Virtual worlds

Why Artists Involved in Shared Virtual Worlds Might Well Look Beyond the Zuckerverse

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This week, let’s break down the holistic view…


When trying to see the future of art, technology, or any other major field, one of the biggest obstacles to a clear vision is the desire for simple answers to complex possibilities. In the case of the Metaverse, the simplest answer has always been that Meta (formerly known as Facebook) would design a single, mass-participatory virtual world that would define the next phase of our online lives. However, a series of recent stories show cracks in the company’s handwork foundation about a year after retooling around that big goal.— and suggests that the art world should be more wary than ever of planning its metaverse strategies around Mark Zuckerberg’s vision board.

The first of these stories became common enough that several people outside the art world asked me if I would read it over the weekend. Entitled “This is life in the metaversewas a chronicle of Tech and privacy writer Kashmir Hill’s expedition into Horizon Worlds, the VR social network at the heart of Meta’s corporate hub. Specifically, Hill describes his mission as being to “visit every hour of the day and night, every 24 at least once, to learn the ebbs and flows of Horizon and meet the early adopters of the metaverse.” Her reactions reveal more than she realizes to veterans of virtual open worlds.

Among other stops, Hill’s itinerary included socializing in the Plaza, the literal public plaza of the Horizon worlds; fly as Iron Man in a Marvel Universe cosplay experience known as Superhero Sandbox; and making multiple extended visits to virtual comedy clubs. (The 12-plus years I’ve spent surrounded by amateur stand-ups and improv artists in Los Angeles means his statement that “live-action comedy is popular in the metaverse” sinks my blood temperature. near absolute zero.)

While Hill came away impressed overall, her apparent innocence about the deep tensions of open VR ecosystems makes her caveats particularly noteworthy. Among them, she admits that professional collaboration in Horizon Worlds leaves a lot of room for improvement. Yes, the VR headset should be lighter. But even setting aside hardware shortcomings, she writes that the downsides of virtual work in the Zuckerverse were too severe for her colleagues to accept: “I tried to get my colleagues, including my editor, to meet at Horizon while I was working on this story. , but I rarely succeeded. Zooming was just easier.

Hill’s assessment can be generous. The day before its story was published, vertical online technology The Verge reported that the Meta staffers responsible for building Horizons World spend so little time using it that the executives decided to force the issue. The cause and effect both read as proof that any art professional seeking Meta guidance for the next step should be prepared to cede the ground.

A participant immersed in a Meta Quest 2 VR headset during the Tokyo Game Show 2022 video game event in Chiba, Japan. Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images.


In separate internal memos in September (all reviewed by the Verge), Vishal Shah, Vice President of Metaverse Metaverse, announced this senior management was implementing a plan to “hold managers accountable” to ensure their employees committed time to Horizon Worlds at least once a week-and more importantly, that the product was placed on “quality lock” for the rest of 2022 so that developers could evolve it before trying to roll it out to more users. (As of today, Horizon Worlds is only publicly available on VR headsets in the US, Canada and the UK)

While Shah’s memos don’t detail specific issues, it didn’t really take careful forensic analysis to find Horizon World’s most egregious flaws. The app has been dragged for its rudimentary graphics since its first demo; the original version of Zuckerberg’s personal avatar (that a writer for vertical tech Polygon described as having “the pale, empty look of a Victorian ghost”) was memorized so relentlessly that it prompted an emergency update.

Even with such a low graphics cap, the processing power needed to sync Horizon Worlds across different headsets means that each of its roughly 10,000 themed environments “can only accommodate a few dozen people at a time,” Hill writes. If you exceed this number, the additional users are redirected to a copy which it likens to a virtual “overflow room”.

In other words, you can have 100 people participating in the same experiment at the same time. It’s just that they will be divided into one of four groups roughly isolated from the others. These attendance caps look lame compared to console-based and web-based metaverse competitors. Fortnite and Robloxwhere special events regularly attract hundreds of thousands or millions of concurrent users able to share the same virtual space.

Friction within the company over Horizon Worlds increasingly feels like a microcosm of Meta’s challenges as a whole. Hours before showcasing its latest VR headset and other Metaverse-specific upgrades at its annual Developer Summit, the company was the subject of Extensive New York Times story on the larger “struggles” of its pivot to VR and AR worldbuilding.

The main points are troubling: a drop of around 60% in Meta’s share price since its name change at the end of last October; a $10 billion loss in the department encompassing its AR and VR efforts last year; and enterprise-wide hiring freeze announced a few weeks ago, with warnings from Zuckerberg that layoffs could be looming. Meta is also now locked in a ongoing lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission on its attempts to acquire fitness developer VR Within, which the Time called evidence that regulators are “determined to prevent the company from acquiring its path to success” as it did by gobbling up Instagram, Whatsapp and others on its Web 2.0 ascent.

None of the above means that Meta or his vision of the metaverse is toast. In fact, some sales and download statistics indicate that Zuckerberg’s company has penetrated deeper into the mainstream than any other virtual reality developer in history. Sales of its Quest 2 VR headset for consumers approached 15 million units this summer, per year estimate from the third party International Data Corporation. This put the device roughly in pace with overall sales of Microsoft’s last two Xbox consoles, the X and S, per data hub. Statistical. Analytics firm Sensor Tower also found that Meta’s mobile VR app reached 21 million combined downloads on iOS and Android devices.

Is it enough, however? For me, IIt would be an extreme understatement to say that the context behind these numbers should confuse almost any artist or art professional considering getting involved with Horizon Worlds.

‘KAWS: NEW FICTION’ in Fortnite. © Epic Games


There is a huge difference between acquiring customers and keeping them. To date, Meta only has around 300,000 monthly active users combined for Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues, an affiliate app for experiencing tangible events streamed live in VR. The audience of monthly active users of any application always exceeds its audience of Daily active users, as Verge pointed out, which means that only an unknown fraction of those 300,000 participants make either of the Horizon channels a part of their lives. (A Meta spokesperson only confirmed monthly active user numbers.)

What’s far more troubling is that Meta knowingly allowed some of this audience to defy the app’s stated requirement to be at least 18 years old before logging in. his travels through Horizons) that “they only kick users under the age of 13, and only if users explicitly reveal their age”.

It struck me as a bizarre policy for a company to aspire to what Meta’s Chief Technology Officer, Andrew Bosworth, called “almost Disney security levelsin his shared virtual worlds, and it was before I have read about women who have already reported cases of their avatars are sexually assaulted there. Unless, that is, the company cares more about keeping the app’s total user count as high as possible than anything else. But since when did Zuckerberg’s company ethics sacrificed and user security For growth?

In all honesty, it hasn’t even been quite a year since Zuckerberg forged his company in pursuit of metaverse dominance. I could very well come back to the previous paragraphs towards the end of my career.— possibly via a Meta Quest 38 headset inside a transparent, photorealistic branch of the New York Public Library named after Zuckerberg —and say, “Sheesh, that column aged like a $4 bottle of Merlot.”

Even if that’s the case, the art world should still learn something important from watching one of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations on the planet pour all its might into building a metaverse. mass participatory and almost immediately start fussing as if she had just been tasered. This does not mean that artists and art professionals should ignore the concept of shared virtual worlds. But that means the one that’s marketed the strongest is more likely to be decades away than a few years away, assuming it ever materializes. This is one more reason for focus on alternatives thrive from the ground up now– and to expand your thinking on what art in metaverses free from Zuckerberg’s influence can be.

[The New York Times | The Verge | The New York Times]

It’s all for this week. “Until next time, remember: what got you here often won’t get you where you’re eyeing next.

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