Metaverse Metaverse

Facebook’s vision of a metaverse teeming with digital avatars is becoming (virtual) reality. The company confirmed its growing focus on this field at its annual developer forum, cementing it with a rebrand: its new name is Meta Platforms Inc. (The social network will still be called Facebook.)

The meta-what? The metaverse is a vast online network of virtual spaces in which people interact, often through avatars. Crucially, people don’t just play games inside it: they also work, shop, exercise, attend events, and communicate in other ways. They do this chiefly by wearing vr headsets or even augmented-reality (ar) glasses.

Facebook has been touting the concept for some time as the future of digital social interaction (as have other companies). It calls the metaverse “the successor to the mobile internet — a set of interconnected digital spaces that lets you do things you can’t do in the physical world.”

What has Facebook — sorry, Meta — just announced? New name aside, it has fleshed out its vision of the metaverse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about Horizon, the company’s metaverse platform, which contains various sections: Home (for casual socializing), Workrooms (for work interactions), Venues (for concerts, sports, and so on), and Worlds (for users to build their own environments).

Meta gave updates on a range of other issues, from its development of ar tech to its plans for an e-commerce platform. For more details, head to Meta’s explainer page or watch the video below.

Why does this matter to animation? In the video above, we see Zuckerberg and colleagues interacting in avatar form — one is even in the guise of a robot. Digital avatars are animated, so a radical expansion of the metaverse spells huge growth for real-time animation.

Meta will “spend many billions of dollars for years to come” on the metaverse. It has already said it plans to create 10,000 jobs in Europe over the next five years. For a company of this size to invest so heavily in a venture that revolves around animation and cgi is a big deal for our industry, even if many details remain unclear.

Is the company changing structure? No, but it has announced that Facebook Reality Labs, its metaverse and vr/ar development unit, will now report financials separately from its existing apps, which include Instagram and Whatsapp. The metaverse unit will operate at a loss for some time: this year alone, it will reduce the company’s overall profit by $10 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg meets his avatar

Why is Meta pivoting now? On the one hand, tech is developing to the point where the metaverse is becoming viable. The pandemic has also boosted the case for virtual social platforms.

On the other, Facebook is facing a public relations crisis, due to leaked documents that suggest the company puts profits ahead of efforts to crack down on hate and misinformation. Scandal is never far from its social networks. Rebranding is a way to distract from all that, and developing the metaverse is a bid to attract a new generation of users.

When will the metaverse be here? It already is: Horizon is available in beta mode, for instance. Other companies are also expanding into this space — the animation festival currently happening inside Epic Games’ Fortnite is an example of a metaverse event.

But Zuckerberg admits that Meta’s metaverse is unlikely to go mainstream for some years yet: “Later in this decade is when we would sort of expect this to be more of a real business story.”

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