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Sports a ‘Key Area’ for Metaverse Tech, Improbable Says

Metaverse technology firm Improbable announced last week that it had received an influx of demand as it ramps up investment in the future of spatial communications.

The London-based firm revealed its financial report to the media, noting a 2.6-fold increase in its company losses from 2021 to 2022, or from £150 million to £19 million, respectively.

According to Herman Narula, Chief Executive, Improbable, the company had become “swamped with demand” for metaverse experiences.

One of the biggest industry verticals the company had encountered was sports, with Improbable striking deals with Major League Baseball (MLB).

Additional collaborations included Arsenal FC and Tottenham FC—two massive teams in British football.

Speaking to the press, he said,

“Something very interesting is happening in sports — an industry that historically has relied on broadcasts and in-person attendance is waking up to the possibilities of massive virtual experiences. Sports are fiendishly under-monetised. A club like Real Madrid will make less money per fan than Candy Crush.”

He also explained that fans could sports athletes in the metaverse experiences could “hang out with some of the fans and stars that they admire the most.

Narula added, “This is probably going to be one of the most important areas for the Metaverse. Note that, even in Apple’s Vision Pro announcement, they talked a lot about sports. So I think sports is going to be a key area for us.”

Additionally, he explained that incorporating generative AI tools would become instrumental to developing metaverse worlds rapidly and at scale.

Interview with the Improbable Team

In a question and answer session with members of the Improbable team, XR Today asked whether future metaverse use cases would help to bridge the gap between brand identity and individual identities.

Responding, Narula explained that one dimension to it was expressiveness. When speaking with engaging brand partners, they traditionally maintained a “one-way relationship.”

“They appear in the places those users are [in], but they don’t really have the ability to have a conversation with, interact with, or engage in a two-way relationship with those users,” he explained.

Narula added,

“There has to be transformation at the brand level, from just communicating a message to ‘buy this product’ to actually ‘What does it mean to be in a relationship with that brand, have a conversation with our brand, and what kind of interactive content can they produce?’ This is why Improbable is finding itself in this interesting position of being the guide for how these brands transform into that space, at the individual level”

More Realism in the Virtual World

Additionally, focusing on expressiveness and realism also enhanced immersive experiences. For example, Improbable allowed people to speak and react however they liked at events to measure engagement with experiences.

Narula said,

“It requires brands and fans to get comfortable with what young people are already doing today, which is being very engaging in interactive experiences and being comfortable with what that means: listening to and reacting in real time. I think [this] is going to transform a one-way conversation into a two-way conversation.”

When asked by XR Today about the inflexion point between profitability and research and development (R&D) costs for metaverse technologies for XR firms, and where he believed the long-term progress into full profitability for the industry, Narula explained his perspective on Improbable’s technology stack.

He stated that it was not sustainable for a single company to “build everything that we created for [the M² ecosystem].”

Narula elaborated further,

“The goal of M² is to be an economic and technical union that allows other contributions to happen. You may notice that we use off-the-shelf engines. We don’t have to build game engines because we can use those. We only build the necessary pieces. Because we’re not in the business of licencing technology, we’re in the business of enabling experiences and the network, we’re actually quite ambivalent about the use of other technologies. In fact, we’re even quite happy to work with competing technologies on the network, as long as things are done in a unified fashion. This greatly reduces the cost of building software.”

Furthermore, generative artificial intelligence (AI) was not only adopted for the front-facing functions of Improbable but also for back-facing ones, Narula continued.

Many of the company’s team members leveraged GenAI tools, which reduced costs ‘enormously,’ he said.

Robert Whitehead, Chief Product Officer, Improbable, added that there was a “cultural transformation” from large technology organisations to “more agile engineering organisations,” taking place by “learning to be leaner.”

He explained further,

“That’s certainly where I say we’re positioned right now. Comparatively, we’re a very small R&D organisation compared to these big mindsets out there. The whole point of the M² network is that, in the virtual world space, these different companies are repeatedly solving the same problem. This is the opportunity to actually have this consolidated and everyone can actually chip into a central thing that isn’t owned by a monolithic platform company. It’s actually something they all share the success of”

The comments come after Improbable partnered with computing giant NVIDIA in June to expand its M² ecosystem of solutions for the interoperable, open metaverse.

The Sports Metaverse Rises?

Improbable’s comments come after Apple announced at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that it would collaborate with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to promote sports events.

Launching in early 2024, the Apple Vision Pro will back the joint venture with the sports association to back the integration of entertainment on the new mixed reality (MR) device.

At the time, Silver said in a public statement that the NBA had been “working very closely with Apple.” Furthermore, he stated: “It seems like the interest in premium live sports remains incredibly strong.”

The exec explained,

“I think they’re looking at ways that they can find new opportunities to distribute these sports rights in broader ways than they’ve previously and in unique and different ways, particularly around the personalization and customization that can come with a lot of the advanced technology”

Additionally, UK sports data firm Genius Sports began working with augmented reality (AR) firm Snap to build a large-scale fan experience with Snapchat Lens.

Verizon-Genius-Snap AR Fan Experiences

Genius Sports, a British sports data firm working to boost engagement between enterprises and sportsgoers, recently teamed up with Snap for an augmented reality (AR) fan experience.

It will also roll out on Verizon’s 5G networks—the official 5G network for the NFL, debuting at SoFi Stadium in mid-September. Real-time sports statistics streamed at the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams match, along with visuals for each player and other key information.

XR Helping Actors to ‘Be Their Best’

Finally, with XR solutions gaining steam, Germany’s European Under 17 (U17) team showed the world how immersive technologies provided it with a winning edge.

After scoring a huge victory against France, the team revealed that it had trialled VR trainers from immersive firm Be Your Best. While in training, players used it to monitor head signals to other team members.

Furthermore, the XR industry has seen partnerships between OKX and Manchester City, Jugo and Arsenal, and Trigger and the Professional Golfers Association (PGA), among many others.





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