Last week’s Meta Connect started off promising on the gaming front. Viewers got release dates for Iron Man VR, an upcoming Quest game that was previously a PS VR exclusive, as well as Among Us VR. Meta, which owns Facebook, also announced that it was acquiring three major VR game studios — Armature Studio, Camouflaj Team, and Twisted Pixel — although we don’t know what they’re working on just yet.
- What was Meta Connect missing?
- Games vs. the metaverse
- The future of Meta and gaming isn’t looking good
Unfortunately, that’s where the Meta Connect’s gaming section mostly ended. Besides tiny glimpses and a look into fitness, video games were not the show’s focus. Instead, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wanted to focus on what seemed to be his company’s real vision of VR’s future, which involves a lot of legs and a lot of work with the Quest Pro, a mixed reality headset that’ll cost a whopping $1,500.
It’s a notable narrative shift for the tech, one that might leave video game players confused about if VR is for them anymore. When Oculus first started making a splash in the 2010s with its headset prototypes and, eventually, its Oculus Rift system, many wondered if it was finally time for video games’ VR dreams to come to fruition. Things actually seemed to be on their way at a slow and flawed pace. However, ever since Meta bought Oculus in 2014, it’s been slowly integrating it into its own big-picture goal of going beyond just being a mere social network and becoming a place where people just exist. And that seemingly means deemphasizing video games as a core goal of the tech … at least in Meta’s world, with the Quest Pro as its signifier.
What was Meta Connect missing?
We already knew that Meta was diving deep into the metaverse (it’s in the name, after all). Horizon Worlds, the company’s metaverse app, is technically a video game. Its website touts cartoonish social hangouts, concerts with the likes of Post Malone, and the chance to build your own world. If you didn’t know any better, it would look like a straight-up Fortnite competitor.
But according to executives’ messaging, that’s not the software’s true potential. In 2021, Meta introduced Horizon Workrooms — just put on your headset, create your avatar, and meet with your co-workers in a virtual conference room. Sure, you can do all of that with videoconferencing software like Google Meet or Zoom, but what if you can do it in virtual reality? Isn’t that the future?
The Connect centered around this idea by having the new Quest Pro take up the bulk of the presentation. This headset has some impressive technology that allows the user to interact with elements in the real world while in VR. However, it costs $1,500 and is set to release this month. It’s an unbelievable move considering even Zuckerberg admitted to The Verge that the technology is still years away from being “fully mature.”
Based on the Meta Connect and subsequent smaller announcements, there are very few experiences that show off the Quest Pro’s improved passthrough technology. I Expect You to Die, the VR cooperative game, is getting an expansion called Home Sweet Home. It’s described as a “mixed reality mini mission” where players will interact with real-world objects while using the headset. There was also a quick demo showcasing Beat Saber being played in mixed reality, but it didn’t show off anything novel or unique to the Quest Pro.
Video games, or rather, video game experiences, felt like an afterthought in Meta’s grand plan. Beyond Among Us VR getting a release date and the announcement that Iron Man VR was hitting Oculus for the first time, the other news bits emphasized metaverse-like features. Population: One, a VR battle royale, is getting a sandbox mode, allowing players to create their own maps and game modes.
Other interactive Quest experiences that got airtime were related to fitness. Exercise is great for VR because the headset allows for different types of movement than a user would normally get working out from home. It can also make exercise more visually appealing by allowing users to float through gorgeous landscapes or box against more realistic opponents. Meta also announced its Quest Active Pack would be released this year, giving people accessories specifically for working out in VR.
Finally, there’s Microsoft. CEO Satya Nadella popped up during the Connect to reveal that Xbox Cloud Gaming will be coming to the Quest soon, although we don’t have a release date just yet. However, this was a footnote for the rest of Microsoft’s news, which involved bringing Teams, Office, and other Windows applications to the Quest.
The Oculus (now Meta) brand started with hardware made for game developers, and the Oculus Store is filled with games and apps that regular players can use with their headsets. With the Meta rebrand and the upcoming Quest Pro’s focus on enterprise, it feels like gaming is becoming less of a focus, even amid some studio acquisitions.
Games vs. the metaverse
Facebook was always a social platform, and according to Zuckerberg, that’s why the company has pivoted so hard into building its metaverse. He feels like it’ll be the future of the internet, the next step from browser windows and 2D screens.
“The defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence — like you are right there with another person or in another place,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post soon after Meta’s rebrand. “Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate dream of social technology.”
The big reason why Facebook bought Oculus in the first place was to use VR to expand social connectivity online. But games still played a big role in that. “Oculus’ mission is to enable you to experience the impossible. Their technology opens up the possibility of completely new kinds of experiences. Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t be changing and we hope to accelerate,” Zuckerberg said in a statement following Meta’s purchase of Oculus.
“But this is just the start. After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences.”
Games are, of course, still a part of Meta’s structure. Video games and other Quest Store apps also still bring in money — $1.5 billion to date, with one-third of the titles grossing more than $1 million in sales (via TechCrunch). However, company messaging says the future is defined by two things: Horizon Worlds and the Quest Pro. And both show that the metaverse isn’t ready for prime time.
While Meta says using Horizon Worlds for meeting up with co-workers will be the future of work, a report from The Verge says the app is so buggy that Meta employees refuse to use it despite being told to by higher-ups. The Quest Pro is another bizarre move from the company. It costs $1,500 for a headset (have I mentioned that already?) and doesn’t have many features separate from the much cheaper Quest 2. Based on initial impressions, its weight is more balanced, it has an improved display and controllers, and it still works with Oculus games. Of course, the big showcase is for passthrough, and while it goes a long way to helping users feel less isolated in VR — and can be used for some unique gaming experiences — it’s not worth the hefty price tag Meta is charging if you use VR more casually. For players who are already spending hundreds of dollars on consoles and games, the existence of the Quest Pro is not only unnecessary, but exclusionary.
I’m not disputing that VR has applications outside of gaming, including in the medical and automotive fields. There are professional areas where VR and AR can be useful. But VR gaming has only been growing. Transparency Market Research expects it to grow by 32.3% by 2031, while Zippia estimates the market will increase from $7.7 billion to $26.9 billion by 2027. Meta was able to corner the consumer VR market with the cordless and affordable Quest 2. With its active move away from consumer-friendly video games with the Quest Pro, we’re left with the upcoming PlayStation VR2, the expensive Valve Index, and other lesser-known headsets to fill the void.
The future of Meta and gaming isn’t looking good
In response to criticism about its long-term pivot toward virtual workspaces, Zuckerberg and other executives have said this is just the first stage in a long-term, multiyear plan to remake the internet. Zuckerberg himself said that the metaverse is the internet’s “next chapter.”
But the company’s messaging has been all over the place, especially regarding how video games fit into that future. Of course, a lot can be said about how it’s discussed the metaverse regarding work, too. But considering virtual reality has seen a lot of use in games, and is only poised to grow with the release of the PS VR2, it seems odd — albeit not surprising — that Meta would give it the bare amount of attention at an annual presentation. For a company that wants to bring people together, Meta is focusing a lot on work, buying digital clothes, legs (which, as we found out, aren’t as ready as the presentation made it seem), and Microsoft Office, while missing out on one of the biggest ways people socialize in the 21st century. Instead of releasing $1,500 headsets with no practical applications or even great tech demos, Meta should take a look at what made the technology so great in the first place and not alienate a huge part of its audience.
Despite the dreams of VR users who saw it as the next frontier for video games, reality is currently saying otherwise.