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Opinion: Let Me Tell You Why Zuckerberg is Burning So Much Money


Back in June, Mark Zuckerberg announced four VR prototypes to the public, namely: Butterscotch, Starburst, Holocake 2 and Mirror Lake. Delightful and delicious as they sound, I was frankly disappointed to find out what they were all about. As a global metaverse leader, Meta has decided to pour all its resources to over-obsess on just one thing, vision perfection. This is not enough. Meta’s four VR prototypes completely miss the point in setting the industry standards.

The four devices focus on overcoming the four elements of the human visual system: focus, resolution, distortion, and high dynamic range — in order to achieve a level of visual realism that is indistinguishable from reality. Meta calls this the “visual Turing test.”

In order to achieve a full immersive quality in the metaverse, technology leaders must not neglect the other senses: auditory, touch, smell, and vestibular sense (positional awareness and movement). I believe that as an industry we need to focus on creating a virtual reality that is as indistinguishable as possible from the physical reality for all “metaverse five senses.” Only then, the metaverse will become irresistibly compelling to the masses. 

First off, focusing too much on the quality of the visuals is not even realistic for Meta to pull off. Their prototypes cannot be commercialised easily and certainly they will not be ready within a five years time window. 

As a metaverse engineer, I personally cannot imagine how to achieve perfect vision with just a single headset. The headset will become very heavy to accommodate all the necessary computing load. Imagine if the retina-level resolution for Meta headset upgrades from 2K to 8K, supports high HDR, and has refresh rate from 90HZ to 120HZ or more. In order to offer all the qualities above, the headset will require four Nvidia 3090Ti GPU to run with the noise level similar to an aircraft. How terrifying. Most likely the weight of such a device will amount up to 40kg and it will require a huge power consumption. This is simply not an acceptable solution, period. 

Meta seems confident that they will be able to deliver lightweight pancake lens products that resemble glasses more than chunky headsets. Their Holocake 2 and Mirror Lake look seductively sleek and compact, but I am not holding my breath awaiting their arrival. Even Meta themselves admitted in their June announcement that none of the prototypes will be ready in years time, and Meta did not provide any details regarding cost, timeline or projected challenges they must overcome before they can deliver these to the market. 

So why did Meta announce something that will not be fully ready in years? It’s possible that they were trying to get ahead of other competitors like Apple, hoping to be able to point to these prototypes as proof that “they did it first” as other players roll out similar technology.

It is also possible that this announcement is a “promise” of Meta to the public, which is an action to boost their stock prices. Although the commercial viability of the products disclosed will not be ready in the near future, the concept will stoke the imagination of the market, which will help push the stock prices up.

As an international metaverse leader, Meta should not trick the industry with their gimmicks. These prototypes should be presented as what they are: white paper research from their R&D team that is still undergoing industry peer-reviews, not a hyped-up potential product launch. What is the point of a huge tech company coming up with a solution that can’t be commercialised in the short term?

When all other metaverse companies look up to Meta as the leader, their neglect on all these user experience pain points, will misguide many emerging innovative companies.

At STEPVR, we focus on rebuilding the five senses in the metaverse as closely as possible to our physical reality. We have built VR terminals or portals that are better suited to accommodate such a holistic development.

For example, in order to perfect the vestibular sense in the metaverse and to remove motion sickness that plague users when donning heavy headsets, we need a free-roam VR bodysuit that distributes the computing load all over the body, hence lightening the weight of the headset significantly. We need a lot of space to provide a total immersive experience that includes haptics feedback engagement, hence we have focused on launching free-roam arcade stores. In a free-roam large space experience, users are allowed to move as fast as their vision is moving, so this effectively removes motion sickness.

In China, we have opened as many as 140 free-roam arcade stores to play VR games just in the past two years. As opposed to Meta, we have turned cash flow positive just from these gaming stores alone. This success proves how strong the demand is for users to sample a fully immersive VR experience.

In order to solve the limited space issue, we have come up with a breakthrough technology modelled after the movie Ready Player One: GATES 01, a VR portal equipped with an omnidirectional treadmill that allows users to travel distance within a tiny cage area of 3-metre-squares. These units can be installed in the comfort of consumers’ homes, in gyms and fitness centres, offices, shopping malls, and so on.

I do wonder why Zuckerberg is not pushing in all these directions: creating disruptive VR terminals that can engage the five senses in the metaverse, building the infrastructure needed to pave the way for mass user adoption, as well as creating profitable and sustainable business models that become a testament to product-market-fit. 

Elon Musk successfully did that with electric cars. When he first started, people had minimal conception on what it means to be fully living in a world where electric cars are ubiquitous. Elon has gone all out in investing in the infrastructure and the logistics of charging systems and battery storage. Why hasn’t Zuckerberg done the same? Right now all his actions seem to only create whimsical gadgets that only a segment of consumers in the market will purchase out of curiosity.

My guess is this is because it is very challenging for an established social media tech giant to revolutionise its business model. For example, pushing to scale free-roam VR experiences will mean opening physical stores and rerouting VR experience from a mobile to a PC structure that requires more logistical challenges to set up. Imagine having to slash the budget on running Facebook in order to push in this direction. 

Moreover, a machine that restores the vestibular sense will often cost more than US$2000, hence the number of users targeted will no longer be in the tens of millions as the current size of their Oculus market (by the way Meta has yet to release a report on how long users still use their product after the purchase). If they choose to open physical stores and launch disruptive VR terminals, the early adopters will only number in the tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, which will not bring in the fastest and easiest revenue back to Meta. I can imagine that Meta’s managers are unlikely to make such recommendations and reports, and the board of directors and investors are unlikely to approve cutting their profits in order to grow in the long run. 

However, Meta is the world’s leading company in the metaverse, so their every move affects the industry and sets the direction of technological development of many other companies. Just like Apple, back when they first launched iPhone 1, they had created a disruptive smartphone concept that altered users behaviour permanently and became the global standard for other smartphone producers.

Likewise, in order to lead the industry, Meta should create a product just like the first iPhone, not a visual camouflage, but a real delivery.

This article first appeared on The Metaversebuster.

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