Even if Zuckerberg eventually succeeds with his Metaverse, do we really want another app to disconnect us from the physical world and human interaction?
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced in October 2021 that the company was changing its name to Meta and would focus on a new virtual reality world where people could live life as avatars. “Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses,” the company said in a statement.
What sticks out to me is that we already have a universe where people can connect, find communities, and grow businesses—it’s called “outside.” The Metaverse envisioned by Zuckerberg does bring to mind unfortunate comparisons to the zombie life led by people who are unknowingly trapped inside a vast simulated reality in The Matrix, or the fat, aimless folks in WALL-E who have lost all reason to live because their every need is taken care of by robots.
But the company is struggling to find its footing in its new venture:
Was speaking to a Meta employee last night. All of Meta's products are separated, they don't work together. Horizon Worlds is just a Unity game and their developer tools don't talk natively to each other.
Zuck only cares about user numbers and data.
— Theo Priestley (@tprstly) October 7, 2022
Despite over $10 billion in investment (some estimates put the figure as high as $70 billion), Meta’s flagship metaverse app, Horizon Worlds, is suffering from quality issues and frankly, user interest. According to The Verge:
In one of the memos to employees dated September 15th, Meta’s VP of Metaverse, Vishal Shah, said the team would remain in a “quality lockdown” for the rest of the year to “ensure that we fix our quality gaps and performance issues before we open up Horizon to more users.”
“But currently feedback from our creators, users, playtesters, and many of us on the team is that the aggregate weight of papercuts, stability issues, and bugs is making it too hard for our community to experience the magic of Horizon. Simply put, for an experience to become delightful and retentive, it must first be usable and well crafted.” [Emphasis mine.]
Papercuts?! That certainly seems like it would be a problem in a virtual world. (I’m assuming “paper cuts” is a techie term?)
Horizon Worlds is a multiplayer virtual reality where you can create your own avatars and interact with the digital universe and other users. Note that you can already do this in a variety of video games like Fortnite, but Meta evidently thinks they can make it bigger and better.
To me though it all just seems a bit creepy:
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The reality of the struggle faced by Metra is that many of the employees and creators of Horizon Worlds aren’t all that interested in it themselves:
A key issue with Horizon’s development to date, according to Shah’s internal memos, is that the people building it inside Meta appear to not be using it that much. “For many of us, we don’t spend that much time in Horizon and our dogfooding dashboards show this pretty clearly,” he wrote to employees on September 15th. “Why is that? Why don’t we love the product we’ve built so much that we use it all the time? The simple truth is, if we don’t love it, how can we expect our users to love it?”
“I want to be clear on this point. We are working on a product that has not found product market fit.” [Emphasis mine.]
I get a kick out of all the weird terms they use. What the heck is a “dogfooding dashboard?”
I am not a billionaire, so far be it from me to question Zuckerkberg’s plans. I was however surprised when he pivoted the resources of his behemoth tech company toward an unproven technology. The timing has not been kind to Zuckerberg, as the online advertising market has plummeted and Meta has faced some daunting realities, as The Wall Street Journal notes:
…a series of events combined to slow the global economy and cripple the online advertising market. That has cast a shadow over the company just as it makes its most ambitious attempt yet to prove that its metaverse aspiration actually has some legs. Meta will lift the wraps on its latest efforts in virtual reality next week, just as it is also working through an extensive cost-cutting effort that involves office closures, hiring freezes and staff cullings that Meta is taking some pains not to describe as layoffs. The stock has lost 58% of its value over the last 12 months—the tenth worst performer on the S&P 500 in that time.
The risk with $META is how far will Mark go in achieving his dream of the Metaverse? He has the cash to spend now but both Facebook and Instagram are dying platforms. If his bet goes wrong, it's over for the company. https://t.co/Zf2Rf0avCF
— The Maverick of Wall Street (@TheMaverickWS) October 7, 2022
Eventually, a realistic online universe may come to fruition, and Zuckerberg might again be the top dog. I’m not convinced, however, that this will be a good thing: do we really need to further cut ourselves off from the physical world and interactions with actual live people? I don’t think so. Anyone who’s ever watched a teen get lost in their virtual life in The Sims has often wondered, “hey, why don’t you ditch your virtual boyfriend and go out on an actual freakin’ date.”
“I’ve been in Meta’s virtual reality social network Horizon Worlds every hour of the night and day to meet the metaverse’s earliest adopters,” tweets one enthusiast. Does this sound healthy to you?
I heard all this talk about the metaverse so I decided to go live there for a while. Over the last few months, I’ve been in Meta’s virtual reality social network Horizon Worlds every hour of the night and day to meet the metaverse’s earliest adopters. https://t.co/731PGgjB0R
— Kashmir Hill (@kashhill) October 7, 2022