Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse Is Solving No Problems
Mark Zuckerberg laid out Tuesday how Meta is diving deeper and deeper into the black mines of the metaverse, attempting to extract digital gold.
Zuckerberg revealed a $1,500 headset Oculus Pro, as much as a PS5, Xbox Series X and Quest 2 combined, and some updates to the looks of avatars and the integration of Microsoft business products.
When your most significant announcement is the fact that after years and years of investment, you’re on the verge of debuting virtual characters with legs, something has gone wrong.
The entire problem with Mark Zuckerberg’s fascination with the metaverse is that he’s trying to force a sci-fi reality to happen long before the rest of the society wants or needs it to actually exist. His version of an AR/VR-based metaverse remains a niche, not something to focus a trillion dollar company around. And given the trillion dollar company in question, which has spent the last decade rendering Facebook and Instagram close to unusable, this company being trusted with this supposed key part of the future is not something anyone has a lot of faith in.
The main issue with Mark’s metaverse is that it’s a solution in search of dozens of problems.
It is an alternative place to play some interesting, VR-based video games, but its total collection is a drop in the bucket compared to the larger gaming industry, which produces new and compelling experiences monthly, and has created enormous, shared online communities for decades, like the kind Meta claims to want to cultivate. There was once an idea that VR was the next “leap” in gaming past consoles and PC, but that vision has not materialized and after all these years the VR market is still fractional compared to the larger whole. PlayStation, with PSVR, treats it as a supplement to a larger whole. Meta views it as the entire pie, even if it claims it doesn’t.
But gaming almost feels like a minuscule focus for Horizon compared to how much time it spent extolling the virtues of VR-based business integration. They had Accenture come on and talk about their virtual office they made with little paper doll avatars, and Satya Nadella showed up to talk about the exciting integration of…Microsoft Office and Teams into Meta’s metaverse. Even here, it’s hard to understand what’s being proposed as some revolutionary transformation of how business is done. Meta is attempting to replicate the concept of being together in a room for a meeting, something most people try to avoid at baseline, and offering something that feels in no way more coherent than just a normal Zoom or Teams meeting, which is also not exciting at baseline. This entire concept feels based around the idea that you could turn and give a virtual high five to a virtual coworker in the metaverse, a neat party trick (though with these avatars, an awkward one), but something to sink billions of dollars worth of research pursuing? And what businesses are using this tech regularly with a straight face?
Finally, Mark Zuckerberg has gone a bit mad after too many people made fun of his Mii-like Horizon avatar that he kept sharing screenshots of, and now in pursuit of better looking VR avatars has now created something that’s…a little better than a Sims character, and a little worse than a Snapchat overlay filter. He ended the presentation with photorealistic face scan tech with no proposed release date or even a promise it would arrive in Horizon.
Sure, if I had unlimited money maybe I too would be throwing it toward some science-fiction vision of the future that I thought sounded cool in a bunch of books. But now it’s becoming clear Zuckerberg’s Meta does not have infinite money, and the company is being held afloat by ad revenue controlled by rival tech companies on social networks everyone increasingly hates. Nothing about the metaverse feels remotely profitable, and any attempts to overtly monetize it will only make it exponentially worse and make adoption even slower.
We cannot predict where tech will take us 10, 20 or 50 years from now. The metaverse may indeed exist someday outside of a weird VR sandbox and 500 blockchain pitches in my inbox every day. But that day is not now, it’s not tomorrow, and I don’t know if it will get here before Meta runs out of money or its investors run out of patience.