Image: Meta/Mark Zuckerbergs VR-Avatar
Meta needs VR games to eventually realize its vision of its own Metaverse. At the moment, however, the company seems to be underestimating the importance of good VR games.
2021 was a crucial year for the then Facebook group. With the new App Tracking Transparency (ATT), Apple gave users the ability to prevent unlimited data collection by third-party apps.
With this privacy option, Apple punched Facebook in the gut of its then core business of selling personalized ads. An aha moment for Zuckerberg.
Now it became clear what the Facebook founder had always known: His company lives at Apple’s mercy – and, of course, at the mercy of other manufacturers and OS operators like Google. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are apps, and their performance depends on the platforms they run on. The solution: virtual reality.
Meta wants the iPhone moment
To take matters into its own hands, Facebook had to go from being a club to a league – or better yet, become its own sport. Zuckerberg laid the groundwork for this in 2014 with the purchase of Oculus and billions invested in virtual reality.
In late 2021, the company was renamed Meta and focused on building the Metaverse. With the Quest VR headsets, the company now has the devices, the ecosystem, and an entirely new medium. Virtual reality could one day give Meta its own iPhone moment.
In the future, however, it will not be the hardware alone that will determine success, but – as is so often the case – the software offering, and the easiest way into the living rooms at home is via the entertainment program.
This was demonstrated by the first home computers in the 1980s, followed by PCs, mobile phones and, most recently, smartphones. They all broke into the consumer market by offering a wide range of games. To become the Apple of VR, however, Zuckerberg is currently betting on the wrong horse.
Meta’s Metaverse slows down VR
The vision of Meta’s Metaverse is simply not catching on. Virtual reality is fundamentally difficult to advertise. Trailers on flat screens hardly do justice to the immersive medium. In addition, VR marketing is often weak, and Meta keeps shooting itself in the foot with Horizon Worlds.
A lot of negative headlines and advertising mishaps are turning the Metaverse prototype into a running joke. What should potential users make of reports that even Meta employees don’t want to use Horizon Worlds?
The overall low user numbers have even prompted Meta to allow teenagers into Horizon Worlds – a risky move. At the moment, the social VR app is simply not relevant compared to Fortnite, Roblox and Co.
VR needs to learn from flat gaming, not just copy it
Horizon Worlds’ attempt to turn virtual reality into a gamified spatial social medium is in danger of failing. That’s no surprise. Mass phenomena like Fortnite, Minecraft, or Roblox cannot be forced. Fortnite’s success, for example, is largely due to its accessibility.
It is at home on all relevant platforms, is easy to learn, and yet offers enough challenge to motivate over a longer period of time. The social factor, the relevance as a metaverse platform with virtual events has only developed over time. There is currently no comparable VR game.
No wonder because the mechanics of “flat” video games have matured over decades. Anyone who plays a classic RPG like Wizardry or Might & Magic today, but is used to Cyberpunk 2077, knows what I’m talking about. VR games are still a long way off, but actually have more potential for development.
VR gaming at Meta: Development stalls
The medium theoretically offers endless possibilities for great gameplay. VR hits like Beat Saber, Superhot VR and Half-Life: Alyx have already proven this. With the acquisition of studios like Beat Games (Beat Saber) and Ready at Dawn (Lone Echo), Meta even has the necessary expertise in-house.
New developments? Not at all. In fact, Meta recently laid off most of the staff from Ready at Dawn. It seems as if the company has already given up on VR games. It’s telling that the closest thing to a Fortnite moment in VR lies in hands of a small, independent team like Mighty Coconut, which doesn’t even have its origins in game design.
Mighty Coconut’s only game to date, Walkabout Mini Golf VR, boasts accessibility, simple yet precise gameplay mechanics, is coming soon to iPhone, and is quickly becoming a metaverse platform. For Meta Quest 3 and future generations of headsets to be a success, stronger software is needed, and it doesn’t necessarily have to come from Meta or be Quest exclusive.
VR gaming could get Meta back on track
Meta needs VR gaming to finally realize its vision of its own metaverse. Good applications make the hardware interesting in the first place, and tech-savvy gamers are traditionally easier to get excited about futuristic media like VR.
Meta must now do everything in its power to nurture creative VR studios, not just capture them and condemn them to seeming inactivity. A thriving independent developer scene is self-sustaining. The more good VR games that come out, the more studios inspire each other, and the more likely it is that strong game mechanics will lead to interesting new use cases for VR.
Apple’s iPhone became a success not just because it was an impressive piece of technology. “Software sells hardware,” and smartphones offer plenty of that. Without new games, Meta Quest 3 also faces a dusty end in the closets of its users. I’m sure Meta knows that. It just needs to realize that it doesn’t need an iPhone moment, it needs to pave the way for an organically growing Fortnite moment.
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You can read all about the Meta Quest 2 and Meta Quest Pro in the linked reviews.
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