Leading pioneers in metaverse development are abandoning the concept. Does this spell the end of the promised land of interoperability between digital realms and immersive experiences that connect the physical and digital world, or is merely the initial hype dying off as development continues unhinged from tabloid headlines?
This week, several leading corporations announced that they will either abandon or significantly scale down their metaverse initiatives. The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that “Walt Disney Co. has eliminated its next-generation storytelling and consumer-experiences unit, the small division that was developing metaverse strategies.
This follows after Microsoft also announced that it will be scaling down its commercial metaverse plans, shifting to an industrial metaverse late last year. After forming the Industrial Metaverse Core team in October, Microsoft is laying off all 100 workers, according to The Information.
Although scaling down, Microsoft claims that it remains committed to the industrial metaverse according to an official statement given to Forbes. By doing one thing and saying another, does it spell that Microsoft still has a clear vision for the industrial metaverse, or is the statement merely a communication hedge against being put on the wrong side of history if the metaverse proves to actually be the future?
Tencent and Bytedance are also taking a significant portion of their metaverse bets off the table. Tencent had ambitious plans to build both virtual reality software and hardware at an “extended reality” XR unit it launched in June last year, for which it hired nearly 300 people. Now, sources familiar with the matter state that Tencent is cutting back on its XR investments as metaverse falters
Bytedance, the company behind Tiktok was set to challenge Meta with their low-cost headset Pico, but is also laying off significant parts of its staff in the XR/metaverse division.
Perhaps fueled by the facts that Meta’s metaverse, Horizon world is a desolate wasteland that struggle to both attract as well as retain users., in which the market lost faith in already before it officially launched.
With the recent rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, investments are now being channeled toward AI rather than the metaverse, even Meta has admitted that its single biggest investment now is towards AI.
The remaining question is the metaverse a stillborn concept rather than the promised land of our digital futures?
One of the core challenges with the metaverse as a concept is that no one really has a uniform understanding of what it is. There are as many definitions of the metaverse as there are self-proclaimed metaverse evangelists. And those definitions are often deliberately vague, ambiguous, and jam-packed with every tech buzzword known to man as well as anecdotal suggestions of everything that is wrong with the current internet. Often delivering a message that is difficult to disagree with, but a long way from future promises to actual implementation.
As an example, even in an area where the promises of an interconnected metaverse are most prominent, namely gaming, it is easy to state that the future should allow gamers to transfer in-game items and identities across gaming worlds, but in reality, it raised numerous challenges. Would it make sense to bring along your firearms from Fortnite to World of Warcraft without disrupting the gameplay in the said world? How would such items render if the game worlds use different graphics engines? What about legal agreements regulating commercial and IPR terms across game worlds?
Further on, many of the building blocks that make up what is called the industrial metaverse undoubtedly have potential. Using virtual reality for training purposes, augmented reality for site inspections, and elaborate digital twins to replicate and simulate complex civil engineering projects as well as building performance shows great promise. But that does not imply that there needs to be an industrial metaverse in place to harness the effects of each of these underlying technologies.