The 'metaverse' is a perfect distraction for embattled Facebook & Epic Games

in General Discussion edited April 2022
The word "metaverse" is currently meaningless, and mainly serves as a distraction from the problems of some of the companies spearheading it -- including Facebook and Epic Games.

Credit: Facebook
Credit: Facebook

There's a good chance that you've heard a lot about the metaverse lately. There's also a good chance you might still be confused by the very term.

That's because the term "metaverse" can't mean anything until it's properly defined. Until then, the concept, for some companies, is only serving as a valuable distraction from more significant problems.

The Metaverse, undefined

In theory, the "metaverse" is a network of connected 3D worlds that users explore in virtual or augmented reality. It's not a new idea. The concept of the "metaverse" has been around for decades. Neal Stephenson, for example, explored the concept of a "metaverse" in his 1992 novel "Snow Crash." And then, there's the famous -- or infamous, depending on your point of view -- 1992 film Lawnmower Man developed from an unrelated Stephen King story.

However, only recently has the "metaverse" been something in the media spotlight. Partly, that's because of the increasing prevalence of virtual reality systems. In other words, it hasn't seemed feasible until recently.

It's also partly because of companies pushing the concept. While it's largely been spearheaded by firms like Facebook and Epic Games, everyone from the cryptocurrency community to legacy brands Coca-Cola are now jumping on board.

Despite the buzz, it's hard to get a firm grasp on what the metaverse actually is or what it can do. That's because it hasn't yet been adequately defined in a way that means anything to the average person.

Definitions are in constant flux

The definition of the metaverse is constantly changing. Some describe it as a layer on top of the existing internet. Others see it as a potential virtual space where users -- as digital avatars -- can attend work meetings, watch movies, and hang out with their friends.

Even the word "metaverse" itself is unclear. Does it refer to a single metaverse or simply one of many metaverses? You won't have a clear-cut answer even after reading a few press releases.

While there will undoubtedly be some kind of actual definition develop in the next decade, today, the term "metaverse" is a catchy buzzword that doesn't really mean anything substantial.

While companies have been working on similar concepts for years, the term "metaverse" really entered the cultural zeitgeist when Facebook rebooted it in 2021 -- and rebranded itself as Meta.

The metaverse is a useful distraction for Facebook

Facebook officially changed its name to Meta in October 2021. At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new name reflected "who we are and what we hope to build."

There's a chance that Meta (or Facebook) is sincere in its belief that the metaverse is the future. On the other hand, the timing of the company's metaverse-focused announcements was awfully convenient.

Think about the news surrounding Facebook in October 2021. The company was mired in a firestorm of controversy because of multiple whistleblowers and a leak of internal documents.

Facebook, or the company now know as Meta, is positioning itself as a driver of the metaverse
Facebook, or the company now know as Meta, is positioning itself as a driver of the metaverse

Those sources and leaked documents suggested that Facebook allowed hate speech and disinformation to run rampant on its platforms. They also indicated that the company knew that its platforms were bad for the mental health of teenagers -- and that it wasn't doing anything meaningful about it.

Let's not forget Facebook's prior scandals, either. Remember Cambridge Analytics, the mishandling of facial recognition data, and numerous other privacy incidents.

The fact that the media is no longer focused on those issues means that Facebook's gambit worked -- at least to a degree. Of course, the news cycle marches on, and many people still find Facebook distasteful. But even then, it's still up to consumers, governments, and others to look past the shiny new technology and hold Facebook to account.

Epic Games

Of course, Facebook isn't the only company that is investing in the metaverse space. Not every company that does is trying to distract consumers from something, but one other company comes to mind: Epic Games.

Epic Games has been investing boatloads of money into the metaverse for years. Some analysts and industry watchers believe it might be beating Facebook in that regard.

However, let's also not forget Epic Games' own controversies here. Specifically, the studio's largely failed attempt to inflict massive changes on Apple's App Store business.

Back in 2020, Epic Games intentionally broke Apple's App Store rules by implementing a third-party payment system in "Fortnite." That alone is a violation, but Epic Games also explicitly sidestepped Apple's reviewers by adding the feature in a hotfix. If that wasn't damning enough, Epic Games filed a premeditated lawsuit and marketing campaign against Apple.

Epic Games made itself out to be a victim and a champion of user freedom. However, it's safe to say the company wasn't launching its battle against Apple out of the goodness of its own heart. It likely just wanted more of its players' money.

Epic Games' attempt to sidestep Apple's cut of app and in-app purchases hasn't worked thus far. The games studio lost its lawsuit against the iPhone maker. Besides one count, Apple largely won.

Without delving into legal matters beyond the scope of this article, there's a good chance that Apple will prevail over Epic's appeals.

The dodge here isn't as apparent as Facebook's, but there's a similar level of distraction. Until the metaverse becomes more solid, it'll still serve as a helpful diversion for Epic Games.

'The Metaverse' is meaningless -- currently

There are plenty of signs that interest and investment in the metaverse is heating up. Facebook, for example, isn't going to hold its F8 developer conference in 2022 since its pivot to Meta. Instead, it'll focus on "building the metaverse."

However, the definition isn't going to be decided by Facebook or Epic Games alone. It'll take a multitude of companies -- including Apple and its own VR efforts -- to ultimately decide what the metaverse is.

Although companies will likely play a huge role in what the metaverse becomes, it won't be solely up to them. How consumers use the metaverse will drive its development and refinement, too. Down the road, as regulation catches up to technology, there will likely be a government or legal definition.

Apple's metaverse contributions have been quiet so far, but the company is well-known for related tech.
Apple's metaverse contributions have been quiet so far, but the company is well-known for related tech.

And, again, this will be an industry-wide effort. While Facebook and Epic Games get most of the media spotlight, Apple is also quietly working on virtual reality technology.

Apple VR efforts include a rumored mixed-reality headset that could leverage the company's existing AR endeavors -- such as ARKit -- and create new experiences for the company. In addition to a device meant to compete with the Oculus lineup, Apple is also reportedly working on a more augmented reality-focused "Apple Glass" device.

Apple CEO Tim Cook himself has even publicly noted that Apple sees the potential in the metaverse and is "investing accordingly." While Apple isn't as strongly associated with the metaverse as other companies, there's no doubt that it'll play a big role. Some analysts believe Apple and Facebook could be on a "collision course" in the metaverse.

Until the concept is more fleshed out, however, it's important to take any outlandish metaverse claims with a grain of salt. And it's probably wise to think about what a company might have to gain by pushing its own metaverse plans -- especially if it seems like fluff.

Read on AppleInsider


  • Reply 1 of 14
    arthurbaarthurba Posts: 155member

    Let me play devils advocate then: for the MetaVerse

    I remember when I got my first domain name in the 90’s and trying to tell friends how the internet would be key to communicating and shopping in the future. They looked at me much the same way we look at proponents of the metaverse today. 

    I do think it’s a key technology. 

    At the moment you have physical shops/events that exist in a place and time and online shops/communities which exist outside of space (but still exist in time). 

    The metaverse will give a physical place to an online shop/community.  

    So imagine I am wearing Apple glasses (the ones that look like spectacles but can overlay graphics and the virtual world) and I’m signed in to Facebook then when I get to a park or other open space I will ‘see’ groups of friends and some ‘food truck’ like shops there and some billboards. 

    In theory - people signed in to different apps will see different things in the same spot - hence why some companies want to be first (Facebook).  (They are relying on the economic principle of scarcity to create value.)

    It’s a bit like Pokémon go but for commerce and community. 

    The ‘pure’ metaverse where there is no physical dimension will remain the purview of gamers and since there is no scarcity (like geography) then the value of being first is limited to the value of patents and eyeballs. 

    In the same way as the internet today is not revolutionary (I could communicate and buy stuff in the 80’s without it) but it has value and has become ubiquitous; the metaverse won’t be revolutionary but it will also bring value and become ubiquitous. 

    Just like the early winners in the internet were not the ones to ultimately capture the economic value from it (anyone remember Alta Vista?) - it’s very possible it will be the same with the metaverse. But Apple and Facebook are giving it their best shot. 

    edited April 2022 watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 14
    mattinozmattinoz Posts: 2,390member
    Epic games push is not so much in gaming. You need to look at what they doing in terms of digital twins and visualisation of changes people are making real world. 

    There will be an open playground battle for that format at some point much like there has been every time there is a way to deliver big chunks of data for public consumption. 
  • Reply 3 of 14
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,859member
    The Metaverse and self driving cars.
    Two things that have a lot of buzz and not a lot to show for all the money.
    ‘I’m not holding my breath for either.
  • Reply 4 of 14
    Can’t agree more… when everybody wants to find out what’s the next big thing but nothing massive is coming around the corner, they try too hard to convince themselves things like MetaBS is…
  • Reply 5 of 14
    ravnorodomravnorodom Posts: 710member
    VR headset is so bulky and expensive. That alone already chases away average person. Metaverse is still far away and in a distant future.
  • Reply 6 of 14
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 2,480member
    Apple’s best plan at ensuring mass AR adoption is their advocacy for privacy. I love how Apple plans ahead while the rest of the market continues to chase their own tail.
  • Reply 7 of 14
    I'm not looking forward to a future where families spend hours on the couch wearing VR headsets and ignoring each other. Pretty sad, actually. If you need me I'll be out in the garage working on something or out on my boat. There's an amazing world out there but fewer and fewer people seem to be able to see past their screens these days. 
  • Reply 8 of 14
    Before either Snow Crash or Lawnmower there was Vernor Vince’s short story, True Names. I’m sure there’s other earlier examples. And the concept got a big boost from Ready Player One (and soon, Ready Player Two.) Heck, it was enough of a thing that Skyrim went VR, right?  :D
  • Reply 9 of 14
    nicholfdnicholfd Posts: 824member
    This article & others who mention Apple & "VR" are wrong.  Everything Apple's said, the names of the APIs (ARKit) & the existing apps are all "AR" - Augmented Reality, not Virtual Reality. 

    There is a strong distinction between the two.  VR is fully enveloping, without seeing any of your physical surroundings.  AR adds (Augments) your existing physical (Reality) world by overlaying things on the view of the physical world around you.  

    I'm not sure how AR fits in most peoples "definition" of "metaverse" today - replacing reality/the physical world fully, with a computer generated image that has nothing to do with the physical world/environment they are physically located in.
  • Reply 10 of 14
    9secondkox29secondkox2 Posts: 2,904member
    The “Metaberse” is s failed idea. 

    It’s PlayStation Home but with Plauststion VR goggles. 

    Nobody wants it. It’s not fun and it’s not new. 

    There will never be a replacement for work in order to get stuff done. 

    AR and VR WILL BE MORE UBIQUITOUS. But the idea of it “being like you’re really there - only in a digital body” is waaaaay off and will never exist outside of some brain implant. 

    The Meta idea is a repeat of Microsoft’s historic error: thinking people prefer the next nerd thing vs having normal daily life made better. 
  • Reply 11 of 14
    for Meta's vision of the metaverse to come true, you have to buy Meta hardware and you have to trust Meta with the data generated by your use.

    Hello, anybody? Bueller?
  • Reply 12 of 14
    They are contemporary Max Headrooms - Glitchy, unlikable and powered by hubris.
  • Reply 13 of 14
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 18,020member
    I'm not looking forward to a future where families spend hours on the couch wearing VR headsets and ignoring each other. Pretty sad, actually. If you need me I'll be out in the garage working on something or out on my boat. There's an amazing world out there but fewer and fewer people seem to be able to see past their screens these days. 

    Ding ding ding!  I'm already addicted to screens.  Is a massively immersive virtual world going to make that better?  My emotional and mental well-being is vastly improved by no screen times, or at least being outside.  I fly drones, for example.  I have a controller with a screen, but it's a different experience...being outside, watching scenery, FPV mode, etc.  Same for yard work, or home improvement, or just about anything other than staring at a glowing rectangle.  

    Sure, we can create the Metaverse.  We can all live in Demolition Man/Disclosure movie world.  But do we want to?  
  • Reply 14 of 14
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 2,013member
    Metaverse :  something that in 20 years we'll  look back at and wonder why anyone thought it was a great idea and why companies tossed  billions  of dollars down a rat hole. 

    We had a dot-com crash 20+ years ago.  The metaverse-crash is in 5-10 years.  

    Now, a simple AR system in a lightweight format that you can use as a helper in every day life could be game  changing, and I know some companies are working on this, but it won't be an alternative all-encompassing world like it is being made out to be.  It will simply be helpful new technology expressions or presentation of the existing data for the real world.  Instead of a maps app on your phone or car display you'll see the same data presented in   front of your face through the simple light weight glasses or whatever similar tech gets invented. 

    No need for avatars and virtual reality people etc.  

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