There is growing evidence that Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of pivoting his company towards a new environment, the metaverse, is proving to be a complete failure.
With approximately 15 million units sold of its virtual reality viewers, the company’s goal for the end of this year was to reach half a million Meta users, but it is currently less than 200,000. That number has been dropping since spring, as most users do not re-enter the platform after the first month of use. As an internal document says, “an empty world is a sad world”: currently, only 9% of the virtual worlds on offer have fifty users, and most of them do not receive any visits at all.
But things are worse inside the former Facebook. Despite desperate attempts by management to drive employees into the metaverse, with phrases in internal forums such as
“Everyone in this organization should make it their mission to fall in love with Horizon Worlds. You can’t do that without using it.”
the reality is that the company’s own employees, like its users, find its platform pointless, boring and riddled with bugs.
Everything seems to indicate that Zuckerberg’s decision to bet the farm on the metaverse, with a name change and billion-dollar investments, is turning out to be a serious mistake. Despite investing more than $10 billion in 2021 and $5.7 billion more in 2022, the company’s value has fallen 62% so far this year, traditional’s Facebook’s revenue is also falling alarmingly, and Zuckerberg’s personal fortune has dwindled from $125 billion to $49.1 billion.
The new Meta Quest Pro headsets, expected to be priced at around $1,500, also don’t seem to be exactly what the company needs to improve its odds: an expensive product that simply doesn’t have customers waiting in line for it. And finally giving legs to its avatars, a feature presented with a fake video, hasn’t helped.
The simple truth is that the metaverse is high-risk and means investing a lot of money for a long time, up to five years according to Zuckerberg, particularly if we take into account the possible implications of such an ambitious platform going forward. In fact, Decentraland, a much more advanced environment than Horizon Worlds in terms of its understanding of what a metaverse is or should be (with cryptographically enforced identity, an open community voting decisions and structured as a decentralized autonomous organization or DAO), has only around 38 daily active users.
What’s the problem? As Tim Cook rightly says, most people have no idea what the metaverse is, nor do they want to want to wear a cumbersome headset in front of their eyes to use it, or have a special interest in “doing things” there. Like many other tech products, it may seem like an interesting idea to explore, but once you explore it, the interesting and minimally meaningful things to do run out of steam.
Did Zuckerberg really decide to change the name of his company and pursue the idea of a virtual world because he thought history was once again on his side, or was he simply running away from the catastrophe of Facebook’s downfall? Instead of creating a metaverse as such, his goal was to create a closed platform, controlled by him, where users have to accept his terms and conditions, and where whoever wants to build something has to come to some kind of agreement.
Clearly, Zuckerberg doesn’t understand the concept of openness, he doesn’t see the possibility of making money with it, and the only thing he wants, given that the move to build something on third-party platforms had gone wrong for him, was to build his own platform, convince us that it was wonderful, and quietly reign over it.
What will the metaverse be, if it ever comes to fruition? A new version of the web, in which users will have control over their own identity, over their data and over their creations, with cryptographic mechanisms to guarantee it and, if they want, with immersive three-dimensional environments in which to interact. Starting with the interface and telling us that “this is the metaverse” does not seem to be the best approach. Now, more than a few voices are calling for a man who is unhealthily obsessed with the metaverse and who is abandoning his other businesses, the ones that really offered value to his customers and shareholders, to resign as CEO of the company he created.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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