For all the talk we’ve heard from tech giants in recent weeks about the future in which we all work and play in something called the metaverse, few people have actually been able to experience this grand vision for themselves. Well, now you can: Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has opened its Horizon Worlds VR platform for owners of its Meta Quest 2 (formerly known as Oculus Quest 2 — yes, this is annoying) headsets.
Think of Horizon Worlds as an early, small-scale version of what Mark Zuckerberg imagines the metaverse will be. The platform requires the aforementioned Quest VR headset, as well as a Facebook account, and allows you to hang out with up to 20 other people in a virtual world. You create an avatar to represent you — the avatars, CNBC notes, have heads and torsos but no legs — and you can then interact with other users’ avatars. You begin a Horizon Worlds experience in something called the Plaza before venturing off to explore worlds and games that have been created by Horizon Worlds users.
Horizon was initially a beta experiment launched in 2020, and early users have created custom worlds and objects using tools that Meta provides within the platform. According to The Verge, Meta employees have been developing a library of objects and actions that control how objects work, which will eventually be made available to all users.
Now that the formerly invite-only beta is open to everyone (or everyone over the age of 18 in the U.S. and Canada who owns a Quest headset), we’ll get a glimpse of how Facebook’s vision for the metaverse will actually play out. The Verge notes that there has already been a report of sexual harassment within Horizon Worlds, and while there are safety tools for blocking avatars you don’t want to interact with, it remains to be seen whether people will behave themselves as if in polite society, or whether the ability to hide behind an avatar will enable the same shitty behaviour we see across every other social platform.
Meta currently has experienced users who have been trained to use Horizon Worlds and act as “guides,” or essentially community moderators, to introduce people to various worlds, but those guides presumably can’t be in all worlds at once.
The metaverse is not an actual thing yet, and won’t be for years. Meta is hoping that people will be excited by the potential of Horizon Worlds, and that the ability to create new spaces will appeal to users. (Though users are not currently paid for their creations.)
As for whether most people will want to spend chunks of their days in a virtual world rather than a physical one, well, Meta has a ways to go to make the VR experience more comfortable, affordable, and seamless for everyone, not just early adopters with time to kill and money to burn. The company is investing $US10 ($14) billion into metaverse development over the next year with the goal of doing just that.