Before ChatGPT, there was a time when the technology world was talking about something completely different.
Remember the Metaverse?
For a while, it dominated technology news. A virtual reality world that is so immersive and so engaging that you want to spend part of your life there.
Mark Zuckerberg was the driving force behind the Metaverse narrative.
The tech billionaire was so enthusiastic that he changed the name of Facebook to Meta in October 2021.
“The hallmark of the Metaverse is the sense of realism,” Meta’s head said in announcing the change.
“Feeling truly present with others is the ultimate social technology dream, which is why we are focused on building this.
“In the Metaverse, you will be able to do just about anything you can imagine,” he said.
No one criticized him for his lack of ambition.
But nearly two years later, Zuckerberg’s vision for the Metaverse is in trouble.
In April, he was forced to deny that he had now abandoned the idea.
“There’s a narrative that’s developing that we’re going to move away from our focus on the Metaverse in some way,” he told investors in April. “So I just want to say straight up that that’s not accurate.”
The company will hold its annual VR event called MetaConnect on Wednesday.
Perhaps this is Zuckerberg’s chance to once again explain why he bought an extremely profitable social media company and shifted his focus to an extremely unprofitable VR venture.
How much of a disadvantage? Well, the latest numbers for the meta are impressive.
Reality Labs (as the name suggests, Meta’s virtual reality and augmented reality division) has lost a staggering $21 billion since last year.
Some of the losses reflect long-term investments. Mehta did not expect short-term profits. But the worrying fact for the company is that so far there is little evidence that this giant punt will work.
Horizon Worlds, a game published by Meta, brings the company close to creating the Metaverse.
Users can jump into a variety of environments to hang out and play games, including cafes, comedy clubs, nightclubs, and basketball courts.
Meta claims 300,000 monthly users, but that’s a pittance compared to Facebook and Instagram’s billions.
And as always, far fewer people are actually playing the game.
User reviews complain about the empty world and say there aren’t enough people to make it interesting. Or if there are people, it’s usually children.
But the biggest criticism is that rather than the gorgeous VR experience Zuckerberg promised, the graphics look a bit crappy, akin to the graphics on the 2006 Nintendo Wii.
When it comes to Meta’s virtual reality headsets, it’s hard to see how the current technology comes close to the vision articulated by the company’s bosses.
Over 20 million Meta headsets have been sold; According to a Verge article from earlier this year. That’s not bad. The Quest 2 headset received positive reviews.
However, there are many consoles that perform far better.
Sony, for example, claims that 40 million PlayStation 5 units have been sold.
And remember, Zuckerberg isn’t comparing success to a gaming console. He wants to revolutionize the way we all live, work and, as he calls it, “connect.”
Let’s face it: VR isn’t mainstream yet. This is not how most people play games, nor is it how most people choose to spend their time. Real life is stubbornly fascinating.
In July, on a call with investors, someone asked Mr. Zuckerberg why he had spent so much money. “Help us understand,” they said.
Mr. Zuckerberg said he understood the frustration and acknowledged, “I can’t guarantee that this bet is right. I certainly think that’s the direction the world is headed.”
So on Wednesday, we’ll hear from Zuckerberg as he tries to breathe life into a concept in a desperate need of oxygen.
More on Meta’s new headset, the Quest 3, and how Horizon Worlds is moving to mobile and desktop (meaning you won’t need a headset to play) You’ll hear it.
There will also be various new AI announcements.
No doubt we’ll hear again that the Metaverse is a long-term project, meaning we haven’t seen the real Metaverse yet.
No doubt Zuckerberg still believes that, as expressed through his meta checkbook. He said in July that Reality Labs expected to post even bigger losses next year.
So while the Metaverse is still alive and well in Meta, most of the rest of the technological world seems to have relocated.