3D art fairs to interactive jukeboxes: This Indian startup creates ‘immersive’ metaverse experiences for brands
Picture this. You are comfortably ensconced in your couch at home, armed with laptop, a special pair of glasses, and a headset, which transport you to the 1960s. Soon you find yourself reliving the song Lag jaa gale ki phir ye hasin raat ho na ho sung by the legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar, in an immersive 3D setup. You traverse further and experience many more songs from the bygone era in a virtual interactive arrangement. This may sound like the Indian adaptation of Midnight in Paris, but it’s not. Welcome to the world of metaverse created by XR Central’s Anshul Agarwal and Shrey Mishra.
Having grown up listening to the songs of Lata Mangeshkar, Anshul and Shrey wanted to pay their tribute to the legendary singer, after her demise. Hence, they created a metaverse experience, with an interactive jukebox featuring songs from every decade of the singer’s career.
“Lata Mangeshkar is an inspiration for many. Even today, while driving, I tune into Luka chuppi and it lifts my mood. So, we decided to create a metaverse with a timeline of her singing career, so fans could relive that experience and pay their tribute,” says Anshul Agarwal, Co-founder, XR Central, in a conversation with The Decrypting Story.
The metatribute in February attracted 5000 people from India and across the globe. While this was an inhouse tribute,also creates metaverse experiences for companies looking to tap into an audience that seeks interactive, enticing experiences in a vast, virtual setup.
Metaverse as a service
Noting the immense opportunity in the metaverse space, Anshul and Shrey co-founded XR Central, an interactive technology studio, in 2020, during the pandemic. The Gurugram-based startup offers ‘metaverse as a service’ by ideating, offering consultation, and preparing storyboards for companies to reach out to customers or connect with employees.
XR Central is helping Indian Web2 brands foray into the metaverse. Towards this, it has partnered with 25 brands, including SpiceJet, Mercedes Benz, Accenture, HCL, Siemens, Axalta, CESC, Forevermark, RP-Sanjiv Goenka group, Lucknow SuperGiants, India Art Fair, and De Beers.
Apart from creating a virtual world for brands, XR Central also provides tools for companies to build their own metaverse.
The startup has launched MetaQube—a DIY no-code SaaS platform, where creators and enterprises can choose from a library of 3D templates, drag and drop them, upload their branding, add interactivity, and create a metaverse experience within minutes.
XR Central has a team of 25 members working on different tasks—creating 3D worlds, designing avatars, productising, and standardising.
The company works on a B2B subscription model. About 80% of its revenue comes from metaverse as a service, while the remaining comes from gamification elements during interactive events.
Indian IT companies such as TCS, HCL Tech, Wipro, and Tech Mahindra are gearing up to grab a share of the metaverse market. Recently, Infosys launched the Infosys Metaverse Foundry to help companies navigate their metaverse experience. Globally, startups such as Touchcast and MetaVerseBooks have emerged in this space to provide companies innovative ways to create interactive, collaborative experiences.
Rise of the metaverse
Due to restrictions on gatherings and physical events during the pandemic-induced lockdown, several companies in the media and entertainment industry were impacted in many ways—shows were cancelled, theatres were empty, and event venues were shut down for several months. During this period, the metaverse offered a ray of hope.
For instance, when the physical event of India Art Fair 2022 was cancelled, XR Central teamed up with the fair organisers to offer a metaverse experience of the art fair.
“There were a lot of art enthusiasts across the globe who couldn’t visit India due to the pandemic. India Art Fair showed us 2D maps of the art fair that takes place in Okhla, Delhi. We converted them into an isometric 3D experience of the art fair. We also replicated the BMW zone, with a BMW car in it, with all the textures. Around 8000 individuals turned up for the metaverse art fair,” says Anshul.
Recently, in August, an Indian tech company hosted a two-day hybrid event, with a live event and a metaverse one to connect with its employees. XR Central created a digital replica of the venue of the live event on the metaverse.
“Live keynotes were displayed throughout the environment via digitally embedded video feeds. The metaverse event had close to a thousand attendees from across the globe, including North America and Europe,” says Anshul.
The future of metaverse
With the pandemic restrictions lifted, there is a surge in live events. How will the metaverse engage the audience and sustain itself in this scenario?
Industry players believe the metaverse will evolve and learn to co-exist with the physical world. In future, metaverse experiences could become more real and delightful and truly immersive, with seamless virtual reality content.
As per a Statista report, the global metaverse market in 2021 stood at $38.85 billion. In 2022, this is expected to rise to $47.48 billion. According to a report by global investment bank Morgan Stanley, metaverse could be a $8-trillion opportunity.
A Bloomberg report estimates that revenue from live entertainment businesses that can become part of the metaverse concept (films, live music and sports) may exceed $200 billion in 2024, as these businesses recover from the pandemic. All this means more opportunities for companies offering metaverse as a service.
The startup is in talks with indigenous Gond artist Rajender Shyam to bring his paintings to the metaverse. Often, one does not easily understand the emotions of an artist while looking at their art. For instance, the painting of a wealthy person could be looked at as a simple 2D portrait. But the artist may have had several thoughts while painting it. The painting could be a Marxist interpretation, a metaphor for social injustice, a reflection of hierarchical oppression, or any other idea. These interpretations are lost in the 2D world.
“In this collaboration, avatars can jump into the paintings and understand the artist’s emotions while painting them. The paintings will have an audio commentary of the artist explaining the idea behind the process,” says Anshul.
The startup is launching the beta version of its MetaQube platform at the GITEX show in Dubai and the Slush startup event in the upcoming weeks. MetaQube is free for users to begin with, with limited features, but the startup intends to add a subscription plan for full access to all its features.
XR Central sees a lot of potential for metaverse as a service and is betting on the areas of entertainment, art, consumer experiences, and sports fan experiences.
(This story has been updated to correct a factual error.)
Edited by Swetha Kannan