Facebook Reality Labs, the company’s AR/VR research and development team, announced the creation of a special product group focused on developing its future vision for “the Metaverse.” Apparently Facebook is betting big on the idea too, as it hopes in the near future to be viewed more as “a metaverse company” than a social network.

The term ‘metaverse’ was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. It not only refers to the monolithic online 3D environment where a part of the story takes place, but also the sum of all virtual worlds, including virtual reality, augmented reality, and the Internet as a whole. You may also recognize the concept from Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One, which was brought to life in Steven Spielberg’s 2018 film adaptation.

Now, on the heels of Epic Games’ landmark $1 billion investment to kickstart its own vision for the metaverse, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company is also investing in ways to better position itself for a more connected future by creating “the Metaverse.”

Speaking to The Verge, Zuckerberg’s immersive, interconnected future may sound nebulous for now, but head of Facebook Reality Labs Andrew Bosworth announced in a Facebook post that it’s actually spinning up a product team dedicated to the task, bringing into the fold a number of Facebook execs.

Bosworth says its so-called Metaverse Product Group will be lead by Vishal Shah, Instagram VP of Product. Vivek Sharma, head of Facebook Gaming, will be leading the team behind the company’s still in-beta social VR platform, Facebook HorizonJason Rubin, original Oculus executive and one-time head of AR/VR content, will lead the group’s content team. Bosworth say Rubin and Vivek will continue working with Facebook Gaming partners on the company’s gaming various platforms.

Horizon | Image courtesy Facebook

Zuckerberg tells The Verge that the company’s vision for the metaverse won’t rest solely on virtual reality devices, but rather he says it’s going to be “accessible across all of our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles.”

At least as far as VR is concerned, offering support to all devices will be a marked departure for anyone who’s followed the company’s walled garden approach to VR software development over the years, which may point to where the company hopes to go in the future.

“I think a good vision for the metaverse is not one that a specific company builds, but it has to have the sense of interoperability and portability. You have your avatar and your digital goods, and you want to be able to teleport anywhere,” Zuckerberg says. “You don’t want to just be stuck within one company’s stuff. So for our part, for example, we’re building out the Quest headsets for VR, we’re working on AR headsets. But the software that we build, for people to work in or hang out in and build these different worlds, that’s going to go across anything. So other companies build out VR or AR platforms, our software will be everywhere. Just like Facebook or Instagram is today.”

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As the company continues to develop for the future of pervasive all-day AR glasses and VR headsets, Zuckerberg hopes that over the next five years the company will enter a new chapter to become what he calls “a metaverse company,” shifting its image from just a social network.

“One of the reasons why we’re investing so much in augmented and virtual reality is mobile phones kind of came around at the same time as Facebook, so we didn’t really get to play a big role in shaping the development of those platforms,” Zuckerberg says.

Continuing: “And I think if we can help build the next set of computing platforms and experiences across that in a way that’s more natural and lets us feel more present with people, I think that’ll be a very positive thing.”

Not much is certain for now: creating that future of a singular, interoperable virtual continuum is likely to be a long and sustained effort that will not only require immersive devices to supplant (or augment) traditional computing platforms, but would require Facebook to take on an active role of platform holder, requiring it to reach much farther than it does currently with Oculus, or even its traditional social network.

Love it or hate it, Facebook has a pointed interest in pioneering the space and owning a big piece of it too later down the line. And yes, it’s still hiring a lot more people to make that happen.

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  • kontis

    also mobile devices and game consoles

    All of these devices (actually even Quest…) have ToS that does NOT allow the open metaverse, especially not consoles. Some big guys can to some extent get away with it if you have a $pecial deal (like Roblox on iOS or VRChat on Quest), but the true Metaverse requires openness identical to a Web Browser (something that Sony even removed from Playstation). Not even Quest allows apps to have this kind of freedom and definitely not Apple.
    As Tim Sweeney noted, if web browser was invented today it would not be allowed anywhere but on PC. Ironic. This makes creation of actual metaverse today impossible. Unless USA changes its laws and fines walled gardens of the most powerful platforms.

    Some make fun of Zuckerberg for proposing that a corporation can create a Metaverse as it’s completely against its original open concept. However I am afraid that the definition of Metaverse will be completely changed, just as the definition of Internet was changed. Originally Internet was meant to always be a wild west with surfing websites and e-mailing, but now 95% of people’s online time is on a few giant platforms made by megacorporations, like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and people love how powerful exposure this consolidation creates and gives them for “free” (this advantage is technically impossible with federation of many websites and e-mail as not having global control also prevents forced exposure from the algorithms and ironically everyone would suffer with less views, likes upvotes etc. making it always less attractive)

    I mean even current primitive prototypes of metaverse like Vrchat, second life, roblox, minecraft, fortnite etc. are fully proprietary walled gardens (minecraft java allows for more independence but it’s basically a legacy version now). And projects that tried to be more open all failed.

    BTW, it’s not coincidental that both Zuckerberg and Gabe Newell explain the reason of entering VR market in the same exact way: a regret of missing out on mobile phone dominance.

    • poppyspy

      I like all your points here, a platform war is inevitable. And many big corps have 1 strong entry into influencing it. I would argue Microsoft is the true dark horse in the metaverse war, because they already support cross openxr between hololens and their immersive vr headsets. And their mixed reality home environment is 2nd to none, it already fully interacts with the windows stack of capabilities. This is a huge leg up. The only area they are losing in, is consumer HMD Store adoption, and it’s clear they actively made a decision not to put their foot on the pedal for this, because they easily could make a consumer VR headset for X Box platform like Sony already has for Playstation. But they instead have found enterprise to be the best area to really explore advanced mixed reality devices.

      You are absolutely right that the metaverse isn’t even defined yet, we know we need standards for how it should work, but those standards don’t know what people really want out of the metaverse yet. What I think we do know, is that people will want to interact and express their human conditional to each other. People need to feel confident that what they express will be seen by everyone. They need to feel like their meta-self is actually accomplishing things.

    • That the motivation now is to be the next iPhone isn’t wrong.
      After all, it turned a company teetering on the edge of bankruptcy
      into a multitrillion dollar juggernaut.
      They see The Next Big Thing as immersive computing and are
      understandably building out a sustainable XR infrastructure
      to support this new way of doing things.
      But when the smoke clears, the battle of the Titans,
      as in all the computing phases thus far,
      will boil down to two entities: Apple & Facebook.
      Valve will be on the outside looking in, it’s nose pressed against the glass ….

      • Pikachu

        Haven’t you noticed yet that people always downvote your comments? and that the only upvotes you get is yours? Ask yourself why…

    • JB1968

      Metaverse will eventually become just a 3d version of www, so from 99% pile of social garbage and porn.
      Can’t wait to use adBlocker in hmd :-)
      But seriously, I still hope in the remaining 1% there will be some cool weird places I could enjoy.

    • Christian Schildwaechter

      I think you are a little bit to pessimistic here. The current version of the metaverse is the internet, and while it was accessible to academia since the late 1960s, most people first got online with closed garden services like AOL or CompuServe in the early 1990s. These started as limited e-mail and bulletin board system and later expanded into shopping etc. People were doing very similar things to what they do on Facebook today, albeit on a more primitive level.

      None of these services survived. They first had to add WWW access to their closed ecosystems, because there was so much more content outside their walls, and later dropped their internal services completely, as they couldn’t compete with the diversity of the net. Facebook has already failed several times to squeeze out internet access, including offering free mobile data to millions of users in India, but they are still a glorified chatroom/bulletin board. And esp. younger users have already moved on to tumblr, tiktok and other services.

      Facebook knows they will never be able to dominate the web, control any mobile phone platform or monopolize the metaverse, whatever that may be. WebVR/WebXR already exist, and Mozilla launched their “Hubs” more than a year ago as a pretty much the open, web-based, free-to-all metaverse that isn’t bound to any of the walled gardens. And yes, this works just fine in the Oculus browser on the Quest. Which is why Zuckerberg is emphasizing that it has to be a cooperation between many partners, and that Facebook will be one of many working on an at least somewhat open metaverse. The interesting part is in the fine print. Zuckerberg on The Verge:

      Is it interoperable because it’s decentralized, in the way that a bunch of the crypto work is being designed now, so there’s kind of no central dependency? It’s not just interoperable, but there’s no centralized control points? Or is it interoperable because there are some bodies that set standards and enable a bunch of these experiences to work together?

      The comparison to crypto is sort of stupid and most likely intended to make a decentralized solution look bad. But the web as we know it is exactly this type of decentralized network. Facebook would probably prefer if this didn’t happen, and instead you are gatewayed into the metaverse through either Facebook Horizon, VRChat, Fortnite, Altspace or one of a limited number of mayor players. It’s sort of like AOL seeing the internet creeping in and deciding to merge their chatrooms with CompuServe and Prodigy to prevent users from escaping into the open. Didn’t work in the 1990s. Will not work in the 2020s.

      … and definitely not Apple.

      When the first iPhone was released, one of its main advantages was the ability to display regular web sites, while most mobile browsers only worked with specially adapted mobile pages. And initially developers weren’t even given the option to develop apps for iOS, instead Apple pushed WebApps, which are basically websites with some added Javascript code for local storage etc. that can be added to the home screen just like a native app. So all you needed (and still need) to get a (web) app to run on an Apple (or Android) phone is a web server. You don’t have to register anything or follow any Apple (or Google) rules, and it still can do most of the things a native app can do. Just like WebXR some of the advanced features and the best performance requires going native, but 90% of all use cases will just work fine with WebApps. Or an even simpler web page. The metaverse will be no different.

    • Salbrox

      Hmm, there are browsers which support webVR on the Quest and there are a few competing ‘metaverse’ apps on the Quest store. Then we have app lab too. Is not the combination of all these metaverses and potential future ones not basically collectively ‘the metaverse’?

  • Holdup

    The parallel universe where IOI decided to build the Oasis first

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    • Ad

      That movie was so cowardly adding this magical old man who made it for fun, the closest version of that in the real world is just public libraries.

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  • JB1968

    Everyone who’d like to be in Facebook metaverse downvote this post

  • VR Geek

    Anyone who thinks there will be 1 Metaverse does not understand what the Metaverse is. It is a place…ANY place that others can join. Sure there will be some BIG Metaverse’s but there will be plenty of others. Just like there is not 1 website. Will Facebook be the BIG one? Maybe…if they can add value and build trust, but I suspect Facebook is not going to be the one as history seems to indicate when things shift, a new player rises. Heck..it might even be Rec Room that morphs into the Metaverse we all use. I mean Facebook tried to emulate it with horizons and failed in an Epic way.

    • LegendaryKeith

      I think there’s only one metaverse, and like the internet, that metaverse can’t be and isn’t meant to be controlled by a corporation.

      I always thought of the metaverse as an extension or an upgrade of the internet and not a replacement, where in 5-7 years, xr apps will be on the web and we’ll be able to go to any website like we do now but in VR, with our own avatars and with other people and jump from vrchat to recroom for example.

      That’s why i can’t see Facebook owning the metaverse, because it wouldn’t be a metaverse anymore but more of a facebookverse.

      What i’m speculating here is that Facebook wants Horizons to be how yahoo used to be in the late nineties but instead in AR/VR..

      • Salbrox

        Yes it will be their equivalent of a portal to the metaverse. Whereas the actual metaverse is a combination of all the existing ‘metaverses’ and being able to jump into each one from within your VR headset like you currently do on an Oculus Quest or a SteamVR headset.

    • Ad

      Facebook and google undermined the open web, they’ll do just fine fucking up the metaverse.

  • xyzs

    Before making a metaverse, we need vr devices that do not make us feel uncomfortable after 1 hour, because they are bulky and too low res.

    Then we can have a metaverse, but a sane metaverse would rely on open source tech with an open source codebase… Not a crappy corpo blob where your only liberty is to give away your life data and money.

  • Mah, I see the word metaverse always used as a buzzword everywhere now

  • david vincent

    I bet Facebook can build something as dumb as the Oasis, where you have to pay real money just to do basic stuff (like changing location or setting up a private chat room).

  • Geoff

    So a cartoon metaverse on Facebook or a Photo Real metaverse in Unreal Engine with near infinite polygons? Facebook should be worried on that one.

  • Ad

    Tiktok kicked their ass so hard they tried to get it banned. This is just them saying “we plan on saying metaverse so much that when we buy the first company that actually figures out the metaverse, you’ll think we already had a plan.”

    • Anonymous

      Except TikTok is a Chinese communist spyware and deserves to be banned.

  • Ad

    “One of the reasons why we’re investing so much in augmented and virtual reality is mobile phones kind of came around at the same time as Facebook, so we didn’t really get to play a big role in shaping the development of those platforms,” Zuckerberg says.

    Too bad this generation of users/devs sold out everyone else for cheap shit and funding, because now we’re going to see what an nightmare mobile phones would have been with Zuck at the helm.

  • ZarathustraDK

    “Metaverse Product Group” <— That right there shows FB doesn't understand what a metaverse is. At best this approach would create some glorified VRChat clone that links up with facebook and all the other company products.
    A metaverse is not something that is produced and sold, it is a set of guidelines and standards everyone agrees to not unlike W3C-standards and the internet. What the metaverse needs is a consortium of a ton of big tech-companies to hammer out an open standards agreement for how this ubiquitous world is gonna work and be partaken in, not one big player spitting out a selfserving piece of software and then expect every other player to come crawling towards the light of saint Zucc.

  • The real (and OPEN) metaverse is from Epic, Microsoft, Intel and so many brands. Zuckerberg only want to control everything and pervert the concept with his way to do (steal) things, they will try to make their (creepy camouflaged as cool) closed version of a metaverse.
    This is the real metaverse: https://lnkd.in/dwunpAb

    • ViRGiN

      And valve only wants to rip off every developer with their 30 percent tax, while halting entire industry progress. Steam is a monopoly and needs to be immediately broken. I’ll blindly believe anything Facebook says as opposed to long wish lists of every other company.

      • Steam is not involved on the metaverse…

    • silvaring

      TIL: you can replace and build a modern day internet with just a billion usd.