Facebook Meta, Virtual Reality and the Future
When the term “virtual reality”, or VR, first burst into the mainstream consciousness, everyone believed it was a curious, glittering new extension of gaming. We were in awe (or in doubt), but it was largely a spectacle, and far from our real, everyday lives. But that is exactly the vision Mark Zuckerberg has for the future of VR. Drastically reinventing his social media baby, the founder of Facebook has rebranded his company to Meta. Referencing the sci-fi metaverse, this edgy new moniker is aptly derived from the Greek word for “beyond”, reflecting Zuckerberg’s lofty ambitions of pushing the boundaries of virtual reality. For the curious, feel free to learn more about the differences between virtual reality and augmented reality.
OK, what is Meta?
Meta aims to transcend the boundaries of the screen, immersing users in the virtual environment as if it were an actual, tangible space. Driven by the idea of endless connectivity, Meta strives to develop a universe unbound by the limitations of real life – creating a world in which people can interact with their setting as if they would in the physical realm. With the power of customised avatars, you could show up to a gathering as a formerly-extinct dinosaur, or meet others in fantastical virtual worlds as varied as deep space or Atlantis. Working from home could mean working anywhere.
Though most of us know of or might have even experienced VR tech, the field remains tied down by certain technological limitations. For example, Steam VR only lets you play a single game in a single world, and a Microsoft Team VR call only allows you to speak to fellow employees, and no one else. Well, Meta takes this to the next level. With its abundant resources and existing Facebook user base, an infinite virtual world with integrated social capabilities aims to be at our fingertips, a reality that functions as well as — maybe even better than — our current one. The world of Ready Player One may not be as far-fetched as we once thought. All your usual online activities would be seamlessly integrated into one single platform – play countless games, host gatherings, go on shopping sprees, and even world-hop across multiple dimensions!
Aptly named the “embodied internet”, Meta also brings our online endeavors one step closer to how we experience the world as organic beings. In Meta’s immersive virtual world, you’d wield a whole new set of communication tools previously unobtainable through screens, such as body language and movement. OK, it’s not exactly the perfect replica of the human experience right now, but the building blocks for the ultimate metaverse have already been meticulously laid down, opening many new avenues for our digital ventures. And if this is what’s going on now, what does this mean for the future? Let’s find out.
Virtual Real Estate
The idea of owning land is no longer a purely physical concept. Social distancing in pandemic times has seen many of us turning to the internet to fulfil our social and work-related obligations. This digital migration process has been greatly aided by video calling apps like Zoom and Google hangouts, and others like Discord and Gathertown offer common servers for colleagues or friends to hang out in and work together. But as cool as they are, the fact remains that our screens still cannot fully recreate the element of physical presence.
This is one of the shortcomings that Meta wants to fix. Facebook’s Horizon Worlds provides a rich selection of virtual spaces located in the metaverse, readily catered to your office or recreational activities. In these areas, avatars can sit beside each other and see each other. In the near future, companies might be able to customize virtual spaces at will. These virtual landscapes could reflect actual existing locations or be completely original creations, providing a welcomed escape from the four walls of a dreary office building. We’d love to have a work meeting while lounging on a soothing virtual beach or floating in the milky way! The demand for such digital spaces has been increasing over the years – but COVID-19 was an unexpected catalyst. With the rise of virtual real estate, we are that much closer to enabling users to purchase or rent places to meet, shop and chill in the future. Zuckerberg’s keynote even hints at the possibilities of hosting an entire musical concert — afterparties, meet-and-greets and all — in the metaverse. (Imagine the savings!)
With the metaverse, retailers could build virtual shops to cater to new types of consumer demand, like virtual clothing and accessories for our digital personas. Sites like Decentraland are already well on their way to embedding themselves in the metaverse; users can wander around and trade virtual goods secured with smart contracts. Such virtual marketplaces will likely improve with Meta’s rise, making for a more intuitive and natural retail experience we can look forward to.
Over the years, ads have evolved from being marketing’s unabashed cash grab into more subtle messaging, seamlessly disguised as entertaining content. As marketers strive to integrate ads seamlessly into their digital activities, the rise of Meta will be indispensable in integrating ads with real life —soon enough, you’ll find yourself strolling down a city street surrounded with holographic billboards and pop-ups like those in Free Guy! However, with great power comes great responsibility, and Meta is working towards a more responsible advertising route. From January 2022 onwards, advertisers will no longer be able to target users who have interacted with sensitive content related to politics, social issues, religion and others. A bold step for the business, this move gives us hope that Meta will continue their user-centric approach to ad targeting, allowing everyone to better enjoy the metaverse.
With the metaverse as a platform, VR holds the key to unlocking interactive and immersive marketing campaigns. Meta heralds a new era of advertising where brands and companies can construct inviting worlds and experiences visceral enough to elicit strong emotional connections in their customers. In terms of practicality, such technology can also work wonders. Take a showroom for example—these can be coded to detect eye movement so as to identify a particular display that a viewer is interested in, instantly inserting a pop-up that offers more details on the product.
The shinier, younger cousin of augmented reality (AR), projected holograms can further grant people the ability to pull products out of the ad and into their current space, interacting with them in their own dimension. Whoa. What does that mean? Well, let’s say you’re shopping for a mobile phone, and stumble across a VR ad that allows you to hold and manipulate different phones with your very own hands. It also allows you to check out how they look on you in various settings or outfits. In fact, you’d be surprised to find many companies are already enlisting the help of VR production services to perfect this feature — check out the works of expert Singapore VR companies or established animation studios like CraveFX!
Remember the Black Mirror episode “Striking Vipers”? Characters’ consciousness are momentarily absorbed into the bodies of their avatars in the game. Sinister implications aside, this is a reality Meta strives to achieve, and one that major gaming platforms like Epic are already beginning to explore.
In a vast, connected, and limitless world, games will offer more natural interactions – and the number of players will no longer be restricted. With an unprecedented level of immersiveness, playing as your avatar would count as a vivid and real live experience – much like dreaming with your eyes wide open. You’d also be able to project holograms of your games into your surroundings, so that you can pull up your favourite board game anytime, anywhere – kind of like Doraemon and his pouch, come to think of it.
Facebook Meta is proving to be the ultimate embodiment of what technology set out to be in the first place—to connect and unlock limitless creations. If executed and received correctly, the metaverse could be the long-awaited tool we use to infuse the beauty of human interaction into the digital realm. Little by little, the world shifts every day, and the sci-fi-sounding daydream of the metaverse isn’t all that out of reach after all.