The metaverse is dominating the news once again, but it's nothing like what Zuckerberg envisioned

The metaverse is dominating the news again, but it’s nothing like what Zuckerberg envisioned

  • Pundits reckoned the metaverse was dead, especially once the tech industry turned to a new, more promising news—generative AI.
  • However, the CEO of Epic Games refuted claims that the metaverse is over.

Mark Zuckerberg was so confident about the future of the metaverse that when he decided to rebrand his company, the tech jargon dominated the news for months. While it remains challenging to predict the future of the internet, Zuckerberg, along with a handful of other tech visionaries, was very sure the metaverse would usher in a new era.

The first seeds of Zuckerberg’s infatuation with the metaverse were sown with Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality (VR) headset manufacturer Oculus in 2013. Eight years later, he was ready to unveil his grand scheme in detail. The general idea – creating a “next-generation” of his world-conquering social platform in VR – didn’t come as a complete surprise.

However, rebranding the entire company as Meta was a step further than what many had expected. Since then, it has been a challenging time for Meta. The company continued to face growing worries from investors that the ambitious metaverse project is draining too many resources without showing a profit.

Until now, Zuckerberg has not been deterred by the fact that there seems to be limited enthusiasm among the general public for his plans, despite the US$ 36 billion he has reportedly spent attempting to make it happen. In the words of Ed Zitron in his recent Insider article, “The hype could not save the metaverse, however, and a lack of coherent vision for the product ultimately led to its decline.”

Zitron was right, though, “once the tech industry turned to a new, more promising trend — generative AI — the fate of the metaverse was sealed.” In 2022 alone, Zuckerberg’s dream of a future in the metaverse cost investors a boatload of money.

In its earnings report, Meta revealed that its Reality Labs division, which houses the company’s virtual reality technologies and projects, posted a US$4.28 billion operating loss in the fourth quarter, bringing its total for 2022 to US$13.72 billion. It was the first full year for Meta since Zuckerberg changed the company’s name in late 2021 and said its future would be in the metaverse, a digital universe where people will work, shop, play, and learn.

Metaverse news will still turn heads

Realistically, it will take another year or two to determine whether Meta will succeed in this space. The issue, for now, remains the inability to get the general public to understand what “the metaverse” is and how it will benefit society. With all the hype and news, one would think that the definition would be clear now, but even that is hard to come by.

The inability to define the metaverse still did not stop the enterprise world from jumping on the bandwagon. In the months following the Meta announcement, every company had a metaverse product on offer, despite it not being obvious what it was or why it should be.

But not everyone is as lost. In a recent tweet, the CEO of Epic Games, Tim Sweeney, mocked the Insider article that suggested the metaverse had run its course, hinting at the number of active users across some of the more popular virtual worlds.

The article mentioned Meta’s virtual reality (VR) platform Horizon Worlds, which Zitron claimed has failed to live up to its “grand promise” of becoming the future of the internet. He also claimed that Decentraland and Yuga Labs’ Otherside have seemingly failed to live up to their hype and said investors had turned their attention to the next Big Tech fad — generative AI.

However, Sweeney refuted the claim, noting that there are 600 million monthly active users across virtual world platforms such as Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, The Sandbox, and VR Chat. Despite these developments, the idea of the metaverse continues to raise various concerns and challenges.

Privacy and security in a virtual world, ensuring inclusivity and accessibility, managing digital identities, and preventing monopolistic control are among the many issues that must be addressed as the concept evolves. Determining the success of the metaverse is a complex and multifaceted question, and it ultimately depends on various factors.

Technology companies, developers, content creators, policymakers, and users will require a collaborative effort to navigate the challenges and build a metaverse that delivers on its promises. The pace and extent of its success will likely unfold gradually over time as the technology matures and user adoption grows.

For now, it’s a waiting game.