No one seems to be with Zuck on this one.
There was a time that the virtual reality evangelists of the video game world used to seem pretty annoying, with their eternal claims that VR was the future and we all needed to don clunky headsets to join the revolution.
Then Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg became one of those people. Except he’d decided that his vision would not be just VR, but “the metaverse,” and rather than play video games there, people would just do everything there.
It was a vision of author Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” on steroids, and Zuck was visibly excited about it. So much so, in fact, that he renamed Facebook’s parent company to Meta, bought the Oculus Quest VR headset and rebranded it Meta Quest, and formed Reality Labs solely to work on all projects related to the metaverse.
The thing is, a lot of folks just weren’t buying the metaverse. Meta’s social virtual reality app, “Horizon Worlds,” was just … okay. Most critics panned the experience, citing everything from the weirdness of the avatars (which stopped at the waist, so no one has legs, just floating torsos) to the “hollowness” of the space. And forging community in online spaces was hardly new or exciting to longtime gamers, especially since the long-running game “Second Life” offered them the same experience when it launched 21 years ago (sans VR headset, but still).
In February Meta announced that “Horizon Worlds” had hit 300,000 monthly users. But in the meantime, Reality Labs continued to bleed money with $5.7 billion lost in 2022 so far, as well as $10 billion lost in 2021.
It’s hard not to be a skeptic about it all as Meta continues to report major amounts of cash draining away. And according to a new report, it turns out that even folks working within Reality Labs aren’t so sure about the whole thing.
Doubt in the Metaverse
In an exclusive new report from The Verge, leaked internal documents reveal discussions between Reality Labs management and employees that indicates that “Horizon Worlds” is ridden with game-breaking bugs, leading to a “quality lockdown” for the rest of the year.
Meta’s VP of Metaverse, Vishal Shah, said the lockdown is to “ensure that we fix our quality gaps and performance issues before we open up Horizon to more users.”
The app was originally opened to invite-only beta testers in Aug. 2020, then rolled out to everyone in Dec. 2021. But despite that it’s been out for a while, Shah also mentioned in his memo that it was badly bogged down.
“Currently feedback from our creators, users, playtesters, and many of us on the team is that the aggregate weight of papercuts, stability issues, and bugs is making it too hard for our community to experience the magic of Horizon. Simply put, for an experience to become delightful and retentive, it must first be usable and well crafted,” Shah wrote in a memo sent out in September.
However, these combined problems are big enough to keep possibly the game’s most important users from using it — the folks on the development team. Shah addressed this in another memo, saying, “For many of us, we don’t spend that much time in Horizon and our dogfooding dashboards show this pretty clearly,” he wrote to employees on September 15th. “Why is that? Why don’t we love the product we’ve built so much that we use it all the time? The simple truth is, if we don’t love it, how can we expect our users to love it?”
Shah has since sent a follow-up memo saying that managers would be held accountable for making sure their teams used “Horizon Worlds” at least once a week.
“Everyone in this organization should make it their mission to fall in love with Horizon Worlds. You can’t do that without using it. Get in there. Organize times to do it with your colleagues or friends, in both internal builds but also the public build so you can interact with our community,” he wrote.