Internal Fighting At Facebook Over Broken Metaverse

Mark Zuckerberg's Horizon World's avatar stands in front of a dumpster fire.

Image: Balloon / Facebook / Kotaku (Getty Images)

According to a report by The VergeMeta’s Horizon Worlds metaverse app is so terrible, even the people making it don’t want to use it. So if you woke up this morning thinking, “I wonder if anyone’s figured out what the metaverse is for?” you can rest assured, it’s still nope.

Horizon Worlds is, according to these memos, “a synchronous social network where creators can build engaging worlds.” Which is to say, it’s Second Life, but in VR, and with Meta branding. The groundbreaking promises of a metaverse have always been as ambiguous and elusive as fairy dust, with no one ever able to say concretely what makes it special or different to online spaces that have been around for decades. And despite gambling everything on it in a world where anyone under 30 doesn’t know what a Facebook is, it seems Meta’s attempts to make sense of it are going so badly that the creators themselves don’t bother using it.

The Verge say they have seen an internal memos from within Meta (née Facebook) that discuss how their flagship VR app for the so-called “metaverse”—according to feedback from playtesters—is so riddled with bugs, “quality issues,” and “papercuts ,” that it’s “too hard for our community to experience the magic of Horizon.”

“For many of us, we don’t spend that much time in Horizon and our dogfooding dashboards show this pretty clearly,” The Verge says the VP of Metaverse, Vishal Shah, wrote in a memo sent to staff last month. (Dogfooding is, I have learned, staff using a product before it’s released to the public.) “Why is that?” he continues. “Why don’t we love the product we’ve built so much that we use it all the time? The simple truth is, if we don’t love it, how can we expect our users to love it?”

There’s something so gloriously horrible about these alleged internal communications being written in language that suggests a rictus smile and gritted teeth.

This all comes in the wake of last month’s hilarious multi-clown car pile-up when Meta’s Grand High Poobah, Mark Zuckerberg, tweeted out the colossally awful avatar graphics Horizon was to sport. These sub-Nintendo Wii Mii-likes were rapidly retconned, with promises of improved visages that brought the application up to the PS3 era, but the damage was done. Meanwhile, it seems, these internal memos were flying around Meta HQ, demanding to know why its own staff weren’t logging in.

“Everyone in this organization should make it their mission to fall in love with Horizon Worlds,” these agonizing memos from Shah are claimed to continue. “You can’t do that without using it. Get in there. Organize times to do it with your colleagues or friends, in both internal builds but also the public build so you can interact with our community.”

Oh it’s like bathing in a tub of schadenfreude. Commanding staff to start loving a thing, even though just two weeks earlier it was lamented that external feedback made clear the project was unusably bad. If only they’d just damn well love it into being better!

Perhaps the most damning line from these memos The Verge say they’ve read comes when Shah is venting on how employees are not working collaboratively, failing to “operate with enough flexibility.” He goes on to say,

“I want to be clear on this point. We are working on a product that has not found product market fit. If you are on HorizonI need you to fully embrace ambiguity and change.”

The “metaverse,” so frequently promised by anyone looking to raise some venture capital for their web3 concept, is an ethereal idea, untroubled by the specifics of reality during a funding round. It’s only when someone has to sit down and start converting all that gobbledegook into actual code and graphics that the mirage is revealed.

This is a brutal reality that Meta is apparently trying to fight with the power of love. Perhaps next month they’ll try wishing.

Meta responded to us after the weekend. We asked if it was able to confirm or deny the content of the memos, which it chose not to do. A spokesperson did, however, offer the following statement:

“We’re confident that the metaverse is the future of computing and that it should be built around people. Of course we are always making quality improvements and acting on the feedback from our community of creators. This is a multiyear journey, and we’re going to keep making what we build better.”

It’s an interesting response, in that it certainly doesn’t deny the veracity of the memos, and could be interpreted as suggesting that they’re acknowledging there’s…room for improvement.

Since the memos were revealed, The New York Times has published a piece reporting further on the in-fighting at Meta regarding Horizon Worlds. Speaking to more than a dozen current and former employees, the NYT reports that much of the frustration in the current development is due to the “whim” of Zuckerberg, saying his priorities regularly change, leading to “high turnover and frequent shuffling of employees.”

The NYT also reports that John Carmack, id Software cofounder and current consulting CTO at Reality Labs (formerly Oculus), has “objected to Mr. Zuckerberg’s approach to the metaverse,” saying on a podcast in August that the amount of money lost last year on metaverse projects ($10 billion) made him “sick to my stomach.” He also, according to The New York Times, posted on internal message boards complaining about how the various Quest headsets insist on software updates before being possible to use. Carmack, apparently, wants the company to focus on user experience, while Meta’s chief technology officer, Andrew Bosworth, wants to focus on “business opportunities.”

Updated: 10/10/22, 00.00am ET: This article was updated to add a response from Meta regarding this story, and to add details from The New York Times‘ new piece revealing more internal information.

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