Metavers: Ubisoft, Sorare, The Sandbox… The French are taking over the new world

More than 600,000 euros spent to become the owner of the virtual thumbnail of Haaland, a Norwegian footballer approached to join Real Madrid… It is one marker among others of Sorare’s success with football fans. In this online game inspired by the transfer window, football fans can acquire, via an auction system and the Ethereum exchange platform, images of their favorite players. And they are the only holders of it, via what is called an NFT (non-fungible token), a certificate of digital ownership. Then, with these old-fashioned Panini cards, they form teams that compete online.

Delirium? Guess not. Sorare counted 350,000 active users in 170 countries last March. And over the whole of 2021, the French start-up recorded a trading volume of 325 million dollars on its site. Investors were not mistaken, starting with the Japanese SoftBank. Last September, the founders, Nicolas Julia and Adrien Montfort, who pride themselves on being profitable since the launch in 2018, raised 580 million euros, valuing their company at 3.7 billion euros. It is the most expensive French start-up at the moment. Not bad for a game that only seems to sell banal images of players that anyone can see on the Internet and print…

Sorare’s success is another example of French Tech’s breakthrough in Web3, the third generation Internet. In this new virtual world, our avatars can meet, play, work, create objects or earn money. The ideal is to go there wearing a virtual reality headset to achieve complete immersion, in 3D. However, France has a know-how and a culture conducive to this new Internet. With its pool of video game companies like Ubisoft.

One of the big players in metaverse nascent, The Sandbox, was founded by French people, admittedly based in Hong Kong. With the cloud of start-ups positioned on the blockchain, the essential tool for establishing title deeds or exchanging cryptocurrencies. And finally for what is called the French Touch. “Offering experiences that delight consumers, selling images and goods that arouse envy, developing an art of living, taking care of design, this is what companies that operate in the luxury, fashion or leisure”, note Joël Hazan and Thibault Genouville, consultants at the BCG strategy consulting firm.

Behind its apparent simplicity, Sorare’s business turns out to be more difficult to copy than it seems. First, the start-up has signed exclusive agreements with 230 football clubs to exploit the image of players, including heavyweights like Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Then, it can count on the network effect of its community, which gives a premium in the digital sector to the leader who has been able to clear a new market before the others. “We want to build a cult brand around NFTs in sport and we will continue to accelerate to remain the first,” promised CEO Nicolas Julia.

Last January, the co-founder of Sorare thus began to leave the football fields by announcing the appointment of Serena Williams as an advisor. In this new role, the tennis champion must support Sorare’s expansion into other sporting disciplines.

It’s a whole ecosystem that is being born in this world without borders. An illustration: thanks to the blockchain, Sorare was able to conclude a partnership with Ubisoft, which will allow collectors to use their images in the game OneShot League launched by him. “This project offers the opportunity to apply the interoperability of elements between different games. If the test is conclusive, we will go further”, explains Nicolas Julia.

In parallel and in the same perspective, Ubisoft launched Ubisoft Quartz. Already, the players of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint can buy in cryptocurrency bulletproof vests, weapons, vehicles, virtual helmets and others to lead the fight. Certified by the Tezos blockchain, this equipment can then be resold on third-party marketplaces, which will make it more liquid and therefore increase its value. Much better than trading marbles or cards Dragon Ball Z on break. “Players will regain control over the value they have been able to create by playing and this in a sustainable way for our industry”, assures Nicolas Pouard, vice-president of the Strategic Innovation Lab on the Ubisoft site.

To rake as wide as possible, the French publisher is also entering The Sandbox, a French metaverse that hosts all kinds of games and characters.. Thanks to this partnership, The Sandbox players will soon be able to interact and live new experiences with the famous Rabbids, taken from the eponymous game from Ubisoft. Which will explore the possibilities of exploiting its licenses on metaverses. Here again, interoperability should eventually facilitate the monetization of these characters and their attributes…

However, this shift is not unanimous within the publisher’s teams. “The NFTs add complexity, increase the risk of scams and dissatisfaction of the players whose complaints we will then have to deal with, estimates Pierre-Etienne Marx, head of the union section of Ubisoft Paris of the STJV (Union of workers of video games). This financialization of games interests the shareholders, but not the players or the employees.” To defend his strategy, CEO Yves Guillemot had to speak on December 15 during an online meeting with employees of Ubisoft’s Paris studio.

In his argument, he can rely on the equally maddening figures of The Sandbox, founded and directed by Arthur Madrid and Sébastien Borge, and which raised 93 million dollars. Still the majority, the duo opened its capital to Animoca, a Chinese video game company… in which Ubisoft holds a stake. Universe under construction, The Sandbox (sandbox) attracts all kinds of actors. He would have already sold more than 17,000 plots of land by limiting the number of lots to 177,000 to create an effect of rarity and exclusivity. 70 million dollars of real estate transactions would have been recorded. And the current currency (sand) would be valued at 2 billion.

The buyers? Geeks, speculators, a few personalities like rapper Snoop Dogg, but also dozens of brands… In addition to Ubisoft, The Sandbox thus welcomes Warner Music Group, Axa France, Gucci, Havas, Carrefour into its metaverse, even if many remain evasive about to their projects. “As an insurance leader, it is our responsibility to take part in major technological advances to imagine the insurance of the future”, explains Patrick Cohen, CEO of Axa France in a press release. The Sandbox now claims 2 million users in its metaverse, and wants to accelerate the movement with the creation of an incubator endowed with 50 million dollars which will be used to support a good thirty start-ups likely to open up new prospects for it. business.

In this fictional, persistent (nothing disappears) and shared space, the participants are much more than players. They co-construct decor, characters, objects, buildings, all certified by an NFT, as one would open a business or an art gallery in real life. The result, for now, looks a little sketchy with pixelated characters reminiscent of 1990s arcade games. not fix things. “It’s a start, the first black and white televisions did not offer a very terrible image either”, relativizes Mathieu Gastal, associate director of the digital agency Adveris, who believes that Facebook’s strong ambitions will accelerate progress. metaverses by stirring up competition.

Some French players are already building metaverses dedicated to professional uses. Thus Inetum has brought together a team of around twenty researchers to work on a platform project where its 27,000 collaborators will immerse themselves with virtual reality headsets to meet and follow training courses. “This metaverse, which will be deployed internally before the end of 2022, will then be offered to our customers if it fulfills its promises”, explains Nicolas Perrier, innovation consultant at Inetum.

Simango, a Rennes-based SME specializing in digital training for paramedical staff, also believes in it. She works on a hospital metaverse in which learners equipped with helmets will move their avatar to acquire skills in the field of hygiene and safety. “We are going to include animations, elements of “gamification” that will capture attention,” promises Vincent-Dozhwal Bagot, the co-founder, who plans a new fundraiser at the end of the year. This type of immersion, only Meta, the new name of Facebook, has already started rolling it out in North America as Horizon Worlds. It is currently prohibited for those under 18.

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Metavers: Ubisoft, Sorare, The Sandbox… The French are taking over the new world


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