Simon Hunt

How Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse gamble backfired

Photo-illustration: Coral Hoeren (Getty, iStock)

Less than two years ago, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg bet the house on the metaverse. Zuckerberg believed that his virtual reality world was the future. Now, with the rapid progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI), he appears to have made a calamitous mistake. The metaverse isn’t yet dead – but it’s future looks far from rosy.

Having recently taken a trip to the metaverse, I can’t say I’m surprised that Zuckerberg’s pet project has failed to catch on. At Meta’s shiny new offices in London’s King’s Cross, large black headsets were strapped over our eyes. Before long, by the wonders of Meta’s technology, we were transported from our real meeting room to a virtual one. Our faces suddenly seemed unfamiliar and we no longer had legs. Despite this affliction, the meeting proceeded as planned and we were taken on a tour through our new 3D surroundings – complete with interactive whiteboards, instant teleportation around the room and interchangeable panoramic views through the windows.  

It was all great fun. But as I made my way home, I wondered what the point of it had been. Could this meeting not just have been done over email? 

That hasn’t stopped the social media giant pumping oodles of cash into its grand project

A lot of people, and a lot of businesses, seem to be wondering the same thing. Few have said publicly they plan to roll out Horizon Workplace, Meta’s app for virtual office meetings; Horizon Worlds, its virtual social network, reportedly saw its user base decline from 300,000 to below 200,000 last year. 

Meta boast that 70 per cent of businesses plan to increase their spend on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. But, for now, the reality is that the metaverse has failed to take off.

When I interviewed a member of Meta’s board last year, she told me that one of the advantages of the metaverse was that it had ‘a lot of optionality’.

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