Why Facebook’s “Metaverse” Plans are Garbage

Before I get started, let me lay out my many credentials for talking about this topic. Before my recent change to “Date Ariane Games” this website was titled “Life in the Metaverse”. For over a decade, I maintained this page dedicated to 3D Metaverses, and I spent over a decade playing metaverses like There and Second Life and have many posts dedicated to them. I read Snow Crash in the 90’s, and I got in on the ground floor of many attempts to bring the “Metaverse” to life. I have a level of experience and expertise on this stuff very few have.

And before anyone says “Well Facebook is going to be different”, I bought a Oculus VR stand alone headset 3 years ago, and spent a lot of time in what Facebook is selling as a “Metaverse”. Bottom line it is fun in short bursts, but sessions longer than two hours can lead to dizziness and headaches. It’s “potential” as a replacement for PC, Console, or mobile gaming just isn’t there. It will be forever a side accessory that will not get much use.

A lot of what I want to say about Facebook’s Metaverse is covered in this excellent video.

But here are the liner notes for you:

  • The Idea of a “Metaverse” is an exciting idea invented in a parody cyberpunk novel Snow Crash in 1992.
  • Games like There.com, Second Life, and Google Earth were inspired by Snow Crash, and all first came out in 2003 to 2005, all three still exist, but are way past their peak popularity.
  • “But those are old tech, and aren’t designed for actual VR”, True, but the issues with these programs are not solved by better graphics and VR support.
  • Facebook’s own CTO is aware of the problems There and Second Life discovered 18 years ago: Often ‘toxic’ environments that are ‘practically impossible’ to moderate.
  • Facebook’s motivations are two fold: 1. Use the “metaverse” to deflect from the many ongoing scandals surrounding all of Facebook’s social media platforms. 2. Attempt to establish a metaverse standard that all other potential metaverses must adhere to. To do this, they must sell millions of Oculus headsets, currently priced well below cost, that run on Facebook controlled platforms.

There are several successful 3D Metaverses going on right now. Facebook seems interested in the fully user created world, which is what Second Life basically is, but that has proven to be the least popular.

Much more popular are the MMORPG worlds, where there is always a lot to do. My current game of choice is Guild Wars 2, but Final Fantasy 14, WoW, and the many others share the same components: Lots of professionally created things to do in a social cooperative environment. The biggest weakness is lack of user created content, but only a small percent of the player base really wants that kind of control. The companies that maintain these games are constantly adding new content for players to explore and play in.

Just below the popularity of MMORPGs are platforms that allow players the freedom to build, but with a tightly controlled framework to build in. This is your Roblox and Minecraft worlds that give creative people an outlet to design games and environments for other players to enjoy. The tightly controlled framework is necessary to keep out adult content and violent imagery. Roblox is a world designed for kids, and does not need that kind of content.

In distant third are the 3D Virtual Worlds I used to keep track of. Many would allow players to upload their own 2D and 3D content. Some like There.com, and IMVU had an approval process to prevent problematic content. Second Life didn’t bother with approval, just charging fees to upload, resulting in a world full of adult content.

The point is, there are different types of “metaverses” that people want to play in. It is clear to me that creating the ultimate metaverse that caters to all is an impossible goal. VR will never be the superior way to connect with this content. It is too limiting, not just technology wise, but because in practice we can’t use it for long periods of time.

VR needs to be “optional” in all applications except short gaming experiences. You want to hold business meetings in VR? Fine, but you need to offer flat computer screen options for those that can’t experience VR properly, and once you do, most people will opt for the flat screen most of the time.

Billions have already been spent trying to to make VR good enough to be profitable and it continues to falter. I am convinced it is not possible even as tech improves. VR will forever be a gimmick.

Related: The creator of Second Life Philip Rosedale agrees with me. Metaverse blogger Wagner James Au adds the following:

I actually agree with Philip on this point, but then again, I never saw “everybody” as the sensible target. I mean, if you consider ROBLOX, Fortnite, Rec Room, VRChat, and yes even Second Life as being Metaverse-like platforms, you’re easily talking about 500 million monthly active users. And if you agree with Julie Young that Free Fire is a nascent Metaverse, that’s 500 million+ active users more, which gets us to over 1 billion active users. (None of which, I hasten to add, are in Meta’s version of the Metaverse.)

And if 1 in 8 people in the entire world are already active in Metaverse-ish platforms, isn’t that already “everybody” enough?

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