Facebook, the Metaverse, and John Carmack

The metaverse is honey pot trap for architecture astronauts.

-John Carmack, Consulting CTO for Oculus VR

The metaverse has been much discussed in our little corner of the world here in 2021, largely due to Raph Koster and his Riffs by Raph columns over on the Playable World site where he has been writing about virtual worlds, multiverses, and the potential for a metaverse.  While he is clearly selling a vision as much for investors as for us, his self-promotion contains plenty of valuable insight.

There has also been something of a wave of NFT and blockchain proponents hyping their favored tech as the key ingredient for some future metaverse, though they can hardly drag themselves away from destroying the planet and scamming people with the virtual goods version of the property flip scam to be taken seriously.  They are are just modern incarnations of those who would sell the Brooklyn Bridge or investment opportunities in perpetual motion machines.  George C. Parker would be very much at home among them.

Steam went so far as to ban all titles that have NFT or cryptocurrency ties. (Scott Hartsman has a Twitter thread about why Steam might not want the liability that comes with those titles.)  Epic went the other direction immediately because Tim Sweeney’s idea of an argument is the automatic gainsaying of whatever his opponent says.  But Tim Sweeney says a lot of things, and he carefully caveated his statement to give the Epic Store an out.

But the big bombshell this week was Mark Zukerberg announcing his intention to create the metaverse and being so invested in the idea that he has changed the name of his company to Meta.

The memes based on this image are quickly becoming meta

My gut reaction to a Facebook owned metaverse requiring me to strap their Oculus hardware to my face and let them watch and exploit everything I do in their Horizon virtual world sim is a pretty strong negative.

The pitch has been put together in this 20 minute video which features Zuckerberg himself explaining how he wants to co-opt the metaverse idea and make it something he controls.  He isn’t so much promoting a metaverse so much as a “Zuckerverse” where he’ll be king.

Part of me sees evil based on what Facebook has become, but part of me also sees somebody who peaked in their 20s with an astounding success, becoming a billionaire over night, who now wants to top that.  Oh, and I also see somebody who has no idea what real people want or need… and maybe a bit of distraction from the bad odor Facebook is in right now as well.  Lots going on here.

And I am one of those people who read Snow Crash in the late 90s and have been hearing about the idea of VR since the mid 80s, so I am still in the target zone for online world ideas.  But Facebook driving it… well, a lot of people were annoyed/dismayed when Facebook bought Oculus back in 2014, and we were only angry because Facebook hosted crappy spammy social games and harvested our data. (Some fun links in that post. I think the Raph Koster one might be the most on the money, which doesn’t surprise me.)

More interesting and refreshing though has been the take by John Carmack, Consulting CTO for Oculus, which Facebook owns (and which is also losing its name), who gave the keynote speech for Zuckerberg’s event.  He seems much less convinced that the metaverse is an achievable objective in the way that is being presented.  The video of his presentation is embedded below, dialed up to just where he begins to speak about the metaverse idea.  He is a strong proponent of the idea, but not so much of the path it is on, and is keenly aware of the complications it faces.

The “architecture astronauts” he mentions in the keynote, from the quote I have at the top of the post, are those who like the big picture ideas of the metaverse while skipping over the details of how to actually make those big picture ideas work.

Carmack is very much about those details and points out quite a few issues with the idea of an Oculus VR based metaverse, not the least being the problem of the headset itself.  He compares it to the ubiquity of our phones and the challenge of reaching that level with hardware that you have to strap to your face and which blots out the real world, not to mention the whole motion sickness thing.  I mean, he still seems all in on a Facebook metaverse, he just just comes across as skeptical that they’re going about it the right way.

Anyway, there is a bunch there to digest and news stories abound about the Facebook announcement, so use your favorite search engine to find them, though if you want the best headline to come out of this, Vice has you covered.

Ars Technica also has a summary of the Carmack keynote if you don’t want to watch it, though I think watching it has much more impact.  There is also a nice Twitter thread that brings up key Carmack statements which is a quick read.

As for Facebook changing its name to Meta… does anybody actually call Google “Alphabet” now?  And what happens to The Meta Show, the weekly EVE Online Twitch show?  Does this help it or hurt it?

We’ll see what this looks like a year from now.

Addendum:  The Meta Show rebrands in light of the changes over the past week.

Fountain Frank announces The Facebook Show

5 thoughts on “Facebook, the Metaverse, and John Carmack

  1. bhagpuss

    I’m glad you posted on this. I wanted to as soon as I read the Carmack quotes (they turned up on several news feeds) but I couldn’t really figure out how to connect it to anything I would normally write about. I cheered silently when I read the part about people handwaving away the “how” as they rush to get to the “what”. That’s the huge problem with almost everything from 3D printers to self-driving cars. Someone comes up with the concept and then everyone starts talking about it as though we have already have technology that only exists in Star Trek.

    As for the consumer resistance to strapping a house brick onto your head that makes you completely blind to the outside world, I’ve been saying that’s a complete non-starter for years. It is never, ever going to become something anyone other than technophiles pay any attention to whatsoever. Google glass, however, and similar technologies, could be on as many faces in a couple of years as smart phones were in people’s hands when that technology took off. The only reason it hasn’t happened already is that some vested interest or other did a number on peoples’ fears of being watched and somehow managed to spook Google. Someone is going to get that tech past the moral gatekeepers one of these days and then it will go mainstream because it clearly serves any number of existing needs and desires extremely well.

    As for the metaverse, I love Zuckerberg’s hubris in believing it something he can build. Raph Koster’s, too, although in his case I think it’s much more a salesman’s skill in promoting something not particularly amazing as if it was something much more impressive. Zuckerberg, though,clearly thinks he can tell his people to go build him something William Gibson would write and just saying it will make it happen. It won’t. If we get a metaverse it will be accretive and quite possibly accidental, not the deus ex machina creation of someone who got lucky once.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – I follow William Gibson on Twitter (@greatdismal) and I’ll have to go see if he had any comments on the whole Facebook thing. The announcement clogged up my feed so it was easy to miss things.

    I think Raph’s vision at least has a solid foundation. He has, up front, said Playable Worlds needs to build a game to get people invested. He kind of hand waves over some of the technical details that Carmack digs into, like the cost and requirements of being cloud based, but otherwise is aiming at an initial goal that seems achievable.

    Facebook is trying to jump straight into reality replacing physical/video presence with their Horizon virtual world, and some of us recall how that fared in Second Life when companies opened up offices or news bureaus embedded there, only to shut them all down months later.

    Ah yes, Google Glasses panic of whenever that was, I remember that brief period of time well.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    I did like this article I saw retweeted by the former president of Estonia, whom I also follow on Twitter. Billionaires want to do all sorts of things besides fix the problems we have here and now.

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  4. Angry Onions

    Zuckerverse says: put on this headset! It’s the gateway to a new universe!
    My prescription eyeglasses say: No thank you.

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  5. kiantremayne

    I used to joke that the architects in tech are the guys who walk into a meeting room, draw three boxes on the whiteboard – ideally, one of them cloud-shaped – and a few arrows joining them, then leave the details for the little people to sort out. The metaverse isn’t even that. It’s one box, with the label “It’s awesome!” printed underneath it.

    In fairness to Raph Koster, his articles are showing some serious thought about how you’d build it, but I’m still not seeing the use cases that benefit me as a consumer. Interoperability between games might be nice, but hardly worth the hype. Walking my World of Warcraft character out of Azeroth and into a virtual pizza parlour so I can order a food delivery? Cool in a very nerdy way, but clunkier than just firing up the Uber Eats app on my phone while I carry on gaming.

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