Mark Zuckerberg has set a new ambitious goal for Facebook: to build the “next generation of the Internet.”
After enrolling nearly two-thirds of the world’s Internet users in apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, Zuckerberg told investors Wednesday that his latest obsession was to build a “metaverse,” a nebulous, widespread concept that denotes a world. immersive virtual full of avatars. .
“In the next few years, I expect people to move from seeing us primarily as a social media company to seeing us as a metaverse company,” Zuckerberg told analysts on Wednesday. Earlier this week, the company announced plans to create a new team of metaverse products.
The company has said it spends billions of dollars a year on virtual and augmented reality more broadly, in a bold bid for a futuristic digital world as the race heats up to build the next computing platform beyond the phone smart.
Facebook now has more than 10,000 people working on various projects in space, including the development of RA glasses to superimpose objects and information in the real world, and a bracelet that will allow users to interact with this world through subtle finger movements .
Zuckerberg has indicated that he believes AR systems will be ubiquitous in the next decade (the first Facebook version of his smart glasses is expected later this year), but the company faces stiff competition , particularly from smartphone maker Apple, which is also rumored to be launching a headset next year as soon as possible.
It’s unclear what a Facebook metaverse might look like. Its virtual reality social networking application, Horizon, has been in development for two years, but is not yet open to external users. However, in the call from analysts, Zuckerberg described a space where people could hang out, send work messages, play games and even go dancing together.
He also made it clear that he intended to monetize the opportunity of virtual worlds. Advertising “would probably be a significant part of the metaverse,” as would commerce, he said, describing a space where people buy clothes and digital items to carry with their avatars as they “teleport from one experience to another.”
The push comes when Facebook recently clashed with Apple, after the iPhone maker introduced changes to its operating system that curb Facebook’s ability to collect data to target advertising to users.
In an interview this week with tech journalist Casey Newton, Zuckerberg hinted at this rivalry as the engine of his metaverse strategy. “One of the reasons we invest in both augmented and virtual reality is that mobile phones appeared at the same time as Facebook, so we didn’t really play a big role in shaping the development of these platforms,” he said. he said.
A Facebook metaverse would also set up a battle with the companies behind some of the world’s most popular video games, such as Fortnite, Minecraft i Roblox, who have emerged as the first leaders in the construction of immersive virtual worlds.
Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games, the company behind it Fortnite, has described the metaverse as “a phenomenon that transcends play.” Epic has been adding social media features constantly Fortnite and the acquisition of smaller start-ups, such as 3D modeling company Sketchfab, to develop its Unreal Engine gaming technology, which can provide the graphics fundamentals of other virtual worlds.
“Our goal of Fortnite it’s building something like a science fiction metaverse, ”he said during Epic’s battle in court with Apple earlier this year.
Competition is not limited to game groups. Microsoft announced this week in its earnings call that it was developing a “business metaverse.”
“There’s a lot of noise in space,” said Luke Alvarez, a London-based technology investor. “It’s a bit like the car industry was in 1905 with hundreds or thousands of companies coming in with all sorts of solutions.”
It is unclear whether a dominant metaverse will emerge or whether there will be metaverses from several competing companies. Zuckerberg told analysts he hoped users could access Facebook’s metavers from different devices or apps.
Facebook, with nearly 3 billion users, may have the scale to fight for a winning position, but Alvarez argued that while the social media group may be a key player, “there definitely won’t be just a metaverse ”.
There are also formidable technical challenges to bring the concept to life, from creating digital coins that work in different games to a graphical representation system that can animate thousands of avatars sharing the same virtual city or concert venue.
Herman Narula, CEO of Improbable, a London-based company he describes as “metaverse plumbing,” said computer platforms should support billions of operations per second to produce some of the experiences that people are talking about ”.
Today, however, there are games like Fortnite which can accommodate up to 100 players at a time, they only process thousands of transactions per second.
“The feeling you get in a stadium when thousands of other fans around you roar is very different from a message board,” he said. “The utility [of the metaverse] it is proportional to how many things can happen together at any given time. “
There are also questions about whether non-gaming consumers are prepared to adopt this somewhat dystopian view of science fiction. While Facebook has begun to see improved sales of its Oculus virtual reality headsets, it doesn’t have a game that can convince people who want to change Instagram for a new kind of digital hangout.
Whether Facebook’s metaverse in particular can gain strength will also depend in part on whether it can address persistent concerns about its ability to moderate harassment and abuse and about privacy as a result of numerous scandals.
It will also depend on whether the company can run non-intrusive advertising. Last month, the first Facebook partner to advertise their Oculus headphones, a shooting game Blaston, withdrew from the initiative less than a week after a backlash from the video game community.
Despite the challenges, Zuckerberg remains impassive. “This will lead to completely new economic experiences and opportunities,” he said.