How’s the Metaverse doing a year later? Can it still become a clean technology?

About a year ago I wrote a series of articles explore the possible advantages and disadvantages of Facebook Meta’s metaverse blueprints. In some ways, referring to it that way isn’t fair, because Oculus (which was acquired by Facebook and became Meta) isn’t the only player in this space. A growing number of companies were involved back then, and even more are searching the metaverse now.

I don’t want to rehash the entire article series, but if you’re TL; DR about a four part series, the short version is that there are safety and environmental benefits that can come from reducing the need for transportation and keeping people out of hazardous situations. But the cost of hardware can get in the way, and that’s assuming the metaverse is both high-quality and not a cesspool of misinformation, human rights abuses, and incivility.

It’s not going well on the meta side

Unfortunately, the The Facebook part of the metaverse hasn’t even reached a high enough quality for these deeper questions to come into play.. The VR app’s centerpiece, Horizon Worlds, initially garnered a lot of interest, but lost active users like crazy. Like VR headsets themselves, people want to try something new, and then a lot of people stop using it when the novelty wears off. Now the company is in a “quality lockdown” where new features are put on hold while they try to make it more stable and enjoyable.

It’s pretty unclear how the company intends to get out of the slump with Horizon Worlds, or if it plans to do anything else to leverage its overall Metaverse concept. I tried to enter Horizon Worlds myself to see what its outlook was like, but apparently right now they don’t even allow new users, or they don’t think I’m good enough to test it. Whatever their reasons, I couldn’t go into it to find out more. But, from everything I’ve read, I’m not missing anything at this point.

It seems unlikely that the new Oculus Pro headset will save it on its own. While impressive in terms of hardware and capabilities, the Oculus Pro also has an impressive price tag that will keep all but the most serious users from considering it. It’s hard enough to get people to spend $300 on a device that only does VR, even though people regularly spend over $1,000 on smartphones. With a smartphone, you can do almost anything, after all. $1500 seems like a pretty tough sell considering all of this.

A possible solution is to make interaction with the metaverse without requiring a VR headset, which is Meta’s plan at this point. If you remember seeing the 360-degree videos and photos on Facebook a few years ago, that’s probably a good clue as to how the worlds of 2D and 3D can overlap. By moving a smartphone or tablet like a “magic window”, you can experience a kind of virtual or augmented reality (AR) experience. If this experience can interest people, it may be the way to encourage people to invest in dedicated hardware.

There is also the traditional video game approach. With a mouse, WASD keys, and arrow keys, you can move through old-school virtual worlds. So desktops and laptops can be another entry point to the metaverse. Games like Minecraft and Roblox show us that it’s possible for consoles to get in on the action in the same way.

As for productive use of the metaverse for things like meetings, webcams and software like Zoom may get in on the action. Instead of appearing as a 3D avatar that looks like you in virtual space, you can appear as a floating monitor or TV screen with your webcam video hovering above a seat at the virtual table. Screen sharing, presentations, etc. are also essential for virtual meetings.

Outside the metaverse of Meta

If Meta/Facebook can’t create the metaverse, it’s not the only player. There are many other niche uses for VR technology, virtual spaces, etc. that can make it work.

Popular 3D and 2D design software SketchUp had VR viewers where you could check out your designs for a while, but more recently the ability to do 3D design in virtual space has emerged. For SketchUp, there is VR Sketch.

On top of that, professional CAD software can work with virtual reality to help large engineering and architecture firms show people what a multi-million dollar project will look like in the end. It should have been obvious, but VR is a natural way to interact with 3D designs, and the costs for things like headsets seem low when millions are at stake.

VR & Metaverse Gaming went nowhere

VR gaming hasn’t gone mainstream, but it’s a safe bet that when you shell out the cash for VR hardware, gaming will be a reliable use of it. Popular titles like Beatsaber, Star Wars, and the upcoming Among Us VR show that VR gaming is still viable.

But, again, we have to keep in mind that the Metaverse isn’t just VR. Roblox and Minecraft are also considered great metaverse players, although most games are 2D there. The important thing that makes these online sites part of the metaverse, and not just computer games, is that they bring people together from different places and give them some control over the environment. So even if the Facebook/Meta version of the metaverse fails, the concept is definitely not dead.

One last thing to keep in mind: virtual reality does not replace anything

It’s important to keep in mind that a successful metaverse concept doesn’t require old ways to go away. Previously, the Internet didn’t even involve web pages, if you’re old enough to remember. But, FTP went nowhere. Web pages finally got video capability, but photographs and text (like the text you’re reading right now) didn’t die just because YouTube was a thing.

So, as we watch things unfold, don’t assume VR and the Metaverse are dead because the World Wide Web and hypertext are still a thing. Things may not be happening with virtual reality as quickly as Meta would have hoped, but there is still a lot of potential.

Featured Image: A screenshot from a meta video (embedded above) showing how Horizon Workrooms can interact with older meeting software, like Zoom.


 

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