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

Spent over €600,000 to own the virtual thumbnail of Haaland, a Norwegian footballer who was approached to join Real Madrid… It’s one of the many signs of Sorare’s success with football fans. In this transfer window-inspired online game, football fans can acquire images of their favorite players through an auction system and the Ethereum exchange platform. And they are the sole holders of it, through a so-called NFT (non-fungible token), a certificate of digital ownership. With these old-fashioned Panini cards, they then form teams that compete against each other online.

Delirium? Do not think so. Sorare had 350,000 active users in 170 countries last March. And for the whole of 2021, the French start-up recorded a trading volume of $325 million on its site. Investors were not mistaken, starting with Japan’s SoftBank. Last September, the founders, Nicolas Julia and Adrien Montfort, who are proud to be profitable since its launch in 2018, raised 580 million euros, valuing their company at 3.7 billion euros. It is currently the most expensive French start-up. Not bad for a game that only seems to sell banal images of players for everyone on the internet to see 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 with 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 key players in the burgeoning metaverse, The Sandbox was founded by French, albeit 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. “Providing experiences that delight consumers, selling images and goods that arouse envy, developing an art of living, taking care of design, these are what companies active in luxury, fashion or leisure are all about,” notes Joël Hazan and Thibault Genouville, consultants at the BCG strategy consulting firm.

Behind its apparent simplicity, Sorare’s company proves harder 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 conquer 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.

For example, the Sorare co-founder began leaving the football fields last January by announcing the appointment of Serena Williams as an advisor. In this new role, the tennis champion must support Sorare’s expansion into other sports disciplines.

It is an entire ecosystem that is born in this world without borders. An illustration: The blockchain allowed Sorare to partner with Ubisoft, allowing collectors to use their images in-game OneShot League launched by him. “This project offers the possibility to apply the interoperability of elements between different games. If the test is convincing, we will move on,” explains Nicolas Julia.

In parallel and in the same perspective, Ubisoft launched Ubisoft Quartz. Now all the players of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint can buy cryptocurrency body armor, weapons, vehicles, virtual helmets and others to lead the battle. This equipment is certified by the Tezos blockchain and can then be resold on third-party marketplaces, making it more liquid and thus more valuable. Much better than trading marbles or cards Dragon Ball Z on break. “Players regain control of the value they have been able to create through play in a sustainable way for our industry,” said Nicolas Pouard, vice president of the Strategic Innovation Lab on the Ubisoft site.

To rake in as broadly as possible, the French publisher is also entering The Sandbox, a French metaverse that hosts all sorts of games and characters.Thanks to this partnership, The Sandbox players will soon be able to interact and have new experiences with the famous Rabbids, from the Ubisoft game of the same name. Which will explore the possibilities of exploiting its licenses on metaverses. Again, interoperability should ultimately facilitate monetization with these characters and their attributes…

However, this shift is not unanimous across 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 division 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 at an online meeting with employees at Ubisoft’s studio in Paris.

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

The buyers? Geeks, speculators, a few personalities such as rapper Snoop Dogg, but also dozens of brands… So in addition to Ubisoft, The Sandbox welcomes Warner Music Group, Axa France, Gucci, Havas, Carrefour in its metaverse, although many remain evasive about their projects. “As an insurance leader, it is our responsibility to participate in major technological developments to envision 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 aims to accelerate the movement with the creation of a $50 million incubator that will be used to support a good thirty start-ups likely to open up new perspectives for the company. . †

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, just like you would open a business or an art gallery in real life. The result for now looks a bit fuzzy with pixelated characters reminiscent of arcade games from the 90s. Not fixing things. “It’s a start, the first black and white TVs didn’t offer such a terrible picture,” says Mathieu Gastal, associate director of the digital agency Adveris, who believes Facebook’s strong ambitions will accelerate progress by taking on the competition. stir up.

Some French players are already building metaverses for professional use. For example, Inetum has brought together a team of about twenty researchers to work on a platform project in which its 27,000 employees immerse themselves with virtual reality headsets to meet each other 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 delivers on its promises,” explains Nicolas Perrier, innovation consultant at Inetum.

Simango, an SME based in Rennes that specializes in digital training for paramedical staff, also believes in it. She is working on a hospital metaverse in which students wearing helmets move their avatars to acquire hygiene and safety skills. “We’re going to add animations, elements of “gamification” that attract attention,” promises Vincent-Dozhwal Bagot, the co-founder, who is planning a new fundraiser at the end of the year. This kind of immersion, only Meta, Facebook’s new name, has already started rolling out in North America as Horizon Worlds. It is currently prohibited for persons under the age of 18.

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