Is this the future of virtual reality?

What you are about to see and hear is a story of utter incomptence and ineptitude… a story of a self-proclaimed visionary who is promising to show us the future but is stuck in the past… who is pushing technology funded by tens of billions of dollars, yet it looks like a ten-year-old free phone app…

Is this hyperbole? No, this debacle is for real. And it’s shocking…

Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) launched its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds in France and Spain last week. The promotional image posted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been underwhelming, to say the least. It has led to headlines like this: “Wave of Criticism Hits Zuckerberg’s Metaverse for Looking Like Crap“. 🙂 That’s no clickbait there. The article goes on to call it “unfathomably bad”. That’s not hyperbole either. See for yourself:

You might think this is some parody or meme, because it seems like it (plus we often post that kind of stuff here). This looks like someone opened Paintbrush from Windows 3.1 and pasted some clip art, then proclaimed it the future of virtual reality, in a funny attempt at satire or parody. But this is the actual image Zuckerberg posted.

Meta spent $10 billion (that’s $10,000,000,000, to show a lot of zeroes) on the metaverse in just 2021. I tell ya, ten billion dollars just doesn’t buy what it used to… 🙂 That’s after already spending billions more in previous years. They’ve been working on this technology since at least 2014 (when they bought Oculus Rift for $3 billion). And Zuckerberg says this project will lose “significant” amounts of money over the next 3 to 5 years.

The good news (if I can even try to spin it that way), is that Zuckerberg said it’s not finished yet, that some parts of it will not be ready for 10 to 15 years. That’s somewhat encouraging, because it sure doesn’t look finished. The bad news is that Meta already has 10,000 employees working on this project, for years, and that’s what they have so far.

Zuckerberg posted a new image shortly thereafter, saying major updates to avatar graphics are coming soon, and that the current graphics are capable of much more. If so, why would he post that crappy picture to millions of people to promote this new product? He’s been the CEO there for decades now, so he ought to know something about marketing (or at least know to consult his PR team).

Also, avatars (your digital representation) are missing your lower half. That looks weird, creepy, and unnatural. I suppose that saves on CPU/GPU usage, but if this is how it’s going to look, maybe the technology isn’t ready for this yet. But the thing is, it should be. I’ve been interested in technology a long time, and I’ve tried virtual reality tech demos over 20 years ago which were better than this. I realize this will get better, but to invest that kind of money in it over that many years and this is the result? That’s mind-boggling awful.

screenshot from Doom 3 on PC, 12 years ago

At least, I hope it gets better. It shouldn’t be too hard — I mean, the bar is really low now — but a graphics rendering engine is not a simple thing to replace in a project this complex. Hopefully they accounted for that. It’s not as simple as just drawing better images. Also, and this is where the story gets even crazier, the graphics have gotten worse over time! I know this just debuted last December, but the technology behind it was developed by Oculus Rift (which had so many potential!). Facebook/Meta bought them 8 years ago, and 10 years ago Oculus Rift could run Doom 3, which had real-time character models that looked like this. So it has gotten considerably worse. I understand why they decreased the graphics quality some, but surely computing power has increased enough in 10 years that it didn’t have to get that much worse.

And while I’m ranting, another thing is that it looks lifeless, boring, bland, devoid of soul, etc. To create an “immersive world”, the graphics don’t have to be realistic, to be fair. There are video games and virtual reality worlds and metaverses already released that will pull you into that world where you feel totally immersed, even without realistic graphics. If the Horizon Worlds is to succeed, it needs to have personality, to be fun, and to bring something to the experience that you won’t get otherwise. It seems like Horizon Worlds is primarily built for investors who want to buy virtual land in this new virtual universe.

If you want to see an intended use of Meta’s Horizon Worlds, here is a video of the first virtual reality interview meeting (along with commentary): Meta Is For Losers.

Another apparent intended use is this commercial for it that debuted during the “big game” earlier this year:

I do not think that ad shows what they think it shows. 🙂 Are they trying to tell you that real life sucks and that you’ll be happy in their virtual world? That’s so ironic given how research has shown that users of Facebook tend to be less happy when using the product. BTW, some of the top comments on that video are worth reading.

FYI, this idea of an online metaverse is not new at all. Second Life is a metaverse that has been out since 2003, which has had over a million regular users and even has its own currency (and has produced real-world millionaires). There are numerous other alternatives out there, too, which are much better, so don’t judge VR on this one app. Oh, and click here to see a comparison between how Second Life looked in 2007 compared to the new Horizon Worlds image. (And someone has compared it to the Zelda game on the Nintendo 64 some 24 years ago, which is amusing.)

To sum up, I think virtual reality (and augmented reality) will become somewhat popular in the future. I don’t have much hope for Horizon Worlds, but that’s okay, because there are other companies making similar projects that are much better. I don’t know if the technology will ever get to the level in “Ready Player One” (great movie, BTW), because corporate interests will probably limit the fun and keep it close-walled so they can control it better and try to squeeze more profit from it. I don’t know how mainstream it will ever become, and while I think it has a lot of fun potential, I don’t know that it needs to be too mainstream. As fun as it is, we still need time around people in real life, which is even better (if done right).