spend several minutes sitting at home and staring at your alter ego and wiggling your hips. But above all, in Decentraland we play poker, the casinos are crowded. The dealers – opposite Pepe the Frog – told Humavatar that the minimum bet was $ 400. They would have brought it back to the end if these NPCs (non-player characters) had been programmed to.

To be able to afford a leather sofa … virtually

The Decentraland map, accessible with a key, acts as a navigation interface. Does it indicate an amusement park? With two clicks, the avatar teleports there after a short loading time. A few rides are available, including a Ferris wheel and roller coaster, secure bets to take advantage of the possibilities of virtual reality. Back to the map to visit art galleries where almost all works can be purchased. An NFT certificate assures the buyer that he is in fact the owner of the original digital image.

Still from the map you can access a cinema, a jazz club, fashion shops, a Samsung district, banks or luxurious lounge bars … By putting Humavatar on a leather sofa in a 3D villa, a phrase from the technical director of virtual reality on Facebook suddenly makes sense: “Not everyone can have a mansion. Not everyone can have a home theater. But these are things we can simulate in virtual reality, ”he explained.

Cryptocurrency transactions

Towards the city center there are also real estate agents to buy or rent in Decentraland: count 250 euros a month to rent land not too far away. When buying, you can negotiate spaces (the plots are 256 virtual m²) on the outskirts of the center for just over 10,000 euros, as a well-located virtual building was sold for more than 2 million euros by the end of 2021. All transactions are made in “mana”, a cryptocurrency that changes on average around 2.50 euros.

But it’s not at Decentraland that Carrefour, Havas, Adidas, Gucci or even Axa have recently decided to buy virtual “countries”, but at The Sandbox. For now, this proto-metavers 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 build whatever they want on their land (each is 9,216 m²), thanks to the included 3D engine.

In the meantime, start a program and go through a central location, a bit like in “Minecraft”, and the available content is very sparse: 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 assembling scary 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 country built by the Hong Kong newspaper “South China Morning Post” has finished triggering our hopes. Far from offering a new way of handling current events, it is a tribute in the form of a 3D reconstruction to Star Ferry, a transportation service in operation since 1888 …

An unrestrained 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 such as Printemps or Groupe Casino, or luxury goods such as Moncler or Breitling. In a few years, will consumers really go shopping and embody their avatars in 3D environments?

A French entrepreneur who insists on his anonymity slipped over this topic: “I really do not know what it will give, nor what we will do there, but since everyone goes there, we also bought at Sandkassen. As a result are some empty plots for sale for 100 ethereums, or more than 3 million euros.

After the first few moments where you have fun surfing this internet limited in 3D, you have to face the facts, the beginning of the metaverse looks like an uninhibited version of mercantile capitalism. Even in a game aimed at children and relatively protected as “Minecraft”, the first building you see when you arrive at the multiplayer square is a Lacoste store.

Ubiquitous advertising and gambling

And it’s even worse on “Roblox,” a game that requires more than 10 million players, children and teens, every month. Elsewhere, advertising and gambling are also ubiquitous, and there are many potential scams. Everything is bought and sold, with this dizziness 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 largely exploited, by partnering with luxury brands like Moncler or Balenciaga: the player can wear a real sweater for 900 euros and dress his digital alter ego of the same sweater for a big ti euro.

For brands, it’s all profit: A digital object is rendered with a simple copy and paste, you only need to “manufacture” it once to sell it in virtually unlimited quantities. Next to 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 in tax havens established in the meta-verse. .

According to a survey conducted by an investment bank with 7,100 US teens, only 9% of them want to go to the meta-verse. So he comes to them. Even the former presidential candidate Macron got into it. After announcing, during the press conference of its candidacy, its desire to promote a sovereign European metavers, its activists launched one, temporarily, on “Minecraft”.

When you connect to the server, it gives an idea of ​​its democratic vision: any discussion channel is interrupted and the avatars can not be customized – for example, it is impossible to wear a yellow vest. Inside, a town hall with the false air of the Élysée, an empty campaign headquarters … Non-player figures, static and in costume, roughly praise the results of the five-year period. We may even come across Nemo, the president’s dog, who ensures that the price of food has dropped thanks to Castex … Above all, we see pictures of Macron galore. In the cinema you can only see the campaign clip. As for the Palais des Congrès, it was used to broadcast the meeting between the defense candidate. Other than walking around and reviewing the cobblestones of propaganda texts, there is nothing to do.

Animoca swims in cash

In addition to being generally very ugly, these completely privatized virtual worlds are well on their way to functioning in a closed circle. We will not be able to go his avatar from Facebook to Decentraland. Furthermore, alongside the multinational Zuckerberg – which ignored repeated requests from 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 metavers programs.

It also owns OpenSea, the main platform for selling virtual land and about twenty games based on 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 another $ 350 million. It now weighs more than 5 billion and in 2021 gave 530 million in profits with more than $ 160 billion in assets in cryptocurrency on its games.

Its leader, Yat Siu, is delighted with these findings and believes that they “reinforce our view that the construction of the open metaverse – which includes a wealth of metavers within it – is extremely similar to building a whole new society,” akin to a society-based state “. According to him, the most important thing is property rights, in the virtual as in everyday life. “States like metavers serve their citizens by providing value. We believe that true digital ownership is the fundamental block that underpins the entire open metavers: ownership of digital assets leads to economic freedom and opportunity,” he sums up on LinkedIn.

The numbers 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, which for a little more than 10,000 euros per year offered a master’s degree in ” managing cryptocurrency, NFTs and metaheritage “or a” Metaverse product design “.

The South Korean fashion example

Contrary to the currents, South Korea wants to retain control of tomorrow’s internet. 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 bit. The country is considering virtual classrooms in the event of the next reconfiguration with the program replacing more than 255,000 computers, equipping 1,200 schools with tablets, Wi-Fi coverage of 380,000 classrooms and setting up an e-learning platform. Seoul also creates its public metavers. 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 perform their public service procedures online with their avatar, but accompanied by alter ego from a agent or an intelligence artificial. Being reduced to creating a public metavers to fight the dehumanization of the dematerialization of public services is enough to drive you insane.

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