Meta’s First Big Proto-metaverse Project Finally Launches (kinda)


Nearly two and a half years in the making, Meta’s most ambitious social VR project, Horizon Worlds, has finally reached open beta. Well kinda. Starting today, the platform is available to those in the US & Canada who are 18 years old or older—on Quest 2 and Oculus PC. If you’re part of that group you’ll be able to jump in to explore worlds made on the platform and get your hands on the app’s stunningly impressive collaborative building tools.

Horizon Worlds was initially announced back in 2019 as Facebook Horizon. Since then, Facebook has changed its name to Meta and Facebook Horizon has since become known as Horizon Worlds.

Despite the name change, the vision of Horizon Worlds is still the same: a social VR platform where users can build experiences with and for each other. Being a self-contained application, it’s not quite part of the metaverse yet, but it’s the company’s first big project that’s build on a foundation with many of the same ideas—like having a shared identity across interconnected, immersive experiences where you can spend time with friends.

Image courtesy Meta

The app has been in a closed beta for more than a year, during which time the company says it’s been honing the experience with feedback from users and creators alike.

Today Horizon Worlds is finally opening its doors, at least to some. Anyone in the US & Canada that is over 18 years old is welcome to join Horizon Worlds on Quest 2 or Oculus PC (Meta is pulling the plug on support for the original Quest starting on January 13th).

I recently got a tour of the latest version of Horizon Worlds and found a very polished experience with some excellent in-game creation tools. While much of the foundation here is the same as what we’ve seen previously, various systems have been enhanced and the experience overall feels streamlined.

For example, the last time we took a look at Horizon Worlds, spaces inside the world could only hold up to 8 players at a time. Now it’s possible to fit up to 20 players in a single space, depending upon the complexity of the scene (creators can reduce the total player count in order to add more geometry, animation, logic, etc).

Another upgrade is that Horizon Worlds is now using the latest Oculus Avatar system, which replaces the previous proprietary avatar system. When you load into Horizon Worlds you’ll automatically appear the avatar that you have (probably) already configured in your headset.

Image courtesy Meta

Building tools have also been expanded an improved. Creators now have control over an object’s texture, material properties, and more. You can even light scenes generally (at the skybox level) and specifically (by placing lights that illuminate nearby objects). Lights aren’t dynamic (they won’t cast shadows or respond to moving objects in real-time), but they do bake quickly enough that creators can easily use the game’s built-in tools to work with lighting on-the-fly to add extra character to their scene.

Meta says that everything you see in Horizon Worlds was built completely in-game—environments, game-logic, scoreboards, and… well, everything.

The building tools in Horizon Worlds are collaborative at their core. You can build collaboratively with up to four friends at a time, and everything that you see and do is synchronized between users, making for a feeling of co-creation that’s really powerful. This even applies to the scripting panel (which allows users to add logic to their creations); if you make even a tiny change to a script, your friend next to you will see the change reflected on their end too—great for helping each other debug, I’m sure.

Image courtesy Meta

It’s a impressively powerful and easy to use set of tools, and I expect creators so far are only just scratching the surface of what’s possible. Alongside the open beta release, Meta has published a comprehensive introduction to everything from building to scripting to publishing in Horizon Worlds.

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Horizon Worlds is an impressively sleek package, even in its beta form. Whether or not it sees real traction is likely to come down to the quality of content available on the platform and how easy it is for the best content to be discovered and shared by users.

That can be a chicken-and-egg problem, of course. Sensing this, Meta recently announced a $10 million fund to try to kickstart creator projects on the platform, but hasn’t commented on plans to create any structured compensation for creators spending their time building on the platform. That might make it hard for Horizon Worlds to attract high quality creators who might otherwise choose to spend their time building on platforms that offer structured, real-money payouts, like Rec Room or Roblox.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • kontis

    Quest 2 and Oculus PC

    So no Vive or Index? So much for OpenXR. Corps being corps.

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      • ViRGiN

        I’m gonna upvote this one, cause RTV and UVR moderation is completly non existent.

    • ViRGiN

      Where is Index support for passtrough AR, inside out positional tracking and hand tracking? It has all the hardware. Look in the mirror, before you start shilling for non-VR-focused-companies

      Index has all the hardware to make it reality, just needs a PC which every Index owner has.

      • knuckles625

        I think I’m missing the intended point with your post.

        You can access the full color camera on the Index like you can any other camera on PC, there’s even several baked in filters that are “AR” at least the way some companies define it (cough snapchat)

        Index is tracked positionally via inside out sensors, although it obviously needs lighthouse set up in the area.

        Index was literally the first headset to get hand tracking…that is the whole gimmick of the knuckles controllers. Valve didn’t release “Aperture Hand Lab” with it for nothing.

        To kontis’ point, its not an issue with OpenXR, just an issue with console exclusives. Not the most customer friendly thing but certainly nothing new (aka Corps being corps)

    • Yeah, let me use my HP Reverb. This is already too closed and proprietary to be a metaverse for all of us.

  • xyzs

    These human cartoonish characters with just the upper body weird me out. Do some holographic legs at least…

    And damn I am looking forward to seeing Epic Game’s Nanite technology in action for decently detailed environments. VR worlds with 5000 polygons are lame… they need to step the f up.

    • ViRGiN

      It’s gonna take a very long freaking while. Unreal/Epic barely supports VR in editor itself, something they bloated like back in 2016 together with Palmer on screen. You realistically can not do anything with UE VR editor

      • xyzs

        I still have hope. We are at the dawn of a big realtime technology shift. Polygon barrier for static mesh was broken with Nanite, realtime GI is almost solved. Meta bets all in for XR. If the business and money is here, EG will move their ass faster to make UE more XR compliant.

        • silvaring

          Do you think Epic have long term plans to make Unreal Engine more modular, so that other companies with better tech can just swap in and out features instead of having to rely on Unreals implementation of lighting / geometry / animations?

      • alxslr

        You don’t need Unreal VR Editor to make VR software with Unreal.
        You just develop in the editor -flat scree-n and check the result playing “VR Preview” mode.

    • Sumiter

      the Avatars don’t really bother me much. i am highly disappointed in the graphics of the environments. This app is not made for people 18+. none of us want to hangout in an app that looks like it was made for 6 year old’s. Same that i said on the comments in UVP. This is destined to fail if they don’t upgrade the graphics and design.

  • commonolithic

    Mozilla Hubs, 25 people in a vr headset, 15 more on laptops, accessible through a url, free & private

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  • VRFriend

    VRChat is 100 years ahead.

  • knuckles625

    So…Facebook seems pretty late to the party here and is really not occupying any new territory.

    Mozilla hubs exists for low friction joining & multiplatform (including PC & phone), from a privacy focused company.

    Rec Room has years of developing creator programming from inside a headset, has already implemented monetization, and has that similar cartoony look (plus it works on all headsets + PC’s + phones)

    Altspace has a pipeline to just upload a Unity scene instead of messing with developing inside an app, plus their frontrow feature means you can have hundreds of users watching the same hosts. Also works across headsets and PC’s (no longer phones)

    Then VRChat offers near unlimited creativity and an already huge userbase.

    What’s the angle to pull someone to Horizon instead of one of these other “metaverses”? More stringent moderation?

    • elecricah

      The angle: Being the biggest social network on the planet
      What else to you need to know?
      They dont have to be the smartest yet, fastest yet, prettiest yet or even good yet.
      Scale and spotlight is everything, especially when its a marathon and not a sprint. When you also own the major hardware, the software distribution and the
      whole ecosystem around it… the math…

  • Hivemind9000

    Nauseatingly bland. Hard pass.

  • guest

    Will frontal-nudity be allowed in US & Canada???

  • VRFriend

    This Meta thing will die. Only big sales of Quest and strong marketing can keep it alive. It is boring what we see here.

  • Doug018

    So… basically what Second Life had 10 years ago!

  • ZarathustraDK

    Oh look, it’s Meta SafeSpace where you’ll be provided with a selection of painfully neutral looking worlds so bland they make white toast appear interesting, and a host of politically correct diverse avatars replete with bi-sected torsos so we don’t have to wonder about the plumbing downstairs and keeping the Quest 2 from exploding.

  • Lucidfeuer

    Facebook is probably the most evil company (in terms of social, political and cultural destruction they enabled, or even some argue, promoted), and even Epic, it seems, are distanciating themselves from the company.

    This Horizon stuff looks…just useless, I’m not going to judge the graphic and creative choices, but it’s just very badly conceived and designed with absolutely zero incentives to use it.