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.
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.