What happened to the metaverse? - Shinyverse

What happened to the metaverse?

Recently I hosted an internal meeting about the current state of “the metaverse”, “VR/AR tech”, etc., and how it seems to be all talk and no substance. It’s been about a year since Zuckerberg changed the company name from Facebook to Meta, and what do they have to show for it? Well, other than finally giving Zuckerberg some virtual legs, Meta has had to hand out some major layoffs, specifically in the metaverse/VR-building department. What caused this shift in priorities, and why does no one seem to talk about the metaverse now?

To start with what didn’t work, one must know what we’re even talking about. metaverse. In layman’s terms the metaverse is the normalization of VR/AR technology usage in day-to-day life. Think Ready Player One. How is this normalization coming? Well even though the VR space is projected to be worth billions, only 15% of the US population owns a VR headset. This is a fraction of the sustainable user force and would hardly be called normalized.

Why don’t more people participate in the metaverse? Two primary reasons:

  1. Cost of entry. The new Meta Quest Pro has a starting cost of $1,000, double a typical gaming console or at-home laptop. Meta justifies this price by touting about their products’ “innovative design and usage”, but that leads to the second problem…
  2. Lack of any real scaled opportunity to use them. In other words, besides the cost the other shortcoming of VR headsets is that there’s just not much to do in them.

A large margin of VR usage pertains to gaming. Although this is a profitable market, companies are projecting VR to be more than just games, instead being the next step to Web3… and it’s just not. Meta Quest shows their top-selling VR apps are: Beat Saber, SUPERHOT VR, Job Simulator, but these are all games. Outside of games, there are a few educational/hands-on programs used for things like engineering, medical practices, etc., but even then, those are a smaller percent of usage, not breaking grounds for everyday use.

When their headset first came out, Meta had created a sandbox land for users called Horizon Worlds. This app was supposed to be a starting point for all users, and a place for them to do anything they want—this failed spectacularly. Today there is a whopping 38-530 users daily; an incredibly small number of users, and most of that usage is probably due to the thought of “There’s really nothing to do.” The sandbox was so open-ended, users were not sure what to do in them. Without guidance, the user count quickly dwindled. Looking back on it, potential consumers were just too confused, and VR veterans just found Worlds to be bland and boring.

It seems like Meta tried to target a demographic that just isn’t there yet, with a high cost product that isn’t fully cooked. If anything, it just wasn’t “mainstream” yet; as stated before, a big component of failed attempts is the tall barrier to entry and Meta simply didn’t have a compelling offering to get over that barrier. Apple has recently announced its Vision Pro “spatial computer” which is getting into the mix. But at a $3,500 starting price and a super short two-hour battery life, it doesn’t feel like this is the game changing offering to jump start the metaverse (though one should hesitate before completely writing off Apple’s ability to disrupt in a scaled way.) Compare the VR space to something like ChatGPT: one is a confusing, expensive, time-consuming hobby that users mostly play games in while the other works with a browser, simple language, and can write an essay for you if you give it a prompt. No wonder there were a reported 1.8 billion visits to the ChatGPT site in April alone. Ease of entry and general understanding are fundamental for products/programs to jump with, and the world of VR is still a little too outlandish for the modern audience. For now, I think games in VR will expand greatly in the near future, but outside of that, the modern day-to-day use is just not quite there.

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