It is mostly empty in the metaverse – The Business Standard

November 30, 2022
It has been a year since Facebook rebranded itself, Meta, to reflect its ambition into the world of the metaverse. The move was an all-out effort by Mark Zuckerberg to turn the tide on the company’s recent plights. But a year on, the situation appears to be worse. 
Horizon Worlds – Meta’s metaverse – has failed to attract less than half of the users it had expected initially a year ago. An internal paper, reported by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), also revealed that most of the users would leave the platforms after just a few encounters. 
And the market responded accordingly. Since its peak in September last year, stock prices are in freefall, tumbling 60% over more than just a year and losing $700 billion in market value. Though the outlook appears gloomy as of now, the project’s pioneers are adamant that this is the future of our online internet experience.
Widely regarded by many as the next stage of social interactions, a metaverse is essentially a virtual reality platform accessible through headsets. In essence, this is to be an evolved version of the present-day social media, but in a 3D and virtually realistic manner, providing an immersive experience.
A metaverse wants to be a copy of the real world (and to some extent beyond that) and wants us to do real things like playing with friends, watching movies, participating in concerts, shopping, investing in property, meeting with colleagues and all the kinds of things we do on its platform.
Many among the younger generations now apparently think of Facebook as a platform for “the old”. The social media giant is failing to keep up with the demands and expectations of the millennials and gen-z. Evidently, they are flocking to TikTok, Snapchat or other platforms.
The issues of privacy and data breaches were even more serious. And as the relevance of Facebook is being questioned, speculations are that with this rate the company might go into oblivion unless it has something new to offer.
So, Meta went all in for Horizon Worlds – its VR universe. For the tech giant, the metaverse is the next big thing in the technology universe. Likewise, the company has made Horizon Worlds its top priority. Since 2019, $39 billion has already been burnt on the project, reported Business Insider.
However, the company’s moves to make it the flagship project on its path forward are on shaky ground. All the efforts – $15 billion in the last year alone and aggressive marketing push – caught attention, but mostly for the wrong reasons.
To begin with, the whole thing was too low-techie to convince anyone and did not introduce state-of-the-art technology. Over the last twelve months, its development made no significant progress, making it less convincing than before. To most consumers, it’s still a demo, which, to make things worse, is neither fun nor productive. The biggest disappointment is undoubtedly its glitchy, and buggy experience. 
Whereas the initial expectation was that number of users would be more than 0.5 million, Horizon currently has less than 200,000 active users, as WSJ found out through Meta’s internal documents. 
What is even more dismal is the fact that most visitors displeased with the experience do not return to the Horizon Worlds after the first few experiences. The gist of one document was: “An empty world is a sad world,” which aptly and definitively captures the predicament of the metaverse right now.
Some complained that there were not enough people (which is understandable, because it’s new), and that the avatars don’t look real (too cartoonish). Interestingly, Horizon’s avatars don’t have legs, and recently Zuckerberg promised to bring legs into it – a point that encapsulates all the petty issues revolving around it.
In essence, the experience is far from anything ‘realistic’ to be called virtual reality. 
Others say it is too ahead of its time in terms of how we think about our engagement with the internet and our interconnections with other people. It is only accessible to the upper echelon of society. 
For instance, Horizon Worlds is accessible through Quest – a VR headset made by Meta. While the entry-level Quest 2 costs $400, the Quest Pro – for a full experience – has a price tag of $1,500.
And even after the expensive entry, it doesn’t feel futuristic or amazing, thanks to its awful graphics. In fact, it feels like an old game or animation with glitches. 
Horizon is not the only metaverse out there. And a close look at other metaverses tells the same tale. Two other big names are Decentraland and Sandbox, with market valuations of $1.3 billion and $4 billion respectively. 
Last month, DappRadar, a blockchain-based data aggregator, made a grim claim that Decentraland had as low as 38 active users over 24 hours. The highest was 675 users over the same period. And for Sandbox, the biggest number of single-day active users was 4,503.
However, Decentraland refuted the claim saying that it has over 8,000 active users a day, accusing that DappRadar failed to make the distinction between “active users” and “user transactions” (this platform is based on Ethereum, and consumers can buy or sell using the virtual coin). 
Even if Decentraland’s number is correct, the point remains that it is barren in the metaverse compared to social media users. For instance, Facebook has 2.9 billion and the figure is around 450 million for Twitter. 
The core of the idea is futuristic; one day our internet life might evolve into a better metaverse. But the biggest elephant in the room is the present state of the metaverse. It gives a sensation that Zuckerberg is forcefully pushing us into using it.
The only justification to talk about this is that it feels futuristic, the next-big-thing, revolutionary – which again has no practicality in this day and age. It should not be interpreted in the sense that the technology is doomed to fail.
On the contrary, perhaps the metaverse will revolutionise how we interact in the future. But we are not into that future yet. It is quite possible that Mark Zuckerberg would have the last laugh. 
Although not on the level of Meta’s urgency and promptness, other tech giants are also vying for a place in the metaverse space. They admit that the technology is not ready yet unlike Meta. Nevertheless, they have some of the most ambitious projects up their sleeves. 
For instance, the online retailing giant Amazon has already begun integrating metaverse technology into its platform. Users can tailor the specifics of their living space and see how it will look in reality thanks to its cutting-edge Room Decor, which is a virtual reality shopping tech that enables customers to visualise their furniture through a smartphone or tablet. Users can access Room Decor on the company’s website.
Another example of such a project is Microsoft’s Mesh. Microsoft is creating a variety of applications, tools, and programmess that are associated with the metaverse thanks to its holographic Mesh platform. Some of them include Azure, Windows, Office365, and LinkedIn, amongst others.
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is also making intelligent investments in initiatives connected to the Metaverse. According to an interview that was conducted by Bloomberg, Google spent millions of dollars on projects that are part of the metaverse to “evolving computing in an immersive way with augmented reality.”
metaverse / Virtual Reality (VR)
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