Version 3: Cringe on the Horizon
Meta's PR struggles, Microsoft defines metaverse, Essence report DAU's, and WEF on AR ethics
Welcome back to Threshold! Your weekly guide to understanding "metaverse" ambitions from Big Tech and the path to commercial viability of AR/VR hardware for mainstream consumers.
Here's what happened last week, online:
A Horizon World of Cringe
The internet was ablaze last week over a VR selfie Zuckerberg took and posted from Horizon Worlds to announce the app launching in Spain and France. It must be frustrating for Meta's employees to see much of their hard work go to waste with a single post from their CEO. Meta stuck to its usual reactionary PR playbook: they responded defensively and posted more polished (likely pre-rendered or conceptual) art. Most embarrassingly, they didn't even bother to localize the app with languages in the places they launched. This is classic Facebook, getting buried in the weeds of press instead of actually focusing on the product and users they intend to reach.
Meta's ultimate goal should be making Horizon as appealing as possible ahead of its mobile launch, and a cringey selfie from Zuckerberg is a complete distraction from that. The issue is not, as many tweeted, an issue of graphics or "thermal capacity" of headset hardware. Their problem is that Facebook has always been a fill-in-the-blank platform aesthetically. Amanda Hess, a culture critic from NYT, recently wrote of Horizon, "the aesthetics of the metaverse, with its ghastly translucent holograms, evoke the specter of death." It isn't yet clear for the product who it's for, and just how it's better than more established virtual worlds and games.
Meta needs to quickly figure out the clear value proposition for Horizon, and limit their marketing snafus in order to convince as many people to cross the threshold of barriers to start spending more time there. The launch of Horizon Home will help, as I desperately want an intimate space I can hang out with my friends instead of a public square of strangers throwing virtual paper airplanes at me.
All Layers of the Stack
Definitions and rhetoric around AR/VR and the "metaverse" continue to be confusing, which is why I loved GeekWire's analysis of Microsoft's recent SEC filing. In 2022's Form 10-K, Microsoft wrote:
"We are enabling metaverse experiences at all layers of our stack, so customers can more effectively model, automate, simulate, and predict changes within their industrial environments, feel a greater sense of presence in the new world of hybrid work, and create custom immersive worlds to enable new opportunities for connection and experimentation."
Corporate speak, as annoying as it is, matters to the larger tech ecosystem that trickles down to consumers. Given the current state of confusion around what a "metaverse" even is (more on that in the next section), I think it helps for Microsoft to define how the word weaves throughout their product stack.
Both Apple and Microsoft are their own product metaverses. Over the last few years, I've loved the ease of moving between my Windows devices under a unified system. While my tween is playing Rocket League, I can message him via Xbox chat from my PC. That experience is going to be the standard for challengers like Meta to replicate.
Manifest Your Metaverse
A report released last week by the research agency Essence titled "Manifest Metaverse" gives a zoomed out view of how brands are currently interacting with consumers in virtual worlds. Once you sort through the marketing noise, I find reports like this one helpful for their relevant consumer insights (which peer-reviewed research tends to neglect).
The report mentions another conducted by GWI in 2021, where it found that "33% who understand the concept, 37% who have heard of it but aren’t sure what it means, and 30% who aren’t sure at all." It highlights that Roblox is leading the pack, currently with 54.1M DAU (daily active users) over Fortnite's 24.2M DAU. Rec Room is mistakenly missing from the report, which is estimated at 10-12M MAU (monthly active users) and likely growing fast.
Compare all those numbers to crypto platforms like The Sandbox, sitting at 1,180 DAU, and Decentraland, which has a measly 978 DAU. No wonder those places feel empty! Nobody told Gordon Ramsey though, as he is bringing Hell's Kitchen assets to the Sandbox soon.
There is a real danger in these early virtual worlds feeling TOO advertised if their ratio of sponsored to genuine content is too high. Fortnite manages to integrate all its licensed content into the core game without it feeling like an ad, can other platforms do the same?
The World Economic Forum published an early ethics guide to AR/VR from the nanotech company imec, and it raises more questions than answers. I do love its thoughtful comparisons to those with disabilities, and how augmentation plays a role in those communities today via prosthetics and implants.
The guide writes, "Augmentation can be defined as the extension of rehabilitation where technological aids such as glasses, cochlear implants or prosthetics are designed to restore a lost or impaired function. Add it to completely healthy individuals and such technology can augment."
This matters most to European consumers, who are the most protected when it comes to privacy and emerging technologies. The WEF will likely shape resulting policy in Europe, and this guide gives early insight into how AR devices might be regulated in the near future, especially as they start to enhance the range of ability in able-bodied individuals.
From Quaint to Quest
In the world of content, indie game Townscaper announced they are launching on Quest in October. As a fan of the desktop version, this is a lower cognitive load game that I can't wait to experience in a headset. VR needs more sandbox titles like this one that create chill ambience with very simple input mechanics!
Quote of Week
“I believe the true metaverse will have a common currency and common development infrastructure. It will be highly social in a way that's digital but also allows you to interact with your real-life friends and real-life experiences.” -Reggie Fils-Aimé, former President of Nintendo (Inverse)
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