Facebook, the failed turn to the metaverse

Sad birthday for Facebook. On October 28, the group led by Mark Zuckerberg announced the change of name of the group which has both Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. It became Meta, in order to mark its shift towards the metaverse, this set of technologies allowing access to totally immersive virtual worlds.

A year later, the name is still struggling to establish itself in people’s minds. But above all, the strategy aimed at making Facebook the new frontier of the metaverse is struggling to convince users, and beyond that, investors. In one year, the capitalization of the stock market giant – which amounted to 1,000 billion dollars in September 2021 – has been divided by three, forcing the former giant to reduce its sails, with a workforce of 84,000 people which could decrease slightly. in the coming months.

The metaverse identified as the future of the Internet

Yet Facebook is convinced of this; with its immersive experiences offering a second life to Internet users, the metaverse will be the future of the Internet. Hence the need to position oneself on virtual and augmented reality technologies in order to replicate in the metaverse what has made the success of social networks so far: user addiction and monetization with advertisers of the past. on the site.

In 2014, the group acquired Oculus, the specialist in virtual reality headsets for video games. Six years later, he presents Facebook Horizon, the beta version of his new 3D universe, accessible by means of glasses. But the acceleration is really taking place with the name change, and the announcement in October 2021 of a gigantic $10 billion investment plan to develop Facebook Reality Labs, its virtual and augmented reality R&D division.

21 billion already invested

Except that despite the 21 billion dollars swallowed up in recent years in the metaverse, success is not there. Sales of virtual reality headsets have not exploded as expected. And above all, Meta failed to populate its platform Horizon Worlds. While he hoped to conquer half a million active users by the end of the year, he had to revise his objective, with 280,000 registered users.

“To launch this type of technology, companies rely on what are called early adopters, technology-savvy customers. Facebook’s mistake was to unveil its platform much too soon, when it only looked like a draft. As a result, forward-thinking influencers didn’t buy into the concept at all,” decrypts Daniel Ichbia, specialist in new technologies, and author of a biography of Mark Zuckerberg.

The Horizon platform considered very disappointing

Launched in 2021 in the United States and in the summer of 2022 in France, Horizon Worlds has indeed created a huge disappointment and provoked the mockery of users judging the virtual universe of Facebook – still presenting avatars without legs – childish and old-fashioned.

According to the media The VergeMeta would even struggle to convince his own teams to spend time on Horizon. “The truth is, if we don’t like it, how can we expect our users to like it? », recently confessed Vishal Shah, the group’s vice-president of metaverse activities. Shortly before, Vivek Sharma, the boss of Horizon, left the ship in the middle of a storm, proof again of the difficulties of the group.

Admittedly, the turn to the metaverse alone does not explain the difficulties of the former digital giant. Between the criticisms of its algorithms accused of supporting anti-democratic movements, the loss of users, now more attracted by competing platforms like TikTok, or even Apple’s recent decision to block the access of applications to the personal data of owners of ‘iPhone, calling into question its economic model… the bad news has continued to pile up for Facebook, with financial results to match: for the third quarter of 2022, the group announced a net profit down 52% ( $4.4 billion), causing Meta’s share price to plummet again.

What future for the metaverse in general?

But basically the question remains: as such, does the metaverse really have a future, outside of video games? In the 2000s, the game Second Life was already attracting the crowds, without this parallel universe having succeeded in imposing itself. In the wake of Facebook, a slew of tech, luxury and retail companies have invested massively in the metaverse ($117 billion invested since 2021 according to McKinsey).

With the war in Ukraine, this madness has died down a bit. Without definitively burying the prospects of the metaverse. In a recent report submitted to the government, several experts encouraged France to position itself on this technology of the future.

“Today virtual reality headsets, which are still very expensive, remain one of the main Achilles heels of the metaverse”, observes Daniel Ichbia. Moreover, the metaverse is difficult to develop without widespread deployment of 6G. It would currently be unable to make millions of people interact in the same online space.

Still, in the digital world, it is always risky to indulge in forecasts. In 1989, five years before Microsoft founder Bill Gates became the richest man in the world, Windows was seen as irrelevant…

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