Another part of the speech was a scripted conversation between Meta’s Vice President of Metaverse, Vishal Shah, and his boss, Chief Technology Officer Andrew Bosworth. After bragging about the variety of virtual environments people have created in Horizon Worlds, Shah raved about how great it would be when people can wander around via the web. The experience, he says, “takes their ability to connect people to another level.” But since your web browser and phone do not provide an immersive VR display, this is the same level – you are the only one to experience it in the direction, while users equipped with Quest travel in first class. Boz hinted at why Meta would want to invite people to this second-class experience: “We can’t give everyone an immersive experience,” he said, “But it will take some time before there are enough helmets.”
Whether or not that’s the right approach, it’s the one some VR startups have taken. As hard as it is to give up a fully immersive VR experience, audiences aren’t quite there yet. A company, hypnotize, invested deeply to avoid the compromises of a hybrid experience. “The perfect scenario is everyone in VR,” says CEO Andrew Hawken. “Everyone is giving their full attention, you’re all into it.” But even Hawken admits that too many people think wearing helmets isn’t worth it, and Mesmerise is working on a 2D interface. “The experience is compromised, but we don’t want to exclude people,” he says.
Another VR startup, Spatial, made this decision some time ago. “We thought the computer of the future would be a pair of glasses,” says CEO Anand Agarawala. His company first built for Microsoft’s HoloLens and then for Quest headsets, but Spatial never saw its worlds populated by crowds of users. “People were reluctant to put on a helmet,” says Agarawala. Even when people had the hardware, when it came time for a meeting, some didn’t have it handy and others were frustrated with its configuration. It was so much easier to just have a meeting in Zoom or Teams. Agarawala therefore created a non-VR way to access its virtual worlds and workspaces. It’s not immersive, but people can connect in five seconds. Today, he says, 80% of his customers use the web or mobile. These people don’t feel bad about not having an immersive experience because they’re in the majority.
Could it be that the Metaverse doesn’t require VR after all? For now, even with the headsets, the current technology leaves some people cold, apparently including people paid to work on virtual reality at Meta itself. Recent internal notes written by Shah and leaked to Verge admit that Horizon Worlds is plagued with “quality shortcomings and performance issues”. And Meta is struggling to get its own engineers to meet in virtual reality, despite orders from above that they must. “The simple truth is, if we don’t like it, how can we expect our users to like it?” Shah wrote. Maybe they will like the web version more.