Postmortem: Facebook’s Metaverse

A retrospective on Facebook's Metaverse talking through the current state, mistakes made, and the few wins they have achieved so far

The metaverse has been one of the most popular buzzwords among techies in the last one or two years. Facebook’s rebranding from its original name (Facebook) to Meta (derived from metaverse) is a controversial move that made this term even more popular. The goal of Facebook’s rebrand was to assure its investors and the entire world that the company is committed to making the metaverse the next big thing in tech.

Meta has spent over $36 Billion on the Metaverse since 2019. And they plan to spend even more billions in the next couple of years. However, things seem to be moving differently from what Meta anticipated. Meta has lost more than half a billion 16 months after it became the fifth US tech company to cross the $1 Trillion market cap mark.

Besides Meta, several other companies, including Epic, Microsoft, and Nvidia, have all invested heavily in the metaverse. However, Meta is still the Centre of attention whenever the metaverse topic comes up because it decided to bet the entire company’s future on this idea. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, calls the metaverse the next generation of the internet.

The sad news is that not everyone looks at the metaverse in the same way Mark does. Like most tech innovations, it is usually hard to predict the future, but for now, the metaverse doesn’t seem to be ready for the mainstream market. A lot has to change about how the metaverse is currently implemented if it is to become mainstream, as Meta wants us to believe.

The current state of the Metaverse

VR experiences have existed for years.

The idea of the metaverse and experiencing things in virtual reality hasn’t started with Meta. For instance, a platform called VR chats that enables people to chat in virtual reality has existed since 2014. This platform is actually more polished and intuitive than Meta’s Horizon Worlds when it comes to interacting with people in virtual reality.

Gaming in VR has also been around for several years. Gaming is one of the best use cases of VR as it creates a relatively better experience than traditional 2D gaming. Meta’s VR headset, the Mata Quest 2, became very popular because of games like Beat Saber, Super-Hot VR, and Half-life, which millions of users worldwide love to play.

If Meta had focused on tested VR use cases like VR gaming, maybe things would have been a little different. However, they chose to invent new use cases, such as real-work collaboration and attending virtual events, which many people are yet to appreciate.

Users are not interested in the Metaverse.

Meta’s core metaverse product, Horizon Worlds, is still not as popular as they expected it to be almost a year after its launch. A report by the Wallstreet Journal indicated that Horizon Worlds lost over 100,000 users between February and October 2022 despite signing up over 300,000 a few months after its launch. The current user base is estimated to be around 200,000 users.

Many people seem to have signed up to try it, but many of these early adopters were not impressed by what the platform offers. Several reports have also claimed that the developers of the Horizon Worlds platform don’t use it as well, making it clear that they are not proud of the product they are building.

People are not yet convinced by the idea of putting on VR headsets for hours just to attend a virtual concert or be part of a work meeting. This can only change if the VR experience is much better than the alternatives. Until then, I don’t see people sitting in VR meetings instead of using current tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

The graphics are behind the times.

As I shared earlier, most people would only be willing to use the metaverse products if they offer a better experience than the available alternatives. For instance, the graphics in Horizon Workrooms (Meta’s product for corporate meetings and collaboration) are still underwhelming.

Most people would rather use tools like Zoom and Skype instead of sitting in meetings with legless avatars. Meta is currently working on lifelike avatars, which they promise will eventually replace these poorly rendered avatars. However, these could take a couple of years to ship to real users.

Meta’s privacy track record is still haunting it.

Meta’s bad privacy track record is among the reasons the company is still finding challenges in convincing people to join its metaverse. With the metaverse, the personal information that Meta could collect is way more than what they currently collect on their social media platforms.

For instance, the Meta Quest Pro has eye-tracking features that can monitor your facial expressions and render them in real time when you are interacting with other people in the virtual world. We are still unsure if Meta won’t use such data to target people with more accurate ads. Because of how things look, Ads will probably be Meta’s primary source of revenue in the metaverse.

Meta’s wins

Despite the shortcomings and criticisms of Meta’s metaverse, we need to give them credit for making VR more popular than ever before. Currently, the Meta Quest 2 is still the most popular and capable headset in the market. The company is believed to have sold over 10 million Quest 2 headsets in 2021.

Many people love the Quest and Quest 2 because they offer more value for the price (under $400). However, this trend could change with the new Quest Pro, which has received a lot of criticism because of its high price ($1500).

Final thoughts

The metaverse in its current state is far from being the next generation of the internet, as Meta wants us to believe. The technology itself looks cool, but the use cases Meta has prioritized don’t seem to make sense to most people. Meta needs to go back to the drawing board and identify use cases that are better when done in VR compared to the current solutions. The company also has the challenge of convincing people that their data will be safe when they join the Metaverse.