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    This Week in the Metaverse: Zuck defends his avatar, The Sandbox unveils new Alpha Season

    Things are moving fast in the metaverse, and in the wider world of web3 as a whole. Depending on who you ask, this futuristic, blockchain-based space is either the next big thing for marketing — and for almost everything else — or an overhyped fad. Here’s what you need to know from this past week:

    Zuckerberg defends avatar post and Horizon Worlds

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    Last week, Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg published an image of his Horizon Worlds avatar standing in front of a virtual Eiffel Tower and La Sagrada Familia on his Facebook profile. (The post was made in honor of the release of Horizon Worlds — Meta’s VR platform — in France and Spain.) The internet promptly got to work eviscerating Zuck and Meta for the avatar’s poor resolution, which one New York Times columnist dubbed “worse than a 2008 Wii game.” 

    While he didn’t specifically reference the onslaught of social media ridicule, Zuckerberg did try to defend his original Facebook post, chalking it up to hastiness. On Sunday, the tech magnate published two images on his Instagram account — one of a new, more high-resolution Horizon Worlds avatar modeled after himself, and another of a more photographically realistic scene from the platform. “Major updates to Horizon and avatar graphics coming soon,” he wrote in the post. “Also, I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic - it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch. The graphics in Horizon are capable of much more - even on headsets - and Horizon is improving very quickly.”

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    Meta releases new ad featuring Team Amani, an East African cycling team

     
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    Despite all the talk from corporate marketers, "the metaverse" remains an ill-defined concept. Many people have some vague understanding that it’s some kind of virtual world, but no one knows exactly what it will look, feel and sound like to actually be inside the metaverse.

    Clearly recognizing the need for public education, Meta has made a recent push to produce ads which visualize the metaverse - or at least, which visualize the company's vision for the metaverse. The company’s latest ad, for example, features an East African cycling team called Team Amami harnessing virtual reality headsets to train and network as they push themselves to advance in the world of professional cycling. 

    “The metaverse offers endless possibilities for people to connect in new ways,” says Jasmine Summerset-Karcie, Meta’s brand marketing director. “Over the last few months we've launched a series of efforts focused on highlighting these benefits; those possible today and in the future … Our latest effort 'Amani' shifts the conversation to the future by highlighting the breadth of technologies we’re investing in to deliver on our core promise of connection for years to come.”

    The company released two similar ads back in June, both of which were also aimed at bringing the airy concept of “the metaverse” down to Earth. In one ad — called “Fishing with dad" — a father and a daughter, who are physically separated by more than half of the continental United States, reunite in virtual reality for a fishing excursion. 

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    Bored Ape Yacht Club Ethereum floor price hits 6-month low

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    The value of Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) — one of the world’s most successful NFT collections — has taken a hit during the recent slump in the NFT market and the broader “crypto winter.” The collection’s Ethereum (ETH) floor price (that is, the lowest price of an item in the collection) reached 65.68 ETH (equivalent to just over $108,000) on August 20, its lowest point since January 2, according to Decrypt.

    (Note: The fluctuating nature of Ethereum means that a low point in the cryptocurrency's value does not necessarily translate into a low point in dollars; though the BAYC’s ETH value reached a six-month low on Saturday, its dollar value is actually up from a low point of a little under $87,000 that it reached back in June.)

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    The Sandbox launches Alpha Season 3

     
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    The Sandbox — a subsidiary of Animoca Brands and one of the world’s most popular blockchain-based gaming platforms — launched its “Alpha Season 3” on Wednesday, which it described in a press release as “its largest showcase of playable experiences to date.” The new season is being rolled out over a 10-week period and will include a total of 98 new virtual experiences, 16 new NFT collections and 13 new avatar collections.

    The Sandbox says that new content will be released from brand partners like Snoop Dogg, Warner Music Group, The Walking Dead, Deadmau5 and Bored Ape Yacht Club. “Alpha Season 3 will bring more multiplayer experiences, more partners, more creators, more rewards for owners and players through play-and-earn mechanics, more collections, and more excitement,” Sébastien Borget, cofounder and chief operations officer at The Sandbox, said in the press release. “Each day will offer new and fun things to experience as we continue evolving The Sandbox metaverse.” 

    The new season will also offer new options for interoperability, or the ability for virtual information to move seamlessly between blockchain-based ecosystems. “The Sandbox Alpha Season 3 is going to be web3’s greatest use case of interoperability yet, enabling over 140K NFT owners from collections such as Bored Ape Yacht Club, Doggies, World of Women, CoolCats, Clone X, and Aoki to seamlessly take their digital assets from Web3 communities and use them directly as avatars in The Sandbox,” the brand said in the press release. “This marks the beginning of a new era in true ownership and consistency in online identity across platforms.”

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    Ready Player Me secures $56mn in funding 

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    Ready Player Me - a platform which leverages artificial intelligence to generate virtual avatars - announced earlier this week that it had raised $56mn during its Series B funding round. The funding round was led by a16z Games Fund One and a16z crypto - both of which are funds owned by the venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz - with contributions from other major players in the web3 space, including David Baszucki (co-founder of Roblox) and Justin Kan (co-founder of Twitch). 

    “What will unlock the true metaverse experience is interoperability between games, worlds and applications and a consistent identity for users across all experiences,” Ready Player Me’s co-founder and chief executive officer Timmy Tõke said in a statement. ??“We think it's essential for virtual worlds users to create an avatar they love and buy avatar skins and accessories that work across the metaverse and are not stuck in one game. This infusion of funds will allow Ready Player Me to continue scaling the avatar system to make it more flexible for developers, create new tools to help developers monetize with avatar assets, and build tools for individual creators to take part of the cross-game avatar marketplace.”

    For more, sign up for The Drum’s Inside the Metaverse weekly newsletter here.

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