Emmanuel Macron is finally entering the presidential campaign for good. He presented his program on Thursday, March 17 in the afternoon, mentioning in particular his wish to design a “European metaverse” among other measures designed to ensure the “cultural and informational independence” of France. He relates it to the need to have both independent and sovereign information and artistic creation.
Not depending on the Americans or the Chinese
His verbatim statement was as follows: “We will fight to build a European metaverse. This is a key subject both for, obviously, creation, but for the ability to allow all our creators, whatever the cultural field that is theirs or their field of activity, to create and not to depend on Anglo-Saxon or Chinese actors and aggregators, who will be able to completely circumvent if not the rules today of respect for copyrights and neighboring rights.”
The metaverse, concept more blurred than ever
That being said, the candidate Macron’s statement remains rather vague, without much surprise since the very concept of metaverse remains poorly defined and seems to vary from mouth to mouth. Thus, the vision of Meta (which popularized the concept during its Connect 2021 conference) is not picked up by many, even when they claim it or on the contrary claim to want to oppose it, like Niantic. And that’s not to mention the supporters of the NFTs, who for the moment are the kings of copyright infringement.
While Mark Zuckerberg evoked an open metaverse, common and belonging to all, interoperable and developed by multiple actors from different countries and backgrounds, in the manner of the Internet, most of his rivals – be it Epic Games, Roblox or Microsoft – prefer the idea of multiple independent metaverse. In truth, the term is for many a simple synonym for “real-time 3D world”, multi-user or not.
As for the idea of a European metaverse, while it may seem tempting at first glance, it quickly seems unreasonable if you think for two minutes, just like the efforts of China or Russia to isolate their citizens from the rest of the Internet.
Developing the key technological building blocks
After the presentation of the campaign promises, the Secretary of State for digital Cédric O told our colleagues at BFMTV that this famous project would actually be more to support the development of some key technological bricks, such as 3D engines. The idea would be to create European competitors to Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and Unity and its eponymous engine.
It will still be recalled that before becoming an American, Unity Technologies was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark… And above all, there is no shortage of real-time 3D engines in France, whether at Dassault Systèmes (which could have been a precursor with Virtools), Ubisoft, or even Asobo Studio, to whom we owe the spectacular Flight Simulator. Not to mention the whole of Europe. Also noteworthy in passing is the free Open 3D Engine project, launched in the summer of 2021 and managed by the Linux Foundation.
But it is true that Epic Games and Unity Technologies dominate the market today and that bringing out a European champion would be a real victory, as this field will become key in the coming decade. Originally created to facilitate the design of video games, these “middlewares” have gradually expanded their capabilities and are now used to create large-budget films and series or do architectural and industrial design. And they are of course essential for the creation of virtual or augmented reality applications, hence the connection with the concept of metavers.
Betting everything on the software would be a mistake
Despite its shortcomings, we have seen with French Tech that France can innovate and above all can be a fertile ground for young dynamic companies. Wanting to support the creation of new technologies in the field of real-time 3D is therefore commendable, the French ecosystem of virtual and augmented reality being rather poorly supported for five years, especially because it is poorly identified.
However, be careful not to bet everything on the software. We were warning at the end of the year about the need to take up the issue of the metaverse today so as not to let ourselves be left behind by others as we have been in personal computers or smartphones. But this necessarily goes through the hardware. Meta understood this well, and that’s why this company that only made software managed in a five-year period to establish itself as an excellent device manufacturer.
Mark Zuckerberg indeed knows that whoever provides the devices controls the platform by default, like Apple with iPhones. This gives him inordinate power. To make a real European champion of the metaverse emerge, it will therefore take nuggets in the “hardware”. A strategy that is consistent with the desire to reindustrialize France, but which is currently not finding much resonance, either with the government or with private investors. However, it is not by leaving these “thankless” tasks to others that we will ensure our sovereignty, even though they are building their factories in Europe (and with European subsidies).
And at the moment, only one actor is recruiting by turns in Europe to build the metaverse. A player who says he wants to create 10,000 highly specialized jobs by 2027. Who could it be?