And it blew our minds.
Unfortunately, it blew our minds because it was bad. Like, really, really bad. And when set against the context that Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook to Meta, pivoted the entire strategy away from the blue app to focus on all-things-Metaverse, and has already thrown billions of dollars at developing the concept, the current state of Zuck’s Metaverse dream is laughable.
In the post on his Facebook page, Zuckerberg announced that Horizon Worlds — the social VR application that allows users to explore virtual worlds through the Oculus headset — is set to launch in France and Spain. He also added that he can’t wait for people to “explore and build immersive worlds.” And thankfully, we no longer have to imagine what that immersive world looks like.
In the picture, Zuckerberg’s eerily life-like avatar can be seen standing next to France’s Eiffel Tower and Spain’s Tibidabo Cathedral, within luscious green hills and landscapes.
It truly is immersive.
Okay, I lied.
The snapshot is a far cry from the Meta announcement video that kicked this whole pivot to the Metaverse off. In that vision, we saw detailed worlds full of textures and colors. We saw avatars — WITH LEGS — interacting in high-resolution environments full of potential.
While I sit on the side of the fence that is fully against the concept and of the overarching desire to have us constantly connected to digital devices, I admitted at the time that it at least looked enjoyable. A work meeting would be more fun if everyone turned up as an alien and it was held around a table on a spaceship. It would be cool to design your own home and fill it with shit you could never afford in real life. At least for a little while anyways.
This is some early-days Nintendo Wii stuff, devoid of the fun, the engagement, and the legs. It’s how we would have expected the concept to look if it had been announced in the late 1990s. The reveal took some serious backlash too. I’m no statistician, but I reckon at least 100% of the responses were negative. One Twitter user commented, “The Sims but worse, and with nothing below the torso. wonderful stuff.” Writing in Forbes, journalist Paul Tassi called the whole thing “embarrassing,” and questioned whether Zuckerberg was “entirely immune to the embarrassment, or really just does not understand how bad this looks, both literally, the graphics are garbage, but also for him and his grand vision of the metaverse, which he seems to understand less than all of his competition.”
It was so ridiculed that Zuckerberg quickly released a follow-up showing an imminent graphics update, or as Ryan Mac, a tech reporter for the New York Times, called it, “the Sonic movie approach to product management.” Zuckerberg noted in his Instagram post that the “photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic” and that the graphics of Horizon are “capable of much more.”
For Meta’s Metaverse to succeed, the graphics and environments need to be better. Much better. We’ve seen beautiful worlds and hyper-realistic characters created in modern-day video games and animated movies. We’ve watched futuristic films depict what this virtual world could be like visually, like the often compared Ready Player One movie. We’ve seen its main competition, Fortnite and Robolox, lead the way in creating a unique, community-based experience. Culturally, we have an idea in our heads about what an “immersive” digital playground, one that would become the hub for our work and social interaction, should look like. It should offer the things we could only dream of, things that couldn’t be achievable without putting on a headset and stepping into these worlds. In Meta’s defense, it will make headway in this, especially as the devices used as the entry points continue to improve.
But therein lies the problem.
The Metaverse is facing a potentially insurmountable problem; user expectation versus the reality that they can actually deliver at a mass scale. Zuckerberg thinks the true realization of the concept could be 15 years away, and his company will have to “bleed money” to make it happen. So the even bigger question at play for companies like Meta is whether they can make that reality a virtual reality before we all stop caring — or before they empty their bank accounts and destroy all remaining shareholder value.
It’s one thing to make an engaging experience for a workplace that may have 20 employees roaming around an office. It’s another thing entirely to build the infrastructure needed to get the entire internet-ready-population interacting in a world that’s so mind-blowingly realistic, exciting, and stimulating, that we want to reduce our time spent in reality — away from real life — to instead sit in an empty room with a headset on.
Whether that ever becomes a reality, time will tell.
But hey, at least for now you can visit the Wendyverse.