Facebook’s recent rebrand to Meta felt like a statement of intent. Beyond the more cynical reasons behind the renaming, it is clear the company is trying to replicate its social media dominance in the metaverse. However, viewing the metaverse as a winner-takes-all market might not be accurate.
“As we discuss the metaverse, we are thinking about both a new medium and an app type, like the way we talked about the web and websites a long, long time ago, aka the 1990s,” Microsoft’s Corporate Vice Presiden of Communications Frank Shaw said earlier this month in reference to Microsoft’s Ignite conference, centred around VR, AI and hyperconnectivity in a virtual world.
Shaw could not have been more explicit about the future proliferation of metaverses. “There will be more than one,” he said, explaining that cloud-based services, such as Microsoft’s own, will be able to offer a range of tools and resources to create and manage metaverses.
Indeed, there are already a number of successful metaverses out there, including Microsoft’s Minecraft, the Roblox metaverse, primarily aimed at young children and teenagers, as well as the Fortnite metaverse, itself revolving around the incredibly popular survival game.
Regarding Minecraft, it’s currently the one metaverse most antithetical with Zuckerberg’s vision.
“We want to build tools that help people feel connected anytime, anywhere,” Mark Zuckerberg said during his presentation of Meta.
But Minecraft is all about decentralisation. “Anyone can create a Minecraft world, [since] you can create a multiplayer world on your laptop, then invite anyone on your local wi-fi to join,” tech writer Clive Thompson explained, adding that at a low cost of a few dollars a month a user can rent a server from numerous online providers to host a place for their friends in remote locations.
While Microsoft has already released products seeking to power the metaverse, including Mesh, a service that creates personalised virtual avatars and immersive spaces for online meetings, it has also signalled their willingness to expand their gaming metaverse.
“You could even think about—if you take Halo as a game, it is a metaverse; Minecraft is a metaverse; And so is Flight Sim,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during the Ignite conference.
“So in some sense, they’re 2D today, and the question is can you now take that to a full 3D world? We absolutely plan to do so,” Nadella added.
Things are somewhat different with Fortnite, where its maker Epic Games, has a much closer relationship with Mark Zuckerberg.
“Gaming is a lot of people are going to step into the metaverse for the first time,” Zuckerberg said.
“It already has some of the most fully built out digital goods, the most active creator and developer communities and major platforms like Epic are working to build out the metaverse starting with gaming,” he added, directly referencing Epic games during his keynote speech.
Since then, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney echoed Zuckerberg’s enthusiasm for the metaverse, saying that ‘the metaverse has the potential to become a multitrillion-dollar part of the world economy’.
Sweeney added that the next few years will be akin to an arms race for Epic, Roblox, Microsoft, and Facebook, explaining that a billion users is the objective.
“It’s kind of a race to get to a billion users, whoever brings on a billion users first, would be the presumed leader in setting the standards,” Sweeney said.
While it remains to be seen if Sweeney’s prediction about a standard-setting global leader is accurate, Facebook is certainly doing its part to prove him right, having already spent $500 million to purchase VR company Within, as well as several other companies in this space.
However, despite the ‘arms race’ comments from Sweeney, Facebook is currently embracing the element of competition.
“We cannot build the metaverse alone — collaboration with developers, creators, and experts will be critical,” a Facebook representative told Vox’s Recode.
“As we invest in the metaverse, we know that we face fierce competition from companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Snap, Sony, Roblox, Epic, and many others at every step of this journey,” they added.