So what is Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse exactly, and how will it take shape?
For all the discussion of the next stage of digital connection, and a theoretical digital world where anything is possible at any time, the truth is that we’re not even close to this being an actual reality, and any business that tells you otherwise, or pitches itself as ‘metaverse ready’ and the like, is simply not being upfront.
Because it can’t be, there’s no metaverse to be ready for as yet. But we are starting to see the framework for the next stage come together, at least from Meta’s perspective, and how it will all align into a broader digital plain, where many people can come together in entirely new environments.
The main concept we have to go on thus far, is this – Zuck’s preview of the metaverse, which he shared at Facebook’s Connect conference last October.
As you can see here, the primary focus is on VR, with Meta’s Horizon platforms (Home and Worlds) facilitating fully immersive digital connection. Meta’s been developing its VR tech for some time, and is arguably the industry leader in the space, and it’s this work that Meta will use as the foundation of the metaverse shift.
Indeed, Zuckerberg noted this himself in Meta’s Q4 earnings call:
“Horizon is core to our metaverse vision. This is our social VR world-building experience that we recently opened to people in the US and Canadam and we’ve seen a number of talented creators build worlds like a recording studio where producers collaborate or a relaxing space to meditate. And this year, we plan to launch a version of Horizon on mobile too, that will bring early metaverse experiences to more surfaces beyond VR. So while the deepest and most immersive experiences are going to be in virtual reality, you’re also going to be able to access the worlds from your Facebook or Instagram apps as well, and probably more over time.”
Note the last point – beyond VR headsets, which are rising in popularity, Meta’s also looking to enable people to connect into its Horizon experiences in new ways, with your phone acting as a gateway into these immersive environments, via your 3D avatars, which users can now use across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger in various ways.
Soon, you’ll also be able to interact with VR avatars in Horizon via your device – similar to how people can play mobile games like Fortnite or Roblox on mobile devices and interact with users on PCs, consoles and more.
That’ll mean that some users will be using VR avatars via headsets, while others will be navigating their digital characters around the 3D space via controls on their phone screen. Which is not ideal – while you can play the aforementioned games on mobile devices, the controls are not overly intuitive – and that will also likely see Meta eventually expand Horizon access to gaming consoles as well, with users able to control their avatars in the space via their gaming controllers.
Which is another key element – gaming is already hugely popular on Facebook, and Meta has been working to expand on its gaming potential, and attract more of the gaming audience into its eco-system. These users are well accustomed to controlling 3D characters in such spaces, and while gaming is also traditionally associated with younger audiences, really, for anyone under 40, gaming has likely played a significant role in their upbringing, and how they spend their recreational time.
Indeed, according to research, the vast majority of gamers are aged 18-34.
A lot of those users would be at the lower end of that age spectrum, but as you can see, 42% of gamers are aged 35 and up, which means that a lot of older people are also well-versed in engaging in gaming worlds. In five years time, that will shift again, and as younger users who are even more attuned to gaming as both a social and explorative tool move into these older age brackets, the potential for these users to connect in new ways will continue to increase.
You can see, then, how Meta’s vision for interoperability and interaction in the space will continue to expand beyond VR alone - though VR will remain the key creative space, and the central experience which Meta will look to promote through these other connective tools.
Which is why digital avatars will also become increasingly important, because all users connecting into the space, from various platforms, will need to take on an identity, and digital avatars will be your profile, and a recognizable character for next-level engagement.
This is where we see things like NFTs coming into play - though the current, initial push on NFTs may be slightly misguided.
Clearly, there is value in visual identity within digital worlds. On Fortnite, for example, someone who has one of the older, rarer skins is more likely to be a good player, because they’ve likely been playing the game for some time, while on Roblox, certain avatar items can only be obtained by reaching certain levels in games, adding an immediate form of recognition, and prestige, to your character.
These types of trends will likely extend into new uses of digital avatars as well, but while NFTs may be exclusive, and rare in many instances, most NFT projects will not be able to facilitate this next shift, as they won’t have the technical capacity to create 3D versions of their characters that people can use in these spaces.
And there’s also a question as to whether users will actually want to be a 3D Bored Ape, even if it is rare. More likely, people will be looking to buy rare items of clothing than to actually be these characters, because again, as we’ve seen in other platforms, while rare skins do have a level of prestige, the most commonly used characters are the coolest looking ones, even if a heap of other players have the same.
As such, there may currently be a gap in understanding – while NFTs, as a concept, in facilitating ownership of digital items, hold significant potential in this next stage, NFT characters and profile pictures probably won’t hold their value, or interest. Because while you will, theoretically, be able to create a digital art gallery to show off your owned works in such spaces, that’s not what people are going to be wowed by in the Metaverse space, with creators in Horizon Worlds, for example, building fully-immersive, 3D experiences that will take you to all new plains of existence.
Digital items, yes, digital characters, I suspect not. But many people are jumping on board the hype train anyway, in fear of missing out on the next big shift.
But even so, you can see how this is all starting to come together more broadly, and how Meta is looking to take ownership of the next stage. And while Meta has repeatedly noted that no one company will own the metaverse, as such, what we are seeing is that Meta will very likely own the real estate upon which other businesses and developers will be able to build immersive experiences, facilitated by Meta’s various tools.
So there will be various developers and experiences built-in, but Meta will be the gateway, and as it continues to dominate the metaverse conversation – by, among other things, changing its corporate name to ‘Meta’ – we’re all unconsciously buying into the fact that Zuck and Co will be the landlords of the next stage.
The more discussion there is around ‘the metaverse’, the better it is for Meta, because it currently, and increasingly, hosts all the access points, which means that all other interested parties will have to work with them, in order to reach the widest possible audience with their immersive experiences.
Other companies may be developing similar tools, but they’ll need to use Meta’s schemas and APIs to get them in front of the largest possible user base, and as Meta builds in these additional access points, that becomes more relevant, and will help to advance its broader vision.
Make no mistake, if you’re talking about ‘the metaverse’, you’re talking about Meta’s plan, and we’re gradually starting to see how that vision will come into effect.