Meta’s Metaverse Vision Falling Flat

It’s over a year since Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of his company from Facebook to Meta to represent the company’s focus on the Metaverse. The move came when Facebook was under the microscope for privacy issues, and whistleblowers had revealed that the company promoted harmful content to its users. Meta was a reboot of the company for web 3.0, with Zuckerberg calling the Metaverse “the next chapter of the internet”.

In a surreal video, Zuckerberg introduced the Metaverse concept to a broader audience. Horizon, Meta’s flagship product, was to lead us into a virtual world. A virtual world where Meta could sell advertising would be the future of the web. Attracted by the growth in the sector, the Metaverse attracted worldwide attention. However, the early popularity of the Metaverse came at a time of Covid and restrictions on freedom worldwide. Lockdowns fueled the need for social interaction, and the Metaverse provided a solution.

In many ways, Meta’s Horizon Suite of apps is reminiscent of a walled internet. With an explosion of top Metaverse platforms launching, Horizon is already a fragment of the virtual world. Yet, for many, Horizon is the Metaverse in the same way AOL was the internet for early users. To the press, the Metaverse’s success is tied to the fortunes of Meta. Initially, things looked good for Meta, with the Oculus headset as the number 1 download on Christmas Day and over 300,000 users by February 2022. However, by the anniversary of Meta in October, Meta lost over a third of its base, 100,000 users, despite expanding Horizon to more countries.

The fall in Meta userbase comes after significant investment into the Reality Labs division and star-studied Metaverse Events. The Foo Fighters, David Guetta, and now a virtual concert of Notorious B.I.G. ( the dead rap icon) have been offered free to entice visitors. Zuckerberg is fighting a tide of adverse reports in the media and sliding stock prices. Not all shareholders shared the C.E.O.’s vision. 

Meta seems to have suffered from several factors at once. Increased competition, more freedom of movement, and a general downturn in interest may have affected the platform’s audience. Decentralised land plunged in 2022, and Meta’s value dropped by a third since its rebranding. Horizon Worlds fell well short of its target of 500,000 users attracting less than half. Meta spent almost $15 Billion on the Metaverse last year.

Zuckerberg seems undeterred, though, in his Metaverse commitment, pledging $10 Billion a year, and with control of the voting rights, investors either double down or cash in. As early as February, the media reported on privacy concerns following patents from Meta. Facial expressions, conversations, and eye movements were among the options patented for advertising opportunities. To some users, this was a virtual surveillance world. 

Is Zuckerberg a visionary genius that history will see proven correct, or has he misjudged the Virtual Reality market? Zuckerberg needs to rebuild Horizon’s user base with his target audience entering the Christmas period.   

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