Meta doesn’t seem to know that its VR headsets are game consoles

Meta changed its name because it wanted you to forever associate it with the nascent metaverse. The material it produces is meant to be our window into this metaverse. When you pick up a Meta Quest 2 headset and slide it over your head, you’re going to gasp and gently wonder with this new virtual world. But I installed Meta Quest 2 to play Beat Saber the Tetris or maybe Pistol Whip. It’s not a terminal in the metaverse – it’s a game console. And I don’t think Meta realizes that.

Earlier this week, my extremely eponymous colleague Alex Heath mentioned Meta’s VR and AR headset roadmap. There are smart glasses that sound almost identical to the ones North made in 2019, only Meta’s will be controlled via a neural interface when they launch in two years. There’s an extremely ambitious AR headset codenamed Orion that will apparently “project high-quality hologram avatars into the real world” and launch in 2027. These projects are costly big changes for the Meta and its axis in the metaverse, and this will it should be exciting. It wasn’t until late last year that we got Meta’s first major conversion, the then-$1,499 Meta Quest Pro. The product was an absolute boondoggle of a device. Its companion software, Horizon World, it’s so bad that even the people who make it don’t want to use it. This software is supposed to be the gateway to the metaverse. If it sucks, Meta’s take on the metaverse is pretty much stuck in the water.

But as bad as Meta is in the metaverse so far, the company is actually pretty good in VR. VR, of course, is supposed to be a component of the metaverse, but judging by its existing product line, that’s not where Meta is good at. It’s good at making a console that people want to play games on. According The lipAccording to his own report, Mark Rabkin, Meta’s vice president of VR, told staff that Meta has sold over 20 million Quest headsets so far. This includes both the Quest and the Quest 2. IDC previously estimated that Meta has sold about 15 million Quest 2 headsets, which likely means that the Quest 2 makes up the majority of the headsets sold. That seems like a small number, but the Nintendo GameCube only sold 21 million consoles in its entire lifespan, and the Xbox Series X and S are estimated to have sold around 20 million consoles so far.

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So if you look at the Quest 2, which most people use to play games, as a gaming console, it’s done pretty well. And I think we should look at it as a game console. Meta may have big ambitions for VR headsets and their place in the metaverse, but the reality is that the flagship software in Quest 2 is all games. Early adopters of VR in the consumer space are buying headsets to play games. Devices like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR (which sold an estimated 5 million headsets by 2020) were adopted by consumers to play video games, not to build an impossible metaverse.

And the push for the Quest 2 to become a metaverse device didn’t really resonate with consumers. Rabkin told staff that “unfortunately, the younger cohorts coming in, the people who bought it last Christmas, just don’t love it” as much as the early adopters. These early adopters were eager to play games, and that’s what they saw when they wore the headset. New users see ads for things like Horizon Worldswhich, again, is so bad even the people who make it don’t want to play it.

And while Meta gives users metaverse experiences, it ignores this core player audience and doesn’t do much to build it. Beat Saber, arguably VR’s killer app, is four years old, and no other VR game has really captured the zeitgeist in quite the same way. People don’t see their friends playing admittedly great games like Pistol Whip and run out and buy a Quest 2. If they did, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. The platform has not Super Mario Bros. the The last of us driving adoption.

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Steam and Sony know full well that killer AAA gaming experiences are essential for a VR platform. That’s why we have great titles like Half-Life: Alyx and Horizon Call of the Mountain. They invest in both software and hardware. Meta is not. He has bought several studios (incl Beat Saber‘s) and then doing things like announcing the release of two years of games on Meta Connect or shutting down the servers for one of the first multiplayer hits on the platform. That last one was a move so upsetting that former Meta VR evangelist John Carmack publicly chided the company in a blog:

Even if there are only ten thousand active users, corruption of this user value should be avoided if possible. Your company suffers more when you take something valuable away from a user than you gain by providing something equally valuable to them or others.

Carmack’s words aren’t just notable because he’s the former consulting CTO at Meta. It also helped create the video game industry and created huge, enduring hits such as Fate, Earthquakeand Wolfenstein 3D. Unlike Meta, Carmack seems to understand that telling people you’re going to remove their games to free up bandwidth to work on a metaverse that nobody particularly wants yet is a bad idea.

And boy, I wish Meta had that because right now, they’re working on their third set of Quest headsets, and if they were a gaming company, they might realize that they’re about to make the same mistake that other tech companies that moved into game consoles.

The price of the PS3 at launch was so high that it cost Sony critical ground in its war against the Xbox 360, and in the US, it meant that the Xbox 360 won the console wars of that generation. Quest 3 is expected to do the same thing – cost more than its predecessor at launch. While Meta hasn’t announced a price for the Quest 3, Rabkin told staff that it’s expected to cost consumers “a little more” money than the Quest 2 currently does. Quest 2, by the way, actually costs more now than it did at launch. So while a base model of the Quest 2 originally started at $299, the Quest 3 will cost upwards of $399 at launch.

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Meta hopes to explain this price increase by showing off all the cool features of the Quest 3 over the Quest 2. “We have to prove to people that all this power, all these new features are worth it,” Rabkin told staff . And according to the presentation he gave, which my colleague Alex Heath mentioned, the plan is to present it with mixed reality. “The key north star for the team was from the moment you put that headset on, mixed reality has to make it feel better, easier, more natural.”

This plan to focus on something new and different instead of the games that made the console thrive is very similar to what Microsoft did when it launched the Xbox One. This device came with an IR blaster! It had a coax line so you could use it as a cable box. Microsoft introduced the Xbox One as a home theater PC that also played games. And gamers just went and bought the Playstation 4.

If the goal is to build the mixed reality audience from a more expensive console that focuses on less proven experiences, then gaming is… unlikely to do it, especially considering that the current big, expensive mixed reality headset doesn’t it’s going so well. dropping its price only five months after launch. A fourth headset is expected in 2024, which ideally will “pack the biggest punch we can at the most attractive price point in the consumer VR market,” Rabkin said. But in 2023, it sounds like we’ll be stuck with a very expensive game console that wants to take us on a journey that most people just aren’t interested in yet.

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