The Metaverse is dead. The hype surrounding it could not save it, and its decline can be attributed to a lack of a coherent vision for the product.
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An obituary for the latest fad to join the tech graveyard.
The Metaverse, the once-buzzy technology that promised to allow users to hang out awkwardly in a disorientating video-game-like world, has died after being abandoned by the business world. It was three years old.
The capital-M Metaverse, a descendant of the 1982 movie “Tron” and the 2003 video game “Second Life,” was born in 2021 when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of his trillion-dollar company to Meta. After a much-heralded debut, the Metaverse became the obsession of the tech world and a quick hack to win over Wall Street investors. The hype could not save the Metaverse, however, and a lack of coherent vision for the product ultimately led to its decline. Once the tech industry turned to a new, more promising trend — generative AI — the fate of the Metaverse was sealed.
The Metaverse is now headed to the tech industry’s graveyard of failed ideas. But the short life and ignominious death of the Metaverse offers a glaring indictment of the tech industry that birthed it.
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From the moment of its delivery, Zuckerberg claimed that the Metaverse would be the future of the internet. The glitzy, spurious promotional video that accompanied Zuckerberg’s name-change announcement described a future where we’d be able to interact seamlessly in virtual worlds: Users would “make eye contact” and “feel like you’re right in the room together.” The Metaverse offered people the chance to engage in an “immersive” experience, he claimed.
These grandiose promises heaped sky-high expectations on the Metaverse. The media swooned over the newborn concept: The Verge published a nearly 5,000-word-long interview with Zuckerberg immediately following the announcement — in which the writer called it “an expansive, immersive vision of the internet.” Glowing profiles of the Metaverse seemed to set it on a laudatory path, but the actual technology failed to deliver on this promise throughout its short life. A wonky virtual-reality interview with the CBS host Gayle King, where low-quality cartoon avatars of both King and Zuckerberg awkwardly motioned to each other, was a stark contrast to the futuristic vistas shown in Meta’s splashy introductory video.
The Metaverse also suffered from an acute identity crisis. A functional business proposition requires a few things to thrive and grow: a clear use case, a target audience, and the willingness of customers to adopt the product. Zuckerberg waxed poetic about the Metaverse as “a vision that spans many companies” and “the successor to the mobile internet,” but he failed to articulate the basic business problems that the Metaverse would address. The concept of virtual worlds where users interact with each other using digital avatars is an old one, going back as far as the late 1990s with massively multiplayer online role-player games, such as “Meridian 59,” “Ultima Online,” and “EverQuest.” And while the Metaverse supposedly built on these ideas with new technology, Zuckerberg’s one actual product — the VR platform Horizon Worlds, which required the use of an incredibly clunky Oculus headset — failed to suggest anything approaching a road map or a genuine vision. In spite of the Metaverse’s arrested conceptual development, a pliant press published statements about the future of the technology that were somewhere between unrealistic and outright irresponsible. The CNBC host Jim Cramer nodded approvingly when Zuckerberg claimed that 1 billion people would use the Metaverse and spend hundreds of dollars there, despite the Meta CEO’s inability to say what people would receive in exchange for their cash or why anyone would want to strap a clunky headset to their face to attend a low-quality, cartoon concert.
In its first-quarter earnings report on Wednesday, Meta revealed that Zuckerberg’s Metaverse has taken a $4 billion loss.
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Outside the defense industry, tech growth seems to begin with business applications. There have always been those keen to “explore new worlds” (Star Trek hype). But any economic decline seems to see visionary ideas tossed overboard.