Meta Connect 2023 has come and gone, leaving us to eagerly anticipate the next rectangular box of virtual escapism, the Meta Quest 3. We also have a host of celeb-fronted AI chatbots eager to strip-farm our every question and query for valuable advertising data. And even a pair of trendy spy glasses that absolutely won’t use AI to tag everything it sees throughout your day and report it back to the throne of Mark Zuckerberg.
I know this because I watched the keynote address just like you – however, unlike you, I watched the keynote address from inside the Metaverse. How do I know you weren’t there too? Well, that’s because I’d have seen you there, and I assure you, I didn’t. In fact, with the Metaverse being about as social as a prison shower room, I didn’t see much of anyone.
Correction: The Metaverse is mid
I turned up bright and early to Meta’s virtual showcase, ready to put my hard-hitting reporting skills to the test and get the skinny on what Meta-folk like and loathe about the Zuck’s forthcoming announcements. I assumed that an event with thousands of registered Quest owners showing interest in attending would be an ideal place to hear people’s genuine thoughts on the upcoming Meta Quest 3 – but as usual, the Metaverse let me down.
All of my experiences in the Metaverse have been far less Ready Player One and a lot more One Player Ready – though ready to do what I’m still not entirely sure of. Meta’s virtual Connect 2023 event was a similar dud. I could lose 80% of my fingers in an industrial accident and still have enough left over to take an accurate headcount of everyone who bothered to show.
I recently wrote about how disenfranchised I’d become with VR on the Meta Quest 2 by saying that virtual reality is mid. In response, readers were quick to point out that this wasn’t entirely fair or true. And even though it was my opinion at the time, they were right. I’m a big fan of PCVR games and the Quest 2 as a headset, after all. What I was (maybe poorly) attempting to communicate was that Meta’s Metaverse is mid – and even that might be too generous.
Meta’s Metaverse Metamorphosis
“At Meta, we’re focused on building the future of human connection. And, what that means is we build products to help people feel closer.” Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote words literally echoed throughout the empty amphitheater my avatar awkwardly stood in. I’m glad that there will be a future, at least – because the present state of human connection in Meta’s Metaverse has sunk faster than the submarine tourism industry.
As Zuckerberg seemed to go on to explain, the former concept of the Metaverse (at least Meta’s own), as an entirely digital realm is dead. Rejoice! Those fully-immersive VR experiences will remain, but the concept of existing in a virtual world is no more. In its place is a new Metaverse, one that doesn’t want to take you out of this world, but to bring virtual elements into yours.
Be it hanging a virtual picture frame, displaying digital items around your home, or talking to your friend’s force ghost as you watch sportsball on your 160-inch free-floating television screen – the new Metaverse is a much more personal, mixed-reality experience. In this new experience, the Metaverse isn’t something you enter, it’s something that comes to you, how you choose it to, and wherever you might be at the time.
How all this translates to the actual experience, I’m not sure. But the fact it’s not spoken about in the same overblown way as Meta’s original concept gives me a certain amount of hope that it can do the walking without the talking.
With new ways of interacting with the space that’s already around you, the revised concept is something ultimately more tangible. I can happily see myself getting lost in my own little Metaverse for hours at a time as I turn my coffee table into a board game or virtual RTS battleground.
Meta’s lofty ambitions for the Metaverse played a lot in its downfall. I think being able to slap a virtual JPEG of your dog on the wall is a far more attainable goal than replacing the entire world with a digital doppelganger. So, while the Metaverse isn’t booming, it might be blooming – and eventually blossoming into something more exciting to get behind thanks to a healthy dose of (mixed) reality.
With a heightened focus on passthrough and AR, it might be your best chance yet at encountering actual human interaction – even if it is only to register real people pointing and laughing at your Meta Quest 3-adorned triclopean appearance.
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Rael Hornby, potentially influenced by far too many LucasArts titles at an early age, once thought he’d grow up to be a mighty pirate. However, after several interventions with close friends and family members, you’re now much more likely to see his name attached to the bylines of tech articles. While not maintaining a double life as an aspiring writer by day and indie game dev by night, you’ll find him sat in a corner somewhere muttering to himself about microtransactions or hunting down promising indie games on Twitter.