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Facebook parent Meta botched its coming out party for the metaverse

·Technology Editor
·5 min read

This article was first featured in Yahoo Finance Tech, a weekly newsletter highlighting our original content on the industry. Get it sent directly to your inbox every Wednesday by 4 p.m. ET. Subscribe

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Meta wants to sell us the metaverse without saying what it is

Facebook parent Meta (FB) is banking on the metaverse to save it from plateauing user numbers and competition from the likes of TikTok. But the social media giant blew its first real chance at giving the world a look at the metaverse during its bizarre Super Bowl Sunday ad.

The ad lasted 1 minute and 46 seconds and featured a retired animatronic band, a la Chuck E. Cheese, getting back together for new adventures in the metaverse. But Meta dedicated just 20 seconds of the commercial to showing off Meta’s metaverse app, Horizon Worlds.

What’s more, that 20 seconds didn't even include footage from Horizon Worlds. Instead, Meta gave us computer-generated graphics that made the digital world, and user avatars, look far more interactive and lively than they actually are.

And despite Meta spending billions to create its metaverse, or series of online connected worlds, it's not telling us what we'll eventually do there.

It wasn’t just Meta that fell on its face while showing users the potential of the metaverse. Miller Lite (TAP), which can’t air Super Bowl ads thanks to Anheuser Busch’s (BUD) relationship with the NFL, held a get-together in the metaverse app Decentraland. But the virtual bar didn’t provide much in the way of entertainment, with no games, and a smattering of people to chat with.

Then there was Meta’s post-game Foo Fighters concert, which consisted of users watching a 2D pre-recorded show in a virtual auditorium.

Meta’s message is muddled

Let’s start with Meta’s commercial. Over the past two years, the company formerly known as Facebook has plowed $20 billion into developing its metaverse hardware and software. Its Quest 2 headset, one of the most popular headsets on the market, seems to be selling well; Meta previously reported that Quest 2 content revenue has already topped $1 billion.

But Meta’s Super Bowl commercial didn’t illuminate the appeal of the metaverse. The company essentially said “we’ll be able to meet up in the virtual world” pretty soon. But we’ve already been meeting up virtually for more than two years via Zoom. And few people actually enjoy those meetups.

Meta's 'Horizon Worlds' ad was CGI instead, meaning users didn't get to see what the app actually looks like. (Image: Meta)
Meta's 'Horizon Worlds' ad was CGI instead, meaning users didn't get to see what the app actually looks like. (Image: Meta)

“That commercial [was a] complete bust. It was so badly done. What were they thinking?” Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Jennifer deWinter told Yahoo Finance.

When CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially laid out his vision for Meta in October, he showed a kind of holodeck-like experience where we’ll be able to float around virtual worlds, playing games with friends. What we saw out of the company’s ad was nothing like that, and more like a glorified social network that requires you to wear a bulky headset.

Miller Lite’s bar and a Foo Fighters fiasco

Miller Lite, meanwhile, gave Decentraland users its own Super Bowl experience with a virtual bar that you could “drink” in during the big game. But it felt more like a cheap attraction than the future of advertising.

Once you were “carded” by a bouncer at the bar’s door, you entered a space with pool tables, beer taps, arcade games, and a set of instruments in the rear. When you “interacted” with each object, though, you just got a noise or canned animation. You couldn’t actually play any of the games.

I can forgive Miller Lite, though. It’s a beer brand, not a company pinning its future on the metaverse. Meta, on the other hand, not only whiffed on its ad, it also muffed its own post-Super Bowl virtual Foo Fighters concert as well.

Rather than a 3D concert, the Foo Fighters event was presented as a 2D show you watched from a virtual balcony. You couldn’t interact with the concert, and Meta seemed to give preferential treatment to the version of the concert being streamed over Facebook Live rather than to the metaverse event.

Meta's metaverse ad didn't tell us anything about the metaverse. (Image: Meta)
Meta's metaverse ad didn't tell us anything about the metaverse. (Image: Meta)

Camera people chased the band the entire time for the 2D show, removing any sense of immersion for the, you know, metaverse version, and server problems on Meta’s side slowed the log-in process.

As Voices of VR podcast host Kent Bye put it, Meta’s focus on its own first-party software could turn off new users who might otherwise have a good experience using third-party software.

“The problem is that Meta chose to promote their own first party apps, which are half-baked and not ready for primetime and not that compelling and don't even have much traction within the VR industry,” Bye told Yahoo Finance.

Meta’s problem, according to Bye, is that it doesn’t actually know how to create quality first-party content.

“Meta is both a platform provider and a first-party developer. And they've not been able to successfully launch any first-party apps on their own,” he explained. “Any successful app that they've had has been acquired from other people.”

If the metaverse, either Meta’s version or any other, is going to take off, it will need to start providing consumers with more than niche experiences like 2D concerts. I’ve watched other VR concerts where I was able to walk up to the artists rather than stand at a distance from them. And while those concerts were still recorded, and I couldn’t interact with the singers, it still felt more immersive than watching a video on a big screen.

“There is nothing immersive about bringing a television screen closer to your eyes,” deWinter said.

If Meta can’t figure out how to make the metaverse more appealing beyond its current offerings, it risks losing consumers from the jump — and the company will also lose all the money it has poured into this burgeoning new universe.

By Daniel Howley, tech editor at Yahoo Finance. Follow him @DanielHowley

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