Facebook, Beware: The Metaverse Is Flat | Tech News

Facebook, Beware: The Metaverse Is Flat

Most people are visiting virtual worlds through plain old screens. Mark Zuckerberg needs to plan accordingly.

| Updated on: Sep 20 2022, 22:59 IST
iPhone moment? Meta smart glasses, in Star Trek style, could launch as early as 2024
Mark Zuckerberg
1/5 According to a conversation by Meta insiders with the Verge, the venture is called Project Nazare and is scheduled to launch in 2024. It will arrive in three iterations, them being in 2024, 2026 and later in 2028. (Facebook/Meta)
Mark Zuckerberg
2/5 Although there is no working prototype yet, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg still wants smart glasses to launch within two years. According to a former employee, Zuckerberg wants the launch of AR smart glasses to be Meta’s own Apple “iPhone” moment. (Bloomberg)
Mark Zuckerberg
3/5 The smart glasses don’t need to be tethered to a mobile phone, therefore avoiding the terms under which apps such as Facebook are mandated to operate. (Bloomberg)
Mark Zuckerberg
4/5 Features such as 70-degree field of view, light weight, eye-tracking movement, front camera and stereo speakers are expected in the first version of smart glasses. Coming to price, it is expected to be subsidized as smart glasses will have a huge development cost. (AP)
Mark Zuckerberg
5/5 Meta has already spent billions of dollars in the development of its AR smart glasses but is expecting the first iteration to have low sales. Along with Meta, companies like Apple have also already begun work towards development of smart glasses and it aims to launch its Mixed Reality glasses as early as late this year or in 2023. (REUTERS)
Mark Zuckerberg
icon View all Images
Does the metaverse need 3D? As Mark Zuckerberg led Meta gets ready to announce its new VR headset, it is a question it must answer. (AP)

In a few weeks' time, Mark Zuckerberg will announce a new virtual reality headset from Meta Platforms Inc. Embarrassingly, we already know what it will look like. A video of the purported device has been doing the rounds online after someone found one in a hotel room. Yet none of that should matter because whizzy VR headsets are becoming too much of a distraction, and aren't that integral to the early growth of the so-called metaverse, a 3D version of the internet that many see as its next chapter. It turns out flat screens are doing the job just fine. 

While Facebook has sold about 14 million VR headsets to date, millions more have visited the metaverse through regular 2D screens like the one you're looking at right now, via apps like Roblox and Epic Games Inc.'s Fortnite. The trend is likely to continue for several years yet as VR headsets take time to slim down in size and price.

You may be interested in

MobilesTablets Laptops
7% OFF
Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max
  • Black Titanium
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 256 GB Storage
28% OFF
Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra 5G
  • Green
  • 12 GB RAM
  • 256 GB Storage
Google Pixel 8 Pro
  • Obsidian
  • 12 GB RAM
  • 128 GB Storage
Apple iPhone 15 Plus
  • Black
  • 6 GB RAM
  • 128 GB Storage

That puts Zuckerberg in an awkward position. He wants you to buy Meta's headset, known as the Quest, because that gives him greater control over whatever metaverse marketplace he builds down the line. And the reason is clear: For years he's been beholden to the rules of app gatekeepers Alphabet Inc.'s Google and Apple Inc., paying their fees and following edicts such as the App Tracking Transparency prompt that will knock about $14 million off Facebook's ad sales this year.

Also read
Looking for a smartphone? To check mobile finder click here.

It would be a painful, almost unthinkable step for Facebook to make its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds available on app stores. But perhaps there is another way. Facebook could allow people to visit the platform via a simple browser.

Google's Stadia uses a service called cloud-streaming that lets people play large video games via Chrome. It's an expensive process, requiring powerful servers, but it could help Facebook circumvent Apple and Google while drumming up a flood of curious new users. Meta's technology chief Andrew Bosworth hinted on Twitter earlier this year that a web-based version was in the cards, but a company spokeswoman declined to provide further details.

“It'd be a 3D version of Facebook that looks like a game, but you'd browse it from your desktop,” said Sam Huber, CEO of metaverse property startup LandVault. “It could become the most popular game in the world.”

Even modest popularity would reassure investors who are likely to balk at how slowly the company's headset customers are growing: A mere 300,000 people have visited Horizon Worlds since it launched last October. You can only access the platform via a Quest 2 headset.

“Facebook seems to be operating from a sunk cost fallacy,” said Wagner James Au, an author and blogger who has covered the metaverse for more than a decade. “There's no data to support VR headsets as being the mass market device.”  

In fact, flat versions of the metaverse are far more popular than 3D ones. About three-quarters of Roblox's 52 million daily visitors are on a phone, while the vast majority of people using Microsoft Corp.'s Minecraft or Fortnite are on a desktop computer or mobile.

Several metaverse companies have also pivoted to flat. Decentraland, for instance, a virtual world for trading crypto assets, was marketed as a “virtual reality platform” when it launched its initial coin offering in 2017. Yet all its users have since been visiting via a desktop or browser, the company says.

VRChat, a platform for socializing with other avatars, was first released as an app for Oculus headsets in 2014. Three years later it produced a desktop version, and was able to attract millions more users.

“The issue is price,” said Artur Sychov, the founder of metaverse startup Somnium Space, whose users mostly visit on a browser. Meta's Quest 2 costs about $400, while other rival headsets can exceed $800.

Going into a virtual world on a screen is actually a decent proxy for “real” VR and certainly more engaging than a regular video call, as I discovered when Sychov took me on a tour of the Somnium universe during our Zoom meeting. Since I wasn't technically with him as an avatar, Sychov held a virtual tablet in front of him with a “camera” that let me follow his movements around the space.

Watching him point to art in a virtual gallery and moving through colorful forests, even on my laptop screen, was enough to help me imagine myself being there.

Until now, Meta's marketing has focused on the immersive benefits of VR headsets, creating the feeling that you're really with work colleagues or inside a fitness class. But that misses the true selling point of the metaverse — incentives to create new experiences — and you don't need a VR headset for that.

To lure more people into its virtual platforms, Meta needs to focus less on building cutting-edge headsets, and more on emulating metaverse pioneers like Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft. Almost a quarter of Roblox's own users have created millions of games for the platform, producing a marketplace for commerce as well as fun. Nearly all its content is user-generated, just like TikTok or YouTube, and that is a big part of its attraction.

Zuckerberg similarly must turn his metaverse into a place where creators can thrive. Facebook's current push to test tools for creators feels late, given how far ahead the other pioneers are.

Concentrating too much on immersive tech is putting the cart before the horse. Meta needs to make its metaverse both accessible and an attractive place for creators. Going “flat” would be a good start.

Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she is author of “We Are Anonymous.”

Catch all the Latest Tech News, Mobile News, Laptop News, Gaming news, Wearables News , How To News, also keep up with us on Whatsapp channel,Twitter, Facebook, Google News, and Instagram. For our latest videos, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

First Published Date: 20 Sep, 22:59 IST