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The tech industry's 'metaverse' fad is a load of bollocks

Metaversebollocks
Metaversebollocks (Image credit: Jez Corden / Windows Central; Photo by Meta Inc.)

This past week, everybody's favorite robotic tech personality Mark Zuckerberg announced that he's rebranding Facebook Inc to "Meta" in reference to the company's new "metaverse" focus. The announcement spawned a wave of intrigue in the idea, although, really, it's not exactly a new concept.

I saw a tweet "leak" today that proclaimed "MICROSOFT IS DEVELOPING METAVERSE APPS FOR XBOX," which had me rolling my eyes. Specifically, the company announced new Mesh features which includes personalized avatars in mixed reality. This latest hype completely glosses over the fact that Microsoft already owns some of the largest services in this category, the biggest known to most of us as Minecraft.

Wait, what? Minecraft is a metaverse app?! Yes, yes it is.

Minecraft is one of the only games on Earth that allows cross-platform play between VR, phones, consoles, and PCs. It has a user-generated content platform (also known as UGC), where modding companies make literal millions of dollars selling custom Minecraft worlds. It even has an educational version, designed to be used by professional teachers in classrooms. Crucially, Minecraft also sports 180 million monthly active users across its connected, persistent cloud-based worlds, hosted entirely on Microsoft Azure.

Obviously, Microsoft is using Minecraft's "metaversal" design as a basis for exploring other games that could have this kind of application intent, following on from the success of the likes of Roblox and other similar titles.

So, what is the metaverse really, and why is Facebook attempting to drive hype in that direction?

Surprise, it's about money

Zuckerberg

Source: Facebook (Image credit: Source: Facebook)

The metaverse is an utterly redundant concept because, guess what? The internet already functions as a metaverse. The internet has different rules to our "real lives," complete with infinite hits of dopamine through various escape vectors. Whether you're living vicariously through a celebrity Instagram feed, perusing the infinite wealth of knowledge that exists on YouTube, or getting yelled at while working on Microsoft Teams by your boss, it's all metaversal. The problem for Facebook is that it's angry that it doesn't own all of it.

The metaverse is an attempt by Facebook and other companies to to create their own sub internet, where it owns every point of entry, from the hardware down to the experiences. It wants this because, right now, the current global Western internet is essentially a "metaverse" owned by Google on the search and ad front and Amazon on the retail front.

Google's dominance in search and ad placements effectively decides what websites live and die at an unaccountable whim. Anybody reading this in the web publishing game knows all too well the horror of the Google algorithm change, which can crater your traffic for arbitrary reasons and leaving you scrambling to keep your business afloat. When it comes to retail, Amazon is the dominant force so the majority of people bypass Google entirely when they need to buy something. The internet is an "open" metaverse that has coalesced in large part around a handful of dominant tech companies, for better or worse. In Facebook's case, it's definitely for the worse.

Matrix

Source: The Matrix | Warner Bros Mark Zuckerberg saw the humans forcibly connected to a centralized virtual world and vampirically harvested for power and thought "hey that's a good idea." (Image credit: Source: The Matrix | Warner Bros)

Facebook has suffered from a range of existential threats to its business recently. Anyone who knows my writing by now knows I have a passionate hate for the dystopic effects Facebook's algorithm has had on society, but let's leave that to one side for a moment.

Facebook is nervous that young people are wholesale rejecting its app. While Instagram remains steady, Facebook itself has seen a notable crash in user retention among young people, who see it as an "uncool" social network for older people. Facebook's social platforms have been besieged with negative press lately, too. A Facebook employee leaked mountains of data, revealing that the company prioritized profits over user safety, pushing divisive and hateful content on purpose. While hundreds of millions of us still use Facebook services, a wide range of people feel negative about the platform, indicating that people use it out of a sense of social obligation, rather than reverence for the brand.

Facebook's rebrand to "Meta" is, by its own admission, an attempt to de-emphasize Facebook, which given its lack of appeal to younger users, may end up being a legacy product as its users literally die off. Zuckerberg and the team are looking ahead to the future, and you can bet all the Robux you have that they're looking at Minecraft and Roblox to model their new platform on.

The metaverse already exists

Facebook's metaverse is essentially an attempt to create an internet dimension where the company can have a large hand in lifestyle flow. Like Instagram (also owned by Facebook), any retail activity would result in a cut going to the company and, therefore Zuckerberg. Any search activity could be sanitized (or sensationalized) by Facebook. Access would be governed by Facebook-made hardware like the Oculus Quest 2 (now known as the Meta Quest), which would let it sidestep the profit-devastating privacy crackdown the platform experienced on iOS recently.

Sure, there's no way the 'Zuckerverse' would hit critical mass without first spreading via the public web, but like many platform holders, there would be an effort to ensure the "premium" experience is tailored for its hardware experiences first, like how Google prioritizes YouTube development and features on Android. The Zuckerverse is just the latest extension of the platform's attempt to keep you inside its apps and services at all times. You can think of it as a more aggressive incarnation of Instagram's built-in browser, which prevents Google from accessing your delicious web cookies when you hit links. There's a reason Facebook doesn't let you add URLs to the descriptions on Instagram posts.

Reduced down, the metaverse is simply a branding exercise. It has allowed Facebook to sidestep criticism of its toxic social platforms and has given investors something to focus on for the future. Facebook's share price has been on a downward trend for this quarter, but saw something of an uptick since this rebranding exercise got underway. But, like much of what Facebook says lately, it's likely to just be smoke and mirrors.

The metaverse is simply a branding exercise. It has allowed Facebook to sidestep criticism of its toxic social platforms and has given investors something to focus on for the future.

Facebook is employing "ten thousand" engineers in Europe to make its "Zuckerverse" into an unreality, but we've seen this time and time again. And we've seen it flop, time and time again. Sony's PlayStation Home VR social experience shut down a few years ago, and very few of the concepts Zuckerberg proposes in the original reveal seem to go further than what we've seen already on PlayStation VR, Windows Mixed Reality, or even older services like VR Chat or Second Life.

If the play is VR, then I'm not sure it will be adopted as Zuckerberg hopes it will. Minecraft has had VR support for years at this point, yet it's by far the least-played version of the game. When it comes to VR, society has spoken: few people actually want to strap a giant thing on their face in order to do non-VR things. Despite the global chip shortage, it's extremely rare that I see the Oculus Quest 2 sold out on Amazon, while companies like Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are all warning investors that their console supplies can't meet demand. VR can be fun for gaming, but I think Facebook is kidding itself if it thinks people will put on a health-monitoring headset and fill their home space with Zuckerberg-connected cameras just for the privilege of talking to friends and family while wearing a low-poly robot suit.

Minecraft has an interconnected system of programs across multiple pieces of hardware and Roblox allows people to share and create words in an enclosed ecosystem. What Facebook wants with its metaverse is just called the internet. Zuckerberg is just mad that he can't control all of it.

Don't fall for the hype

Mesh For Teams Lead

Source: Microsoft You can compound your work stress by being a lame 3D avatar in the metaverse, whoop-di-doo. (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

I already see bloggers and commentators speculating on what the metaverse hype means for Microsoft. The answer is nothing. It's already in the "metaverse" business from a gaming perspective, with Minecraft, and other lifestyle online games it's developing with ZeniMax Online Studios, IO Interactive, and possibly Mainframe. Microsoft announced today that you'll be able to portray yourself as a cartoon avatar in Microsoft Teams with Microsoft Mesh.

Honestly, who cares? Does Microsoft think I want to look like a bad Pixar knock-off while getting yelled at for missing meetings? (Sorry Dan.) Is this the best the "metaverse" hype offers?

They're trying to create a product to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

Look, techbros, just call it what it is: it's the internet. It's still the same old dystopian bullshit we know and love to hate and hate to love. Zuckerberg can hire 50,000 engineers if he wants, but I wonder what society could achieve if those creative minds were funded by these billionaires to create something that actually helps the world. What they're trying to build here is a product that solves a problem that doesn't exist, unless the problem is Zuckerberg's desperation to break free of a competitive internet ecosystem.

At the end of the day, I can't help but feel like this at least partially rooted in some pathological arrogance that tech billionaires have towards average people. Are our lives are so miserable that all we need is a virtualized vision of what it would be like to be rich? It's somewhat ironic that Zuckerberg's demo of his Zuckerverse takes place in a mansion, and then on a spaceship, given that the headlines have been dominated by technocrats taking space tours into low orbit this year.

Perhaps what "average people" actually need is a world with less Zuckerberg in it, not more.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

41 Comments
  • I think it's poor branding. "Metaverse" doesn't sound good. Brands need to have a ring to them, and that term does not. Amazon is a good name for something huge and all encompassing (biggest river in the world, and all other rivers feed into it). So is Google, as much as I hate to admit it (Googol is the largest named number, excepting its own variant the Googolplex). Meta is not. It manages to be both boring and snobbish at the same time. It's not playful, clever, or phonetically interesting (like Kodak, selected because it was unique and pronounceable in every language). It's a dud. Of course, a good name is not necessarily a key driver of either success or failure, so take my opinion here with a grain of salt.
  • Meta literally sounds like they are actively telling you that they are collecting your personal data as if to use it as their defense when they get sued.
  • Well Jez, a 3D avatar social network of sorts exists - IMVU is one example.
  • Second Life, VR chat, like I mentioned in the article, it's nothing new.
  • Indeed, it's nothing new.
  • As an aging, wise man once said: "Metaverse, NFT, Blockchain, bollocks."
  • haha T___T aging?!! AGING?!
  • It's totally terrible. They're aiming as much for lifestyle control as everything. They want you embedded in their technology so it's really difficult to leave. It produces a consistent revenue stream and lets them manage who and what your life is by "curating" content. It's as much about controlling what content you read as "curating content to your interests." Microsoft's solution is also crap and should be rejected. These companies want to provide as many products as they can to isolate you from their competition and essentially build your life around paying them. Don't do it.
  • Sounds like we should be feeling sorry for the competition for not upping their game or doing nothing. Not advocating for Meta... but hey are doing something like throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it and see if something sticks. MSFT figure out that they have lost the search on browser, guess what they adopted Chromium and skinned it for Edge Chromium to be relevant. They have found a CEO who knows that playing well with others embracing adversaries in a calculated fashion can net you some profit. They formed partnership with a lot of companies like PlayStation on Azure, They embraced Linux and open source, I think they have come to understand that they cannot and should not own everything. I think one case MSFT mantra nowadays is we will meet users where they are, examples are Windows 365 (Use any platform and hardware and run windows when you need it), Edge Chromium on any Os. Office on any Os, Azure on any Os. Gaming pretty much anywhere. They have stopped the idea that they will only offer these services on their platform only and that is a winning combination. These are some of what I think the competition are not doing enough off.
  • Best headline ever 😂😂👍
  • @Jez, I absolutely love your angle on this!
  • How to share this on my Facebook feed?
  • I'm just pleased you used the word bollocks on an American website :D. And yes it is. Zuck isn't content in creating two of the world's biggest toxic places to hangout he wants to put us inside the matrix too.
  • I am spreading the gospel of bollocks, thanks for reading!
  • We all need more bollocks in our lives.
  • Imagine what he could achieve if he poured those resources into climate change, instead of his ego. I'd honestly leave Facebook (deleted Instagram years ago) if it weren't for Facebook Events. There isn't anything else that comes close for finding out events in the real-world.
  • META is not metaverse but it's Metadata which will become Meta-worse soon 😁 Waiting to watch fake news in 3D on Facebook.
  • I have a Valve Index. I love it. I also totally agree with what you wrote:
    "When it comes to VR, society has spoken: few people actually want to strap a giant thing on their face in order to do non-VR things."
    Remember 3D TV?
  • I think this is what will turn Facebook into MySpace. I wonder how Tom is doing these days.
  • I deleted my Facebook account several years ago and I don't miss it at all. I actually never liked it much ever. Also don't use Instagram or Whatspp and would never buy an Oculus since it requires to connect to them. Basically what I'm saying is I don't use anything from Facebook a.k.a "Meta" and everything is fine. Toss them aside people. You will be better off.
  • Surface hololens and windows 365 and mesh. That's the future.
    Side note the only Google service I use is YouTube and Gmail so I can use it for YouTube
  • More like Zuckerberg wants another 100 billion.
  • Have you read Snow Crash? Love it. Facebook is the OPPOSITE of freedom and what a decentralised metaverse is to be. However! Look at NETVRK and BLOKTOPIA in the crypto world, Decentraland, My Neighbour Alice, Aavegotchi etc all are the real deal.
  • Jez's best article? Perhaps.
  • “A Facebook employee leaked mountains of data, revealing that the company prioritized profits over user safety” Shocking. 🙄 Of COURSE the main priority of billion dollar companies is profits. It’s the same for ALL companies, large and small. If you don’t make money, you don’t survive. If you don’t survive, there is no “user safety” to worry about. As for this story, I have always thought facebook was bollocks. Along with twitter, instagram and all the rest of the “social media” junk. They are all just collecting user data to sell to advertisers.
  • This might very well be the first time I agree with something Corden writes. There's one thing that gives me hope to see Zuckerbot's plans thwarted, though: legislative intervention.
    For all the garbage the EU is, the one thing it seems to be doing right is putting Big Tech into check, specially predator companies like Facebook (yeah I'm ignoring the rebranding. Sue me, Mark).
    And the EU is only doing it because there's increasing pressure from the people to have these companies reigned in and controlled.
    Thing is... For Facebook's Metaverse to work as they hope, that control can't pass into law. It's not innocently that Facebook hires 10k engineers IN EUROPE. The play is clearly "But look, we hired 10 thousand people in Europe! If you pass that legislation, it's 10000 lost jobs!".
    It's blackmail. And I hope legislators don't fall for it.
  • Every year, more and more, Mark Zuckerberg resembles a creepy uncle meme.
  • "...that they're trying to build here is a product that solves a problem that doesn't exist." Very good article. Thanks.
  • Two things... One.. i think you understated the main purpose of Suckerberg trying to be first to "metaverse". It would create (if widely adopted as he hopes) the largest ad/data collection database in the world. He will literally be able to track your eyes to your every interest and will be able to place ads everywhere you look. This would definitely supplant Google as the king of ad revenue. Second, since every literary instance of a metaverse is preceded by a distopia, the fact that Suckerberg has been planning this move for a while proves that the hate amping algorithm is a feature not a bug. He has been trying to create a world that people would want to escape from. If our social life was great, what need would there be for a "virtual escape hatch"? He had to blow up the world before we would choose to flee from it and if Facebook... er... "Meta" builds the virtual life boat first then it becomes a win-win for Suckerberg.
  • That's a good point re: the hate amplification, fucking up the world. I never thought of that angle before. It does stem from this weird arrogance that Zuckerberg has towards average people and their real lives, acting as if the real world is so dire we'd all want to escape from it. He is the cause of a lot of the division in the world today, and if you live in certain countries, he has directly (at least) aided and amplified literal genocide.
  • I don't agree with the premise of the article. Let me start off that I can't stand FB and what it's done to things like IG. I don't want a FB version of the metaverse. But the Internet is not a metaverse. In the internet, people are not truly "in the internet" as active participants. the only participation on the Internet is through things like comments, likes, dislikes, etc. But you never feel like you are interacting within the Internet. You are browsing news, social media, etc. as a viewer. You can shout all the comments at the Internet and no one hears you if they so choose to do so. The metaverse is different. You're not just an observer and consumer of content. You can directly feel involved in the content. Contrast watching an Ariana Grande music video on Youtube or Vevo with the Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite. The concert was truly meta where even though technically you were merely an observer as well, it didn't feel like that. When the Ariana kaiju was walking around, your video game character (as well as all the other gamers) were running alongside Ariana and try to jump on her or fly with her. imagine if a movie star has a virtual event where they can interact with his/her audience. you're sitting in the room with that movie star. you're sitting with other audience members. contrast that with a video feed where the movie star merely talks to the screen like in twitch and you have comments and stuff scrolling down the side of the screen. I'm the demographic that is excited by tech and can see this kind of future where the tech has to catch up to the vision. My friends and I used to love doing Avatar Kinect videos. Here's a video back in the day when we were kids: https://youtu.be/SgS9zZ6Tcqo
  • Awesome video and took me back memory lane. I'll tell what, I missed Kinect in resent Xboxes. I still have mine that I use for sports game on original Xbox One.
  • I think there's something to be said about the immersive aspect, but I don't think it'll catch on as long as I have to strap a bulky Quest 2 to my face for the privilege. You can experience those Fortnite concerts without a VR headset, at which point is is... well, just the internet - it exists today, and doesn't need a Facebook product to access. Is it meta just because you have an avatar inside the YouTube video? It was still scripted, just the video feed hit a third dimension. Either way, it isn't new: the premise is really standing against Facebook's attempt to control the narrative on it. Also your vid is great!
  • I agree on the tech needing to be better. Like I don't want a VR headset strapped to my head for more than half an hour (still loving my HP headset and my Samsung Odyssey). But anything that makes it more than just a video that you write comments to, I'm all for. And thanks for looking at the vid! :D
  • Teams meetings as some floating legless cartoon character? Exactly what every company is asking for!
  • "Metaverse" is just a warmed-over VR experience designed SPECIFICALLY to capture the under-18 user (who have been deserting Facebook/Meta in droves) and which has already failed spectacularly at both Sony and Facebook (billions of $$$ spent for almost no ROI.)
    Go read John Carmack's take on it. He does not pull any punches in deflating the entire concept. Microsoft was correct in avoiding the entire VR idea with XBox. It's this decade's "3D TV" idea (look how well that went.) Zuckerberg WANTS to create "The Oasis" from Ready Player One, but can't, so he will settle for the scene where the boss is telling investors how: "We think we can fill up to 85% of the FOV with ads before the user experiences seizures!" Yes. He is that cynical.
  • I guess I'm having troubles visualizing what this is going to look like. I do know, if it is going to be free, then it will not be good for society. The business model of harvesting our data and activities on the internet and devices so we can be manipulated for profit or political reasons has to end.
  • Jez, does Daniel yell at you on Microsoft Teams? :)
  • Hololens, Google glass and now this.
    I don't understand why these tech companies think people will enjoy VR lives
  • With the right input method, VR will take over. It hasn't been created yet. Whoever does that first, will own VR.
  • "Surrogates", only in Zuckerland. I'm good.