What happened to the Metaverse?
You may remember that when Facebook changed its name to Meta in October 2021 (though still Facebook to many), the company also introduced the world to its grand vision of the future — the Metaverse.
You may also have noticed that there has been little talk of this Meta-endorsed digital world in the two years since. So what’s going on with the Metaverse? Was the prediction way off the mark, or does the Metaverse just need a few years to get into action?
First of all, we need to go back to what it’s actually supposed to be.
What is the Metaverse?
This has not always been clear to everyone, but in the simplest terms, the Metaverse is a kind of virtual reality-enabled cyberspace across various devices. It also uses augmented reality to combine both virtual and physical worlds, and it’s a connected reality that continues even when you’re not there.
The hope is that it will be a new and flexible reality that users can enter as and when it suits them.
There is also the possibility of a digital marketplace, which means enterprises have anticipated the business potential in trading digital goods. The Metaverse could be interoperable, which means these digital items could be moved between platforms, though this seems to be quite difficult to manage.
There have been some suggestions that NFTs will make it possible to use digital products interchangeably in the Metaverse, but this has been disproven.
Is the Metaverse taking off?
At its inception, the idea of a new virtual world led by Meta appealed to big companies like Microsoft, Walmart, and Disney. The Wall Street Journal said the Metaverse would change the way we work forever, and Gartner said by 2026, 25% of people would spend at least one hour a day in the new world. McKinsey and Citi also provided bright projections for the new concept, which helped attract investment.
But since Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared his vision of the digital/virtual/social future almost two years ago, things have been less positive.
While $36 billion has gone into the Metaverse, the profits aren’t there. The first interconnected world from Meta, Horizon Worlds, only generated $470 globally in the first year (no, that’s not a typo), and user numbers have fallen. A leaked internal report showed that most users don’t return after the first month. Many believe that the Metaverse is lacking a coherent vision. Well-funded Metaverse products like Decentraland and The Sandbox likewise have daily figures for active users that are surprisingly low, especially when compared with popular online games like Fortnite.
Meta’s President of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, said in the initial announcement that the Metaverse would take a decade to change the way we live our lives, which gives the company some years to get things moving. But the eery silence since then has been something of an embarrassment for Meta.
In technology and investment, 2023 has seen a huge shift in focus toward artificial intelligence, and this has been no different for Meta. The company’s executives have said they are making AI a priority, which could explain why things have been quiet for the Metaverse. Meta has also stopped pitching the Metaverse to advertisers.
There are some things that need to be overcome for the Metaverse to get off the ground. One of these is the nausea that people often get when using VR, much like motion sickness.
Another issue is equipment. Meta’s only virtual platform, Horizon Worlds, requires the use of a cumbersome Oculus headset, which means the program is not easy to access. Even augmented reality glasses can be impractical for use on an everyday basis.
Aside from being physically uncomfortable, the hardware comes at a hefty cost. And that’s not to mention all of the privacy and security concerns that extended reality (XR) technologies raise.
Then there’s interoperability. Individual platforms may not want their users to easily leave that platform to jump to another, because that could mean losing revenue. And because of the cost, people aren’t likely to purchase multiple headsets to access the different content.
Does Meta even own the Metaverse?
Some believe that instead of the cohesive and seamless Metaverse that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are hoping for, we could be left with a multiverse of metaverses. This could mean different companies and sectors form their own virtual worlds, rather than a universal Meta-centered world.
It would be nice to have one integrated metaverse, but Intel said not so long ago that this kind of interoperability could require a thousand-fold increase in computing power, which is a lot to ask from any provider.
Meanwhile, Meta has been working on technologies for virtual world interactions, but large companies that include Microsoft, Nvidia, Roblox, Snap, and Unity have also been working to develop virtual world infrastructures.
The Guardian suggests that even Second Life, the virtual world launched in 2003 by Linden Lab, has been more successful than Meta’s Metaverse. But whether the virtual world that becomes the most widely adopted predates the Metaverse or comes later, Meta may not be the dominant brand it was hoping to be.
According to a report by Gartner, Generation Z (people born between 1996 and 2010) is the most likely to be interested in virtual experiences. But 85% of this age group is not interested in brands that use metaverses, and 43% said they avoid the Metaverse because they don’t understand it.
Was Meta wrong to make such a bold vision of the future in 2021? These technologies will no doubt be a part of our future, but exactly when and how remains largely unclear. No one can possibly know what tomorrow will bring, so for the moment, it’s best just to watch this… verse?
We initially attributed the creation of Second Life to IBM, which was incorrect. We have updated the article and apologize for the error.