Microsoft, Activision, and everyone else need to cool it with the 'metaverse'

Hololens 2015
Hololens 2015 (Image credit: AP (2015))

Every couple of years a new piece of jargon comes along that gets Silicon Valley very, very excited. We are now at that juncture once again, wherein "metaverse" has become the word du jour. Things you used to know simply as "VR" or "video games" have now become part of the omnipresent "meta" vortex. Meta this, meta that. In the words of the late, great Norm Macdonald: "I hate meta."

The very concept of meta and the metaverse wouldn't be so frustrating if Big Tech had a cohesive vision for what it meant. But each company appears to be saying the words within the context of their own disparate inventions, analysts and "experts" are spamming "metaverse" in what feels like an effort to stay on top of a trend they didn't know was coming, and everyone's making a big fuss out of nothing. This phenomenon needs to stop.

A metatextual misunderstanding

How to play Oculus Rift games on Windows Mixed Reality

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

When did the rise of the metaverse begin? Well, based on the current smorgasbord of definitions, some would argue we've been in the metaverse for the better part of four decades. Pac-Man was apparently a gateway drug to the metaverse. Sonic the Hedgehog has been luring unsuspecting children into the metaverse since 1991. Activision's Call of Duty isn't a video game property anymore; according to analysts and speculators, it's a "metaverse" product that allows you to virtually murder people. You know, like a video game.

It was the aggressive influx of analysts and experts saying "metaverse" in response to Microsoft's acquisition of Activision that sent me into this meta conniption. Three months ago, most of us would've said "Microsoft has bought Activision for IP and vidya games." Now, the proper dialogue is "Microsoft's purchase of Activision is a metaverse investment," with the term "metaverse" being a cover-all for games, software in general, any sort of virtual or augmented reality endeavor, and basically anything relating to the word "virtual." For example, that dream you had of your high school crush? Yeah, that's not real; it's virtual. Ergo, it was a metaversal dream.

Three months ago does, in fact, mark the real birth of the "metaverse" frenzy, for a reason you can probably deduce. While the concept of the metaverse has been around forever — just watch The Matrix or read Ready Player One for proof — it took Mark Zuckerberg rebranding Facebook as Meta to send all of Big Tech into panic mode. Facebook has a vision for a virtual landscape it wants to pioneer, and it dubbed it the metaverse. That makes sense. That's all well and good. What's not good is virtually every other company now cannibalizing the word, chasing after it by claiming that all their products were metaverse products the whole time and that we just couldn't see that fact yet.

A meta comedy of errors

Metaversebollocks

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

Some of us here at Windows Central have already cracked down on Zuckerberg's Meta rebranding and dissed the term "metaverse." But now it's time to reclaim the industry from the clutches of a word it doesn't even understand. A lot of companies all using the same word to describe a hundred different things is the antithesis of language, which is designed to impart specificity. Otherwise, I could just point at a pile of dirt and call it a Ubisoft game and the dictionary would have no choice but to agree with me.

So here's what I'm asking for. I want Microsoft, Activision, all the stock bros who keep selling the "metaverse" idea without knowing what they're saying, all the analysts trying to sound in the loop, and everyone else to get on the same page with this metaverse thing. I want conformity and the restitution of language as a means of communication rather than a vessel for noise. Maybe Facebook's definition is the winner because one could argue it made the first and biggest splash in modern tech. On the other hand, anyone can point back to an earlier event and claim that was the metaverse's inception. Maybe we all need to get on board with Aristotle's Metaphysics and call it a day.

The point is, metaverse branding is all over the place. There's nothing wrong with the word sticking around, but it needs to mean something, just like how "books," "movies," and "augmented reality" all clearly define a specific medium. Big Tech owes it to each and every one of us on this metaversal experiment of a rock to clean up its act and give us a metaverse that doesn't disrespect the very concept of language.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

19 Comments
  • I hate the term personally. It's made more visceral by Facebook changing its name to meta too. Facebook has done more harm to humanity than good IMHO. So if the meta verse offers a similar experience I'm out
  • It's worth noting that in Ready Player One (the novel), the big turning point in the story is when the main character decides to put the headset down and actually work on getting his physical body in shape. So you may be on to something.
  • Didnt he do that WITH the headset on?
  • Did he? I swore it was at the part of the story where he moved and finally started getting his real-world affairs in order before diving back into VR for the climax. But then again, I haven't read the thing in ages, you may be right.
  • Reminds me of the cloud. Which is at its core just a hosted service but when it became a buzzword everyone started saying their products were cloud.
  • That's a perfect example of one of the other recent times a buzzword snapped off its chain and went running around Big Tech eating all the farm's chickens. "The cloud powers this service. We're harnessing the cloud to expedite Santa's delivery route. With the power of the cloud, we're going to make Hogwarts a reality." Lotta blather, little clarity.
  • Yeah Cloud! That one still annoys me! Cloud initially meant that a task was executed by 100's or 1000' of machines together, who all processed a little part of the whole. Or data that was scattered over large amounts of machines. Like the tiny condens drops in a cloud, hence the word Cloud computing. Now anything that happens on the other end of your Internet connection is called the cloud. But it should be The Web, or The Internet, unless it happens spread out over many, many machines.... Right?
  • i hate the name meta, it makes me feel anger everytime i hear it as the name of facebook.
  • "MICROSOFT"???? Facebook needs to cool it.
    And every sycophant who promotes that dumb buzzword that works in Facebook's favor each time it's repeated. So yeah, agreed in that it's a hollow buzzword that is been thrown around for Facebook's benefit. But this is hardly one to pin on MS. Always the same thing, whatever happens anywhere in the industry, people start blaming Microsoft.
  • I can't help it, fdruid/Satya. Blaming Microsoft for everything that's wrong with the world is just so much fun.
  • Yeah, but hardly the first or last time this has happened, even within the "virtual" community. Microsoft correctly used the term "Mixed Reality" to refer to the entire spectrum from AR to VR, as that term goes back to the 90s, but then folks (including Oculus) started using it to mean just video-see-through AR, and tried to blame MS for misusing the term. In the end, whatever term sticks in people's brains will be the term we use. The best thing we can do is to use the correct/preferred terminology as often as we can, rather than just complain when people use the terms we don't like.
  • Oh my Lord, yes. Finally somebody said it. I agree 100%
  • The way I see it, just like the woke community has jumped so hard on punishing anyone who doesn't get in line with their social justice agenda, it's the youth who are going to perpetuate this term and vagueness of concept and, unfortunately, no amount of the MAN trying to say different is going to change it. This meta-BS is here to stay. And much like the way I view cryptocurrency, you can either complain about it or get the F on board. As alien as meta this and crypto that are to some, it's going to become as normalized as Pokémon nerds who have somehow become the new D&D nerds of this generation; playing a child's game WAY into adulthood because no one told them to grow the F up. I bought me a modest amount of crypto not because I believe in it, but because the babies of today will be the adults of tomorrow who were born thinking this is what it is supposed to be. I might as well make some money off their naivety (sp?)... So too are big company getting ahead of "meta" so they can stake a piece of the future. We here can at least agree it's stupid, just like Jimmy's rock music and obnoxious jeans. We're the old fogies now but the beauty of it is we don't have to care.
  • Stop saying "Big Tech" like it means something.
  • Too late, buddy
  • I still refuse to call Facebook whatever they want themselves to be called now.
  • It's kind of like "cloud". They're trying to make a "server to dump files on" sound "magical". It's like when Cable One renamed themselves Sparklight. What images were they trying to evoke here? Unicorns? I'm not sure magical unicorns equal fast internet.
  • I think what drags me through hell in back is that by using the term meta. We are going to be playing right into Facebook's hands. They rebranded themselves and are using everyone else for recognition. Its marketing brilliance but it still angers me to no end.
  • It was Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash that coined the term in 1992. In that the Metaverse was a virtual environment that started out as a place for hackers and nerds to hang out and build before the corporations moved in. (which is exactly how the real internet played out!) It was really a playground of the rich and the early nerds who staked a claim before all the VReal Estate prices skyrocketed. It was only cool because it wasn't corporate to start with and the corporations do not control it, they merely exist as places and powers within. This is something Facebook seems to have missed. In Mark Zuckerberg's mind he thinks he is Wade Watts from Ready Player One but in reality he is Nolan Sorrento, the villain. A IRL Metaverse will never take off because of corporate control. Nobody will want to share the space and give up their power. So we will end up with lots of unlinked, centralised worlds like the MMO's we have now.