In a recent feature, the Washington Post discussed how the Metaverse doesn’t exist yet, and 2021’s Metaverse popularity was just hype. And they’re not the only ones to assert so. Now that the initial hype of science fiction becoming a reality has mellowed, we are increasingly starting to realise just how many of the Metaverse’s promises Facebook (Meta) can live up to.
Last year, Facebook changed its name to Meta to further press on its mission to create the virtual world of Metaverse, and for a while, that worked. Facebook’s headsets were sold heavily during Christmas, and the Oculus app was the most downloaded app on the holiday. The company’s stocks that had seen a low during September peaked at 3.3%, closing at its highest since November. But more and more people are calling Meta out on a pre-advanced promise.
Sign up for your weekly dose of what's up in emerging technology.
An awkward headset
The Metaverse is majorly run on Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headsets that are starting to come up as the biggest barrier to a life where people can live in the virtual world for long periods. In an interview with The Babylon Bee, Elon Musk made a crack at the Metaverse, calling it a “quirky virtual world” that will “supplant our boring two-dimensional screens”. “Sure, you can put a TV on your nose,” he said. “I’m not sure that makes you ‘in the metaverse.'”
While Musk is known for his controversial opinions, it’s not just him questioning how realistic the Metaverse is. Nick Clegg, the vice president for global affairs and communications at Meta, admitted to the experience lacking in a recent interview with the Financial Times. He shared an anecdote about having a tough time drinking his coffee while wearing the gigantic headset, in fact, leading to the head of his VC avatar to snap back in a rather funny manner when Clegg took a sip of his coffee.
Additionally, as Will Oremus rightly pointed out, considering you need Meta’s $300 Quest headsets to be a part of the Metaverse, the virtual reality is nothing but another walled garden by another big tech firm.
Metaverse is not just Meta
In fact, even the activities that do occur on the Oculus are, as of now, quite basic. To put this into perspective, let’s reemphasise the promise of the Metaverse by Zuckerberg, who called it “an embodied Internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it.” He also said, “the metaverse will not be created by one company.”
Meta can’t create the Metaverse by itself; for it to be what is marketed, companies need to be interoperable with the Metaverse and the various platforms on it. But that is not the case yet.
For instance, the couple that is popularly known to get married in the Metaverse tied their actual legal knot still in person. The Metaverse wedding was, in reality, virtual with a remote collaboration platform Virbela that required guests to create their avatars to attend the ceremony. While the website states, “the enterprise metaverse is here”, it is still not collective with other platforms.
This asserts that the infrastructure for the Metaverse isn’t built yet. Startups and big tech companies are still solving the several challenges that prevent a real-time immersive experience. Among other things, companies need to reduce the latency, build visual and animation tools, advance algorithms to create digital twins, and, majorly, get other big tech companies to collaborate and share on the Metaverse platform. The latter is easier said than done, as we have seen with the general stiff-necked competition between these companies, preventing them from being open to each other. Usually, such unity in technology is because of external forces like the government, academia and NGOs.
Is the universe different from a phone application?
The reach of Metaverse can be easily illustrated using Roblox, the online gaming platform. The platform has created a world that allows players to create personalised avatars and buy belongings through the game’s currency—the items used and bought stay with the person only in the Roblox universe. Roblox is currently monetising on being a part of the Metaverse with events like “Metaverse Champions”, but one could easily observe that most of Roblox’s offerings for the Metaverse are similar to the features the platform has always had, such as the avatars or the shopping. In fact, it is more popular as a simple app on users’ phones and PCs.
The Metaverse promise will be successful when platforms like Roblox or Virbela can transfer information, avatars, currencies, and belongings. But, for now, the Metaverse’s offerings are as good as a mere rebranding of popular platforms. So the question to ask now is, will the big tech companies be able to coordinate to make this dream possible?