There are times when I’m convinced that Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has a death wish.
The reasons include uneven moderation, large numbers of scam ads, a corporate structure that gives too much power to the CEO – who often seems out of control – and what appears to be a war on governments. None of these, let alone all of them, bode well for the company’s future. But when it comes to the Metaverse, I often wonder if the plan is to kill it before it is even fully formed.
The success of social media platforms so far has been based on first making them free while getting people addicted to them, and then monetizing the addiction. As savvy observers say, if the product is free, then you’re the product. It is a solid strategy that Meta appears to be casting aside in its heavy minimization approach to the Metaverse.
To say that Meta’s efforts with the Metaverse is unfocused and lacking any connection to the customers is just one aspect of the problem. Another is that Meta appears to be on the path of repeating Facebook’s greatest hits in terms of colossal mistakes.
In addition, most recently Meta announced it will take a 50% cut on items sold in its Metaverse, making Apple’s excessive charges for its app store seem rather benign in contrast. With the path it’s on, Meta may kill the Metaverse before it is even launched, let alone mature.
Let’s explore what Facebook is up to this week.
Building a New Immersive Platform
Like any new technology, the Metaverse is long on promise and short on actual capabilities. Successful efforts like NVIDIA’s Omniverse are very focused on what the Metaverse does well today, and that is simulation. You could argue that major multiplayer games like Fortnite and No Man’s Sky are Metaverse-like, and some do have in-game purchases, but a great deal of effort is put into not making the games appear too expensive before they get a critical mass of dedicated players.
The business model first attracts people to the platform. Once it is successful, it explores creative ways to further monetize the platform once it reaches this critical step. Abusive monetization should always be avoided but, if you are going to do it, it will work far better if you wait until people are hooked on the property before introducing that aspect.
The old “the first one is free” approach seems to work very well for properties that enable in-game purchases, particularly those that ensure the purchases won’t distract from the experience of using the platform.
Once mature, you can back out programs that alienate people, make adjustments real-time to optimize revenue and user population, and generally fine-tune the offer. But if you change too much before the platform is even launched, you run the very real risk of alienating your audience and causing your new platform to be stillborn without a critical mass of users.
Currently, Meta is losing massive amounts of money, and it seems like the effort is actively scaring off those that would otherwise use it. On its current trajectory, it may become the most expensive failed effort in the history of technology largely because users seem to be locked out of the creation effort.
The technology appears to be decades behind what companies like NVIDIA have shown is possible, and is heavily dependent on VR Glasses that aren’t yet ideal. It’s also based on prosthetics, which killed 3D TV, all of which may mean it becomes the most expensive technology mistake of this century before long.
Keep an Eye on Your Audience
When developing a high-profile project like the Metaverse, you need three things: A very clear idea of what your audience will accept; you need to initially focus on getting to a critical mass of users before playing around with monetization (particularly abusive monetization); and the people who will be paying for the service should be helping you create it.
Meta is missing the mark on every point. It looks too expensive before anyone has even seen the final product, making it likely Meta will never get to a critical mass of users. A failure of this magnitude could set back the creation of the Metaverse for consumers a decade or more by massively overcharging and disappointing them. This failure would once again highlight why giving a CEO, any CEO, near absolute control while they are still learning the job to be an incredibly foolish mistake, one we are experiencing in real-time with the likely failed birth of Meta’s Metaverse.