Mark Zuckerberg envisions a billion people in the metaverse spending hundreds of dollars each
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- Jordan Novet
- Jun 22 2022
- Word count
- 990 words
People are struggling to afford basic essentials like fuel and energy and food but sure a billion people are just itching to spend hundreds of pounds on VR hardware so they can spend hundreds more pounds on virtual hats. Get in the fuckin' sea, Mark.
I have a VR headset and I barely use it for actual fun with real games let alone whatever weird money-spending not-gaming thing Zuck is imagining. All the talk I hear from Meta about the metaverse never explains why I would want to do use the thing. I can socialise or meet with people just fine with 2D video or text - VR makes that less useful because I can't do anything else at the same time due to the headset. I can shop perfectly fine with a web browser and a flat screen. Outside of gaming and some enterprise uses in the design/visualisation area I can see almost no compelling use case for VR* - and sure, VR gaming is pretty fun but it's been around a while now and it's still far from huge, partly because of hardware costs and game availability but also partly because it's a lot of faff. I just can't see that people will sit down of an evening or on the bus or whatever and pop their headsets on like they would open a laptop or pick up a tablet.
* Obviously porn, of course - although I don't think VR is game changing in the way that VHS or DVD or streaming was. And I doubt Meta are doing porn stuff anyway. The porn barometer is an interesting one. It's always been pretty reliable when it comes to predicting uptake of new media sources, and I don't get the sense it's particularly pointing in the direction of VR at the moment.
I'm pretty pro-VR. I'm very excited about where AR is going, although tech has a way to go yet. I just don't think Zuckerberg's Metaverse is a good thing to do with VR.
Also whenever anyone says "metaverse" I'm always reminded of the last panel of this Penny Arcade comic, where they call it "a combination of hell, work and the mall"
Devil's advocate, the same could have been said for expensive phones 20 years ago, but the financing these days has made it where people who can barely pay rent have $1000 iPhones. I was one of those people 6 years ago.
Devil's devil's advocate (angel's advocate?): we as a society should make devices cheaper and services accessible without expensive devices before we rely on trapping people into financing for what have become essential instruments of work and life.
At the same time, with my many-year-old smartphone, I struggle to understand those who have to think way more about their spending than myself who buy new phones often, sometimes every year!
The pressure or expectation (or whatever one calls the trend of super high consumption and having the newest and best of many things), is something different entirely from the very real requirement of a smartphone for modern life.
My car from the start of the 2000s doesn't need switching, nor do 10 year old pieces of clothing that aren't super en vogue, but do the trick. I wouldn't call it frugality, but why have our standards gotten so high? It's so hard for many to aspire to them for no good reason.
The technology in smartphones is much less adaptable than a car or clothes. The roads that the car drives upon are the same as they were 50 years ago, your body is probably much the same as it was 10 years ago, but the technological requirements for a phone regularly change. Between software updates, end of support for older phones, and obsolete charging/port systems, phone requirements change fast. These are structural rather than personal issues.
I don't think you can convince me people need new phones every year. Every ~4 years, sure -- and I think we ought to be doing a lot better in that regard -- but there is no requirement other than vanity/status/dopamine to buy a new phone every year.
I don't think anyone is saying this, and I don't know why this talking point comes up so much. I've never met someone who buys a new phone every year, and I have a pretty affluent social circle.
Well the original discussion point was:
And I do know people who buy new phones every 1 or 2 years, personally I have found it's usually my less affluent friends who tend to fall victim to this. I think people talk about it because it seems like the entire machinery of carriers is now devoted to getting people into new phone leases as often as possible. I wouldn't be surprised if, much like car dealerships, a substantial portion of their income comes from financing.
No, they actually lose money in E[x] - zero percent interest loans will do that to you. They do device financing because
other carriers do it, so you need to it to be competitive in customer acquisition
losing a small amount of money on device financing per customer is worth it for what will likely be decades of revenue from that customer
newer, better phones demand newer, better connectivity - if you have a 5G iPhone, why, wouldn't you like to have a 5g plan too, to make use of your capabilities? If you have some chunker from half a decade ago, it's not like you need all that bandwidth to watch videos at 720p.
Depends on the country. Here in Belgium carriers offer device financing but they’re not zero percent, they’re loans with a markup on a bulk price the operators get.
Affordable smartphones have been around for over a decade.
GP was proposing leases as the solution to expensive VR headsets. Phones are incidental here. This is irrelevant.
A very reasonable point, however, counterpoint - a phone is much more essential to modern life than a VR headset. Hard to get a job without a phone. Easy to do the same without a VR headset. But still, plenty of people with XBoxes and big shiny TVs are struggling. I think adding one more thing on top of all that might be a bit much for many people.
While I'm not sure I'd go with the "Metaverse" branding, I can see where Meta is going. I think future VR headsets will become a majority of our screentime.
VR just seems the natural evolution of display technology. A VR Headset will be to screens what earbuds are to speakers. It's not like no one has speaker systems anymore, but outside of convenience, like listening to your phone speakers, the "average" person listens with headphones and earbuds and IEMs.
The proximity to your ear allows you to create these fantastic audio experiences with a fraction of the cost of the equivalent speaker system, and an iota of the space.
The same with screens and a hypothetical future VR headset. Monitors and TVs? Maybe for the enthusiasts - in the future, people will use a featherweight VR headset that can not only emulate the experience of a monitor or TV, but easily exceed them. You'll work with one, because you can have infinite monitors as opposed to two crappy dell monitors work will give you, you'll watch with one, because to have the kind of field of view you'll get with one you'd be spending $5k on a home theater setup.
And yes, just like there is no lack of ways you can spend money on your smartphone, I have no doubt a device that commands a majority of people's work and play will have plenty of opportunities for transactions, and Facebook wants to have an iPhone moment.
Now, whether that is a "metaverse" or what is a "metaverse" I don't really want to get into - it doesn't seem fruitful. But I do thing we will naturally progress to sticking screens right next to our eyes.
I think the entire metaverse concept is stupid. But I don't think it is constructive to assume they are marketing this to people who struggle to afford food. America, the EU, Japan, and China all have very sizable middle class populations for whom spending a few hundred dollars on a game box and a few hundred more on software for it has been normal for decades.
Mark thinks his headsets will replace conventional video games. I think he is wrong, but not because nobody can afford these kinds of things.
The joke is that hundreds of dollars will be the price of a coffee by then...
When it comes to VR socializing, one might argue it's desirable that you can't be doing a bunch of other things at the same time. Unfortunately I don't think that will last long - we'll definitely have our distractions right there with us in a few years. It will be funny and sad and terrifying when VR avatars pull out their VR phones in the middle of a conversation and start browsing facebook on them. shudder
Either way, I absolutely can see people sitting down and putting their headsets on for the evening as they might open a laptop. Everything people routinely do when lazing around at home or with friends with their tech gadgets - the laptop, the phone, the TV - is doable in VR, but with more cohesive hardware and more control of the software over the experience if necessary. The VR headset of a few years from now takes less space than all of those separate gadgets and provides a very low friction interface for all things communication. Naturally closed headset VR will never replace the convenience of a screen if you're outdoors or cooking or whatever.
All of that said, Facebook's whole deal is bad, and I don't want what they're selling. I agree with you there.
The "by then" Zuck is talking about is five-ish years from now. Sure, things often do tend towards getting cheaper. But a Quest 2 is £300 right now, and it's a couple of generations behind on tech. A high dpi, high refresh screen isn't all that pricey. A gaze tracking system probably will get cheaper with scale. Wireless comms, inertial sensors and tracking cameras are already commodity parts. Processing is cheaper all the time but I think it's unrealistic to think all that hardware will get down to the price of a coffee. Note that games consoles haven't got cheaper over time, they've got better. Right now VR is moving considerably faster than gaming hardware and it's got a lot of better to get. Not just lighter, not just smaller - but higher res and more powerful.
Disclaimer: I don't drink coffee so I don't know how much coffee costs. But I bet it's not even two figures, let alone three.
As for people using them all the time - right now I'm sitting on my sofa with my wife, watching Shrill (which is excellent btw). I'm also messaging a friend on my phone, writing this on my laptop and tinkering about with a bit of video editing I need to finish. I'm splitting my time between those things as the feeling takes me - and also occasionally talking to the other human in the room, petting my dog and sometimes just looking out the window. I cannot do all that wearing a VR headset. Sure, I could have virtual devices to watch/type/message/edit on. But I can't interact with the person in the room with me. I can't look at the bird that's landed on my fence, or see the sun setting. I don't want to do this in VR, and I'd want to do so even less when friends are here or my kid is around. Watching TV or movies, even with second and third screens around, is social in a way which VR simply cannot do and will never be able to.
Also I'd be quite uncomfortable, it's pretty hot here today and VR headsets in the heat are nasty, sweaty, foggy things. You can make them smaller and lighter up to a point - and even add cooling fans (there are several hacks for PSVR for this) but ultimately it's still got to fit closely and block out everything else. I don't get VR sickness - although people do and it's a deal-breaker rarely talked about - but having the external world peeking in is very.. disconcerting.
Theres definitely some stuff going on in that realm. This VRchat topic+video is relevant to the whole conversation, but also covers some of the interesting ways that people are interacting in an adult manner.
I recently read Snow Crash. Which coined the concept of the Metaverse. One of the primary themes in the book was mind control.
The Facebook rebranding took on an ominous turn after I read that book.
Every person I know carries a smartphone that can do video calls. But what do we use it for, 95% of the time? We text!
That's what I don't get about the metaverse: It's essentially the next upgrade after video calls yet that is such a niche of how we choose to communicate.
Or, to put it differently: Not having that "sense of presence" seems to be a feature rather than a flaw of current communication technology. Texting can be asynchronous, there can be hours between me getting to a text and finding time to reply, I can re-read old messages and I can carefully choose a reply instead of instantly having to react.
Every single depiction of a digital parallel world has been more enticing than Zuck's Metaverse, but then again, how could you expect creativity from a lizard*?
Worlds like Ready Player One or Belle, or literally the internet right now, are all a celebration of the best of the internet, not a sanitized, for-profit version created by one of the worst tech companies we've seen in history. Why can't Zuck be like Tom from MySpace, cash out and fuck off? What's the fucking point of a digital new world if you just end up seeing in meeting rooms again? Mark I get you do literally nothing else but work and there are probably some delusions of grandeur that keep you in this job, but please, please, fuck off.
While I think (and definitely hope) Meta is never going to achieve whatever role Zuckerberg is envisioning for it in the future, I'm kind of happy he's got this naive hyper-enthusiasm going because it means a ton of money and R&D is getting pumped into VR and AI that hopefully more level-headed people and companies can benefit from down the road when the world is actually ready to embrace these technologies at scale.
I believe it, well not completely sure on the exact number but I feel it's closer than most people's guesses. I just wish Meta had more interesting plans. Their Quest headsets are really great, but everything Meta has shown about their own virtual world software has looked boring and unimaginative. I fully believe that people spending money to customize their avatars will be a big thing, because I already see that in VRChat with people buying 3d model assets for customizing their avatars or commissioning others to work on their avatar model - but Meta's presentation of this is repulsively boring. Meta talks about people buying avatar clothing from existing name-brand companies, which they show as basically just name-brand designs slapped onto the texture of a reused shirt model. Frankly, VR avatar fashion is already a thing and Meta's PR shows zero knowledge of what it is. I don't blame them for trying to define their own standards of avatar fashion but they need to do something that works at all compared to what others are doing. VR avatar fashion is really early and it needs the chaotic melting pot of anything-goes platforms like VRChat to develop, and that's where people really putting in effort or spending money will be.
I think Meta's PR about their metaverse stuff is failing to interest end users, but it is still accomplishing some things that are useful for Meta: it's convincing lots of developers that there is money to be made in VR and that they can do better than Meta's metaverse ideas. It's making people more receptive to hearing about and understanding other VR stuff from other companies. These things help it grow the Quest ecosystem. I think part of the reason the ads are a bit baffling is because people think they're just about Meta's own software rather than trying to promote the Quest ecosystem overall.
Don't forget the people you're seeing now are enthusiasts, early adopters - and that's fine, nothing wrong with being those people. But they're the people who will throw time and money into things because they're interested in the tech. Dropping £300 per person on VR gear is a pretty big commitment and even if the headsets crash hard in price in the next few years (which I doubt, they need to get better before they can get cheaper), that's still quite a lot of cash on something which solves very few existing problems for people.
I don't doubt there will be a relatively small number of people who want to hang out in shared VR space, buying virtual hats and so on. As you say, that's already happening. I mean, Second Life still exists and people do that there. I have friends who even today make money designing and selling Second Life assets. There are always people who want to do any thing.
But the point is that Zuck isn't talking about enthusiasts, he's talking about vast and very short-timescale penetration into the muggle sector. A billion people spending hundreds of dollars each by the second half of this decade. I know he's hyping his own products but even so. I don't think immersive VR has that much appeal. What does the metaverse do for my Mum, who is in her late sixties and is relatively tech-savvy for her age but still struggles? What about my sister, who has two kids and very little free time? Picking up a phone or tablet and loading Facebook (or whatever) is fast and easy and you can do it while the kettle boils or while keeping half an eye on the kids at the park. You can't do any of that with VR. But if you want a billion users you have to get those people on board.
For comparison - in just under a decade since it's launch, Sony has sold 116 million PS4s. VR needs to outsell the freakin' Playstation by almost an order of magnitude in half as much time. That's simply not happening.
fwiw I do think when AR reaches "£100, comfortable and non-ugly glasses" level of tech (maybe 5-6 years?), we'll start to see a lot more of that around. You can wear an AR set on the bus, or in the pub, or with your friends. You can play Candy Crush in the edge of your vision while you get your hair cut or whatever. But you can't do the sort of immersive shared space stuff that Meta is talking about in AR.
Assuming a compelling metaverse platform can be built at all, I see little reason why the platform vendor would limit it to people who have VR gear. You'd get a lot more reach by allowing most people to log in from the computer they have, like we do for video chat, Minecraft, and most other video games.
There may be hardware-exclusive features if you have the right gear, but you should at least be able to look around and communicate without it.
And as with Minecraft, a good reason to do it might be because your kids are into it?
Literally how VRChat works, too. They do a lot of shit wrong but that's definitely a positive feature. There are whole countries represented on the platform that couldn't be there otherwise, because VR hardware is prohibitively expensive there.
It's very hard for me to imagine that billions of regular people would prefer communicating through a cartoon avatar instead of actually seeing each other unless you're talking about a game or game-like experience. This seems like a proposal someone with a weak grasp on reality would make.
It's a fundraising statement - a way to increase investment so the Zucc's personal stash of stock is worth more.
I don't know if that was the plan, but it's clearly not working very well:
Facebook Stock Falls 6% After META Ticker Change
I didn't say it was a good idea.