Ugh, Zuckerberg’s Metaverse Isn’t as Dead as We All Hoped

Ugh, Zuckerberg’s Metaverse Isn’t as Dead as We All Hoped
Image: Meta/YouTube

Mark Zuckerberg and his “Metamates” aren’t the only ones roaming around the metaverse.

The VR platform Meta is staking its future on, Horizon Worlds, has enjoyed 10x growth since it was rolled out to users in the US and Canada last December, as first reported by The Verge. According to a Meta spokesperson, the total number of users is up to 300,000 when you include those in Horizon Venues, a separate app for hosting live events, like concerts, sports, and comedy. The monthly user count does not include Horizon Workrooms, Meta’s other platform for conducting VR meetings.

Horizon Worlds is Meta’s most ambitious virtual reality project yet. Often likened to Roblox or Minecraft, Horizon Worlds is a social platform where you can explore or play in existing worlds or create your own environments. The app is free to use but requires Meta’s Oculus 2 headset. Meta said earlier this week that 10,000 worlds have been created in Horizon Worlds and that there are more than 20,000 members in a private Facebook group for creators.

These early numbers sound encouraging, but Meta has a long way to go to convince investors that it hasn’t bet its future on vaporware. Facebook is losing younger users who are more engaged on other social platforms, particularly TikTok. To regain the spotlight, the company rebranded to Meta last December and pivoted to creating the metaverse, a theoretical virtual space that blends the real world with the digital through the use of VR, AR, and mixed reality. Meta plans to spend $US10 ($14) billion this year in constructing this digital world — a huge investment for a company that no longer seems so bulletproof.

Meta dropped out of the world’s 10 largest companies rankings by market value earlier this month. Once worth more than $US1 ($1.39) trillion, the company has lost more than $US500 ($694) billion in market value since September. Earlier this month, it had $US230 ($319) billion wiped out in one day after revealing the first-ever sequential decline in Facebook daily active users. By some metrics, Bloomberg estimates Meta’s stock is the cheapest it’s ever been.

Some 300,000 users aren’t going to change the minds of any metaverse doubters, especially when Meta is pouring billions of dollars into this non-existent world and pushing the idea to nearly 3 billion Facebook users. As Wagner James Au, author of the Making of Second Life, pointed out on Twitter: Meta’s virtual platform is growing at a slightly faster rate than Second Life, a 19-year-old online multiplayer game that lets players have a “second life” in the virtual world.

Both virtual worlds have benefited from the pandemic and a shift to remote work, and it isn’t clear whether Meta can maintain this seemingly encouraging growth. That said, interest in VR has spiked, as Meta’s Quest 2 has been sold out for weeks at a time after launching in 2020. Meta hasn’t disclosed how many headsets were purchased, but Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon put the number at around 10 million.

This is still very early stages and Meta will need to iron out existing problems with the metaverse while making it a place people want to spend time in. Things got off to a rocky start when a beta tester for Horizon Worlds reported being virtually groped by a group of strangers. As a means of preventing further harassment, Meta added a Personal Boundary system that establishes an invisible barrier between avatars that spans four virtual feet.

Meta also faced criticism after technical issues prevent some users from accessing Horizon Venues during a virtual Foo Fighters concert. For what it’s worth, Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues currently have three and two-star user ratings after hundreds of reviews.

Despite these problems, the metaverse seems to be off to a strong start considering you need a $US299 ($415) Quest 2 headset to even access Horizon Worlds. That will soon change, however, when Meta brings a version of this digital world to mobile phones later this year.