During “Meta Connect 2022,” the company’s annual developer conference for its VR initiatives and Oculus hardware platform, Mark Zuckerberg delivered a keynote address to generate excitement and reveal significant new developments for Meta in the Metaverse. But more than anything else, he skillfully communicated how incredibly thirsty and desperate he was for his Metaverse bet to succeed.
No one is disputing that most (if not all) of these pre-recorded presentations given by large tech companies are extended advertisements. But Zuckerberg’s over-scripted and overproduced event keynote was easily the hardest sell. This is not only for a product or a platform but the premise upon which it’s based.
An NYT article published last weekend explained that “even VR game aficionados would find Meta’s VR platform ‘Horizon Worlds’ to be a lonely wasteland, let alone regular internet and social media users.” The Metaverse is undoubtedly still far from realizing Zuckerberg’s vision of fun and utility in parallel realities when he announced his company’s significant shift into virtual reality (VR) last year.
Mark began his presentation by assuring everyone that VR is bigger than ever, though almost entirely in relative terms. It would be difficult for it not to be, given the speed it had developed since its inception (whether you start counting from the early days of VR headsets or from what you might term “the current age,” when the original Oculus Rift finally reached consumers in 2016).
After that, it went into a series of selectively chosen revenue figures provided by Facebook CTO Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, directly appealing to an ecosystem that needed to be developed. However, these were primarily individual highlights as opposed to the cumulative rapidly incrementing ecosystem figures Apple used to amplify its mobile App Store efforts through its early days.
Future innovations about Zuckerberg’s avatar
The rest of its presentation during the conference covers a series of hand-wavy “announcements” regarding future innovations. It aims to specify use cases and areas where VR and the Metaverse would benefit people. This includes the eventual inclusion of legs in avatars in a future update, which means floating torsos will be replaced.
Zuckerberg spoke about the ‘future of work’ and covered the entire old standbys — gaming, social, and fitness. None appeared to be much better or capable of being a turning point in terms of widespread adoption, and the majority had either vague or nonexistent ship dates.
Zuckerberg’s partnership with Microsoft
One of the most significant changes involved a collaboration with Microsoft, which Satya Nadella and Mark Zuckerberg jointly announced. In essence, Mark is so eager to attract users to the Metaverse that he joined forces with an erstwhile competitor, in a move similar to when Steve Jobs welcomed Bill Gates through satellite link in 1997 during the Macworld Boston keynote.
While that was successful, it is not yet apparent if this will be. “It’s early days,” as Nadella himself put it, is the overarching and recurrent theme of VR. Just before Mark transitioned to utilizing his new avatar and finally started presenting in the Metaverse, only about 5,400 people were watching in VR when my colleague Taylor tuned in part-way through the presentation. The avatar itself marked a significant advancement over earlier versions. It was a fully animated rendition of Mark’s more attractive form after his much-ridiculed announcement of Horizon’s expansion to Spain and France.
It may look better, but indeed didn’t look like the future
Zuck also presented a $1,500 headset called the Meta Quest Pro, which does not appear particularly compelling to even the most ardent early adopters.
A report reveals that the new, high-resolution headset incorporates “eye tracking and the so-called ‘natural facial expressions’ that replicate the wearer’s facial movements, so their avatars appear genuine while interacting with other avatars in VR environments.”
“Meta is investing billions in its metaverse ideas that will probably take years to pay off,” said Associated Press (AP).
Kashmir Hill’s experience with the $1,500 VR headset
Kashmir Hill of the New York Times spent a total of 24 hours in Horizon Worlds while wearing the Meta’s Quest headset.
She talked of having conversations with strangers in the early hours of the morning about unrelated topics, saying it “reminded me of the AOL chat rooms from my initial days on the internet, in the 1990s.”
Hill also experienced constant intrusions by children who weren’t technically supposed to be in the Metaverse but wandered through complaining about being made to eat or just shout-talking things like “Want to hear a story about my school?”
AP acknowledges that all these tech conference showcases are advertising. But in 10 years of covering this sector, he has never seen an event so utterly desperate as Mark’s current attempt at pushing VR and the Metaverse.
“I personally have to wonder if the entire future of Meta is riding on this, and Mark knows it. I don’t know if Facebook will still be the big mega social platform it is today in 5 or 10 years,” AP explains.
Featured image credit: Mark Zuckerberg F8 2018 Keynote by Anthony Quintano under CC BY 2.0