2023 seemed to be the year in which the Metaverse would establish itself as the next communication channel, transporting us all into a digital world of infinite economic and social possibilities. Nonetheless, according to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, the number of people accessing virtual realities is constantly decreasing: the social gaming platform The Sandbox, for example, which last year registered over 500 thousand users every month, at the moment does not get more than 200 thousand visits, while its main competitor, Decentraland, which in 2023 was also home to an official Fashion Week, does not exceed 60 thousand users per month. In fact, among virtual worlds, only Second Life, the oldest of the social gaming platforms, active since 2003, maintains around 500 thousand monthly visits.
More investments, fewer users
Even Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, one of the Big Tech that has invested the most in this new medium, recorded a significant drop in visitors in 2023, as well as enormous economic losses. The Horizons Worlds and Horizons Workrooms platforms made up of digital environments dedicated to socializing and work, currently reach just 200 thousand visits every month, reporting a 50% drop in new users compared to last spring. However, the founder, Mark Zuckerberg, remains true to himself and, in a post on Facebook, writes: “A narrative is developing that we should somehow move away from the Metaverse project. I want to say clearly that this is inaccurate: we have been focusing on both artificial intelligence and the Metaverse for years, and we will continue to focus on both. Building the Metaverse is a long-term project, and we want to make it happen”.
Despite losses of over 4 billion dollars, destined to grow further by the end of the year, Meta has no intention of reducing investments in its Reality Labs, the department dedicated to the construction of virtual worlds. The company, in fact, recently published yet another new version of the open-source project LLaMa, a generative language model designed to understand and reproduce human language in a natural and coherent way. A system that Meta, also thanks to the partnership with Microsoft and Amazon Web Services, intends to use for commercial applications, such as online chatbots or text generation for assisted writing, and for the construction of the Metaverse.
That’s because artificial intelligence, according to Zuckerberg himself, “is fundamental for the construction of virtual reality and augmented reality as it allows us to analyze the physical world and mix it with virtual objects, speeding up calculation and final rendering”.
Marketing is the king
Likewise, the integration of AI-based operating systems into mixed reality devices, such as the Meta Quest Pro, will be the game changer for the next generation of computing, making human-machine interaction increasingly intuitive. All marketing messages and little else. The truth of the matter is that the Metaverse, as we were told, is a flop before it arrives. Not that the concept behind it is wrong, but the application is: thinking of replacing the current devices that allow us to browse the internet, communicate, and work with something more futuristic but uncomfortable is the main mistake.
But Zuckerberg is not the only one who has to face reality. Disney also said it will shutter its 50-person Metaverse division and plans to lay off up to 7,000 workers over the next two months in hopes of improving earnings. “Many companies and businesses understandably think that if they need to reduce headcount or overall spending, this type of category would seem to be a pretty easy target,” Scott Kessler, a technology industry analyst at the company, told the Wall Street Journal research Third Bridge Group.
Even Microsoft, which had bet big on the Metaverse, is closing dedicated departments to focus on generative artificial intelligence by incorporating a chatbot into its Bing platform. In short, the Metaverse is unable to spread both due to some practical aspects, such as devices that are too bulky, but above all due to its costs, which do not make it a mass technology. There is still a long way to go, and changes should be made. The Metaverse is not dead; it’s as if it were in a thermal cradle, warmed and cuddled, still waiting to be weaned.