I’ve just returned from the Metaverse and it’s really crap. But what should I have expected from Mark Zuckerberg? He and his Silicon Valley cohort of censorious, screen-based lizards have spaffed $30 billion on a silly computer game that they believe is the future of humanity. It’s beyond laughable.
But he’s not alone. Amazon, Adidas, Microsoft, Google, Nike, PepsiCo, Walmart, almost every major corporation is investing billions in digital real estate like it’s the bloody gold rush, egged on by multi national consultants such as Accenture, who have entire departments dedicated to helping brands navigate the Metaverse. Or should I say, charging extortionate fees to categorically prove that the emperor is fully robed.
Only a couple of years ago the Metaverse sounded cool, a kind of digital nirvana: a place where we would escape reality for a couple of hours, be whoever we want to be, and roam freely in a universe free from the dirty, porn-infested internet. I do think this is a major part of its allure: now that the internet is full of rubbish, let’s start afresh with a 3D version!
As you’ve probably heard, the term Metaverse was invented by Neal Stephenson for his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, to describe a virtual world in which to escape a dystopian Los Angeles plagued by hyperinflation and a killer virus. Prophecy indeed.
But now that your local plumber has a website in effect on the same digital shopping street as the likes of Nike and Louis Vuitton, big brands have pinned their hopes on the Metaverse as a kind of elitist internet, an immersive landscape where they can really show off. Such is their hubris they believe little consumers like you and me are so loyal we’ll happily immerse ourselves forever in their digital indulgences.
But instead of this new world evolving gently, brand by brand perhaps, Zuckerberg has jumped in feet first, changing the name of his company to show he means business and ready to spend $100 billion to convince us it’s the future. (As we’ve all become desensitized to big numbers, here’s some clarity: if you earn $100 dollars a day it would take you over 274 thousand years to save a hundred billion dollars. So you’d better get started.)
He’s spent about $30 billion to date and all he has to show for it is the deeply tragic Horizon Worlds, a Disneyfied, nineties-style computer game inhabited by grinning avatars that talk about kindness and instantly make you want to take a baseball bat to their legs…if they had any. (The avatars are legless because, it turns out, legs are tricky to animate). Throwing thirty billion dollars at the problem clearly wasn’t enough to drag his geniuses away from their meditation pods or personal baristas, though I bet Steve Jobs would have them dancing by now (as well as the avatars).
Centuries from now, when alien archeologists unearth all 250 acres of Menlo Park with its eleven restaurants, games rooms, barbershop, eco-friendly dry cleaner, open air gas fires, on site therapists and fifteen art installations, they will surely roll all six eyes at mankind’s unbounded decadence. The Gehry HQ (MPK21) occupies twenty two acres alone, with a thirteen acre rooftop park for deep contemplation in between emails. Menlo Park is a living monument to the entitled. Peak smug, if you like. But Silicon Valley is at a turning point and must now prepare for decline: Meta’s shares slumped 25% this month and Mark’s ‘Metamates’ (cringe) are braced for a round of swingeing redundancies, specifically within Horizon Worlds. And Zuck is not alone. Both Amazon and Google are tightening their belts, reducing travel costs and restructuring in preparation for the recession while Musk’s first announcement at Twitter warned of massive job losses.
Yes, real reality. Zuckerberg’s vision for the Metaverse is social, not commercial. I mean, what other excuse could there be for such a desperately unattractive avatar? Surely we can be a tad more imaginative in an escapist universe? Personally, I’m thinking more sixty foot, missile laden rhino than ugly Zuckling, but in which case how will the social dimension work? And besides, the whole headset thing makes it the expensive cousin of 3D TV, and we know what happened to that.
It does seem like it’s not thought through. If we’re anonymous in the Metaverse then anyone who’s played Grand Theft Auto knows exactly what follows (yes, you start driving over old ladies). And if we’re not anonymous then it’s likely to become an even more horrific ‘safe space’ where no one dares offend and, consequently, nothing of interest happens. Ever.
Control versus freedom. You choose.
Truth is, you won’t need to. Zuckerberg’s multi-billion dollar pet project is doomed because, ultimately, everything he touches becomes uncool. Meanwhile, the superbrand led, commercial Metaverse will blossom into a giant digi-mall festooned with bespoke ads and promotions for the latest in rhino sneakers. Some nirvana that’ll be. But perhaps the biggest problem for these progressive brands is the fact that the hideous, floating torso of Mark Zuckerberg will forever haunt the corridors of that mall like a legless, cursed spirit. The Metaverse may well have been permanently Zucked.
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