“People have lost interest in the metaverse”

Tech companies such as Facebook parent Meta (FB) and Microsoft (MSFT) are pouring money into their plans for the Metaverse, the 3D virtual world that tech executives are obsessed with. But so far, the experiences users can get their hands on have fallen far short of the Silicon Valley promises of hyper-realistic avatars and seamless interactions with the real world. And that could discourage consumers.

“People have kind of lost interest in the metaverse because the characters look like cartoon characters with no legs,” Marc Petit, vice president of Epic Games and general manager of Unreal Engine, told Yahoo Finance. “I mean, who wants to be that? It’s not attractive.

Petit’s review is a thinly veiled reference to Meta’s “Horizon Worlds” platform. The company’s main metaverse experience, “Horizon Worlds”, features legless avatars and graphics that are a far cry from those found in modern big-budget video games.

And that kind of over-promising could drive users away in the long run.

We’re years away from the metaverse we were promised

The metaverse concept was first popularized by Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel “Snow Crash”. However, tech companies pursued the idea that 3D virtual worlds could be visited even longer.

It will take years for the metaverse to reach its potential. (Photo by SERGIO FLORES/AFP via Getty Images)

Meta has even changed its name to signal its focus on the Metaverse, while Microsoft explores ways to use it for both entertainment and work. Google has also expressed interest in the concept, and Apple is reportedly working on its own augmented reality headset that could debut later this year.

But the way the Metaverse has been marketed to consumers so far has been both vague and full of far-off tech. During a presentation in October, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed off a world where you can talk to realistic projections of your friends through augmented reality glasses and have the ability to play games with friends in “Ready Player One” style worlds.

But what we have now is a far cry from that. Rather than an unlimited online world, Meta’s “horizons worlds” are more of a small gathering space for early adopters.

Additionally, there are signs that even young people have a hazy understanding of the metaverse. According to Piper Sandler’s latest Taking Stock With Teens survey, while 26% of teens own a virtual reality device, only 5% use it daily and 17% use it weekly. Additionally, 50% of teens aren’t sure about the Metaverse or don’t intend to buy a VR device.

The Fortnite logo is seen at Paris Games Week (PGW), a video game trade show in Paris, France, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Epic Games’ “Fortnite” offers a first look at the potential of the metaverse without the need for things like helmets. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Of course, Epic Games produces the incredibly popular game “Fortnite,” which itself is an early form of the Metaverse. Players can compete in the game’s “Battle Royale” or watch Ariana Grande concerts or race chats with Killer Mike and Jemele Hill.

While “Fortnite” is seen as something of an entry into the metaverse, Epic isn’t betting its entire future on the prospect.

To reach the level where consumers of all persuasions will fall in love with the Metaverse, companies will need to deliver photorealistic graphics and ensure that their experiences are worth diving into.

“The metaverse needs to be about the places and content that consumers will want to consume,” Petit said. “It shouldn’t look like 1980s graphics, like a lot of things we still see today.”

Achieving a level of photorealism is going to take years of continuous development and invention if the metaverse is ever to unfold as Silicon Valley companies hope.

“We have to pace ourselves,” Petit said. “The pandemic has kind of imposed on us this awareness around the metaverse, these social experiences. But it’s already taken us 30 years to get to where we are… In my mind, we haven’t seen anything about the metaverse yet.

For companies like Meta, the wait may be too long. The social media company has spent $10.2 billion on its vision for the Metaverse in 2021 alone, including building virtual and augmented reality headsets and software users will need to access virtual worlds. According to Zuckerberg, this will not bear fruit for 15 years.

The spending also comes as the company experiences a slowdown in ad sales related to inflation, the war in Ukraine and changes to Apple’s iOS privacy.

As for Petit, his take on the metaverse includes more than just helmets. According to the vice president, the metaverse will allow consumers to view content and information on everything from their glasses to car windshields.

It’s a concept shared by others in the field who say the metaverse will be less about the virtual worlds you enter, and more about the output of real-world data and information.

For now, consumers like you and me will have to sit back and wait for the metaverse to continue to take shape. But one thing is certain, we haven’t seen anything yet.

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Do you have any advice? Email Daniel Howley at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

Luz W. German