Nearly a year after its much-heralded rebranding, the company’s stock plummeted a dizzying 57%. CEO Mark Zuckerberg lost an estimated $70 billion of his net worth, making him the 20th richest man in the world (cue the world’s smallest fiddle).
The financial strain also forced the company to cut budgets across its entire workforce and freeze new hires, even those already accepted.
Much of Meta’s problems are due to the bleak financial outlook for the entire technology industry and the world at large. At a shareholder meeting in May, Zuckerberg surprisingly announced that, despite having invested billions of dollars in the Metaverse, the platform “is not going to contribute meaningfully to the business until, at a minimum, much later this decade.” He added that profits are not expected to really take off until the 2030s at the earliest.
Waiting a decade for significant profits is not going to allow investors to sleep soundly at night. Nor does it bode well for its public brand, which has taken a hit over the past year.
It doesn’t help that, after being hounded online because its avatar in Horizon Worlds, Meta’s metaverse platform, looked like a legless character from a PS1 game, it decided to roll out the red carpet and hype the announcement that avatars now do have legs, which caused it to get roasted even more online.
It’s easy to revel in the schadenfreude of one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world going all-in, especially when they’re trying to create something that seems at best a ridiculous pipe dream and at worst an absolute waste of time, money and resources.
However, the truth is that the metaverse is inevitable. Not only that, but in many ways it is already here, and has been for decades.
Even Neal Stephenson, who first coined the term metaverse in his 1992 book Snow Crash to describe a fictional virtual reality world, has alluded to it.
In a June tweet, he said that when he came up with the term, he didn’t conceive of a metaverse not being through VR, but then a video game called Doom came along.
…I didn't see video games coming when I wrote Snow Crash. I thought that the killer app for computer graphics would be something more akin to TV. But then along came DOOM and generations of games in its wake. That's what made 3D graphics cheap enough to reach a mass audience.
— Neal Stephenson (@nealstephenson) June 8, 2022
Stephenson referred to a key component of any successful metaverse that many people in the web3 (a term used to describe the next evolution of the world wide web) and metaverse space tend to overlook: video games, or even games in general.
“It’s not so much that the metaverse is the future of gaming. The future of the metaverse is games,” Jon Radoff, author of the Building the Metaverse blog and founder of metaverse consulting firm Beamable, told The Daily Beast. “Games are going to be the foundation of the metaverse.”
In fact, Radoff believes the origins of the metaverse go back even further, to the creation of games like Dungeons and Dragons, saying the popular board game is actually one of the first metaverses. “It’s a space for social experience, storytelling, shared imagination, and everything that’s happened since then are technologies that break down spatial and temporal barriers to engage in that,” he said.
“By co-opting the term, Meta may have inadvertently done itself more harm than good. The company has backed itself into a corner where the only way to access its interpretation of the metaverse is to buy expensive and cumbersome equipment.”
Today’s most successful metaverses, such as Roblox, Second Life and Fortnite, are based on video games. With its rebranding, Meta may have inadvertently done more harm than good, instead of embracing the fact that there are already plenty of thriving metaverse platforms like Roblox and leveraging those existing technologies
The company has backed itself into a corner where the only way to access its interpretation of the metaverse is by purchasing expensive and cumbersome equipment.
Currently, the Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headset costs $400, while the recently
announced Meta Quest Pro costs $1,500, these aren’t exactly prices that someone with zero experience or knowledge of VR platforms wants to buy, especially when they could spend that money on something like a PS5 or a new phone.
But those same products are the foundation of Meta’s future, if it ever hopes to have one. The company needs people to buy them.
“The ergonomics of technology are terrible,” Radoff said. He added that this is a problem with much of the recent wave of web3 trends of clunky blockchain and cryptocurrency platforms that are difficult for most new users to use and learn. “The hardware itself, such as VR headsets, is still quite heavy. We’re not at a point where people are going to wear it all day to do anything. They’re fun to play a game for a while or show up for an experience. But we’re not at a point where all of these things are going to merge and integrate into our daily lives the way phones do.”
“Meta gets a lot of credit for taking on some super challenging problems.” Jon Radoff
However, Radoff said one of the things Meta is doing well is that it is recognizing and meeting most people where they are in terms of their comfort level with new technologies.
For example, Horizon Worlds is getting the mobile app treatment. It could be a good way to introduce the company’s metaverse concept to a wider audience.
“Before these things become huge in VR headsets, there’s an opportunity to bring them to the masses using a cell phone that’s already in use,” Radoff explained. “Those things may not be compelling enough to talk about, but I think they’re important in terms of executing a strategy to get these experiences to people globally, regardless of their ability to buy a $1,500 device.”
For now, however, they can and should take a page from the playbook of current successful metaverses like Roblox or Fortnite. These are platforms that have fostered communities full of people with personas and digital identities that are as important to users as their own real in-person identities.
Only by creating fun and engaging environments have they been able to thrive, grow and ultimately succeed.
Meta, on the other hand, seems to take a top-down approach, trying to impose unwanted and unsolicited technology on the masses based on their deep pockets.
Whatever the approach, however, a Herculean task always awaited Zuckerberg and Meta. They are trying to create a product like the cell phone in far less time than it took for the latter to reach our pockets.
Radoff believes there is something noble about these goals, especially when it comes to how Meta is willing to take big risks to develop a potentially groundbreaking technology.
“Meta gets a lot of credit for tackling very complex problems,” Radoff says. After all, hardware like AR/VR sunglasses with smartphone-like battery life isn’t exactly easy to build. “These are epically complex undertakings,” he says. “I think they deserve some credit for taking on that amount of technology risk. It takes a lot of courage to do that.”
For now, the fact is that the metaverse has been here for a while now and will continue to grow and develop into new and different forms of socialization and collaboration. It just might not be the one Zuck has in mind.
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