The future of Meta has finally arrived—if you have an Oculus Quest headset.
Facebook parent Meta on Thursday launched Horizon Worlds, the first public iteration of its landmark virtual reality social platform, bringing the project out of private beta for millions of adults in the U.S. and Canada. The platform, which can only be accessed via an Oculus Quest device, marks Meta’s biggest step to date toward fulfilling CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for a VR world that, in many ways, replaces our in-person reality.
So what does Horizon Worlds look like?
Well, there’s not much to it quite yet. Users and their legless avatars—an aesthetic choice ripe for countless Slate thinkpieces—have three options: join a group hangout of up to 20 people, play a handful of games, or check out pre-recorded VR events. Meta has staffed Horizon Worlds with moderators who can answer questions or help users get the hang of their new reality, though the guides aren’t in every room.
The relatively bare-bones experience has, so far, left some tech observers feeling both intrigued by the possibilities, if a bit underwhelmed by the initial foray.
Cnet’s Scott Stein: “Horizon Worlds feels charming and familiar while also a bit buggy and cartoonish. How it separates itself from all the other metaverse apps is unclear.”
The Verge’s Alex Heath: “It’s an expansive, multiplayer platform that meshes Roblox and the OASIS VR world from Ready Player One.”
Mashable’s Joseph Volpe: “To VR vets, it’s basically a glossier knock-off of VRChat, the popular platform-agnostic, ‘anything goes’ third-party social VR platform that’s brimming with creator-made worlds, activities, and games. And as we’ve seen time and time again, when it comes to the company formerly known as Facebook, imitation is the sincerest form of market domination.”
The rudimentary feel of Horizon Worlds doesn’t necessarily spell trouble for Meta, which sees its metaverse platform as a long-term investment.
The company announced plans in October to spend $10 billion over the next year on metaverse-related technologies, CNBC reported. Horizon Worlds also will expand as third-party creators build out more locations and experiences within the platform, a prominent feature of the product.
Notably, Meta has only sold about 10 million Oculus Quest 2 headsets worldwide, according to the CEO of its headset chip supplier, Qualcomm. That relatively small consumer base helps limit the fallout from any unresolved safety and privacy kinks, an issue already raised by a beta tester who reported that a stranger groped her avatar, Heath’s reporting found.
Meta officials have preached patience with Horizon Worlds and future iterations, writing in a company blog post that “many of these products will only be fully realized in the next 10-15 years.”
With the public release of Horizon Worlds, that clock officially starts now.
Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.
From gig to full-time in Europe? New draft rules unveiled Thursday by the European Union would force companies to treat millions of gig workers as full-time employees, giving them access to higher wages, paid vacation, and employer-sponsored benefits. The proposal, which needs approval from the EU Parliament, would be a financial blow to app-based companies that rely on gig workers, such as Uber and Deliveroo. The EU rules also would force certain companies to disclose information about algorithms used to manage their workforce. High courts in several European countries have issued rulings in recent years forcing companies to provide better wages and benefits to gig workers, adding to momentum for changes proposed by the EU.
A potential chip clampdown on China. U.S. officials are considering a proposal that would make it harder for China’s largest semiconductor manufacturer to buy critical technology from American companies, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources familiar with the discussions. The potential crackdown, which involves closing regulatory loopholes, comes as the U.S. seeks to strengthen its domestic standing in the technology and semiconductor sectors amid China’s rapid economic growth. To that end, U.S. Treasury officials also are expected Friday to blacklist one of China’s largest artificial intelligence companies, SenseTime, restricting American investment in the military-aligned organization.
A gaming union in the works? Employees at embattled video game developer Activision Blizzard are taking initial steps toward holding a vote on unionization in response to the company’s handling of harassment, sexual abuse, and inappropriate workplace behavior allegations, The Washington Post reported Thursday. Staff members, in coordination with the media labor union Communications Workers of America, are asking coworkers to sign a unionization card that could lead to a companywide union vote. About one-fifth of Activision Blizzard’s nearly 10,000 employees signed a letter in July denouncing the company’s handling of the allegations, while a few hundred engaged in a walkout this week.
Hitting an investor buzzsaw. Newly public digital media company Buzzfeed saw its shares tank by 24% on Thursday, adding to its inauspicious debut this week on Nasdaq, The New York Times reported. Buzzfeed’s rough opening week followed a shaky special purpose acquisition company deal that resulted in only $16 million in raised capital, a tiny fraction of the $288 million initially pledged by investors. The share price decline and disappointing investment haul could make it harder for Buzzfeed to make acquisitions, a key reason for its IPO. Buzzfeed’s stock was down another 4% as of late Friday morning trading.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
A case of irreconcilable differences. Apple and Microsoft were closer than previously thought to reaching an agreement in 2020 that would bring Xbox games to the App Store, an arrangement that could have upended the video game ecosystem. Emails obtained by The Verge following the civil trial pitting video game developer Epic Games against Apple laid bare the negotiations between Microsoft and Apple over adapting high-profile Xbox offerings to the iPhone. Like most failed relationships, the two sides blamed each other for the fallout, citing disagreements over money and power.
From the article:
These games would have run on Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud) platform, streaming from remote server farms filled with Xbox One and Xbox Series X processors instead of relying on the local processing power of your phone.
If the deal had been made, you could have theoretically bought a copy of a game like Halo Infinite in Apple’s App Store itself and launched it like any other app — instead of having to pay $14.99 a month for an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription with a set catalog of games and then needing to use Microsoft’s web-based App Store workaround.
But primarily, Microsoft was negotiating to bring its Netflix-esque catalog of xCloud games to the App Store, at a time when Apple had gotten very touchy about cloud gaming in general.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange almost out of options after U.S. wins London extradition ruling, by David Meyer
Paytm’s dismal debut and the threat of Omicron are chilling India’s once-hot IPO market, by Biman Mukherji
Washington, D.C. is just getting started with crypto oversight, by Declan Harty
This architecture firm is making up to $300,000 per project to design real estate in the metaverse, by Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez
Snoop Dogg is developing a Snoopverse, and someone just bought a property in his virtual world for almost $500,000, by Kylie Logan
One year after Cyberpunk 2077 made its debut, creator CD Projekt faces an uncertain future, by Konrad Krasuski and Bloomberg
Volkswagen’s board closes ranks around embattled CEO in bid to unseat Tesla, by Christiaan Hetzner
BEFORE YOU GO
Live from the Crypto Disco. The international phenomenon Art Basel, already one of the more vibrant events of the year, looks a little different in 2021. In a delightful dispatch from Miami, Insider’s Becky Peterson rubs shoulders with the crypto crowd that’s changing the face of the annual art exhibition. The rise of non-fungible tokens sets up a “collision between the crypto revolution and the art-world establishment,” Peterson writes. While Picasso purchasers might thumb their nose at the newcomers, crypto revelers have their own unofficial Art Basel theme: We all gonna make it.
This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.