What is Meta Horizon Worlds?

What is Meta Horizon Worlds?

Facebook has not just changed its name to Meta. According to Mark Zuckerberg and his colleagues, the renaming is meant to symbolise the creation of a "meta-universe" - a global service offering users a full-fledged experience of being in three-dimensional virtual reality. Its foundation is the Horizon Worlds platform. Here, we'll explain how this VR social network is structured and talk about the future of Facebook's new hypostasis.

Platforms and devices

The company intends to invest up to $10 billion this year alone in the creation of a new reality model, but there's not much concrete information about what this new space will look like.  A unified system of accounts (represented by virtual avatars) will be introduced, covering all of the company's social applications and supported devices. 

The main gadget providing a person's presence in virtual reality could be Oculus Quest, a virtual reality helmet being developed by Oculus VR, also part of Meta. The newest model, Oculus Quest 2 was unveiled in September 2020 at the Facebook Connect conference. This helmet is equipped with 4 cameras that help the user navigate in space. The helmet runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chip and has 6GB of RAM and a 2K resolution LCD screen per eye. Already, Oculus Quest 2 allows you to play supported video games in three-dimensional space, as well as work in individual applications, including working together with other users with similar hardware. In addition to Internet access, it requires a Facebook account and a smartphone with the free Oculus app. 

oculus metaverse
© Ius Vinicius – Unsplash.com

The backbone of the Meta-universe, Horizon Worlds is a social network that not only allows you to interact in virtual reality, play and attend online events, but also to create your own virtual worlds. The platform is integrated with other platforms supported by Oculus: Horizon Workrooms, a collaboration platform, and Horizon Venues, an online event platform. All of these venues will feature a unified account system (represented by virtual avatars - read about them below).

How does the Horizon Worlds VR platform work?

Horizon Worlds was initially tested in a closed invitation-only mode. In December 2021, users in the US and Canada aged 18 and up were given free access; the platform is expected to gradually expand to other countries and regions.

To get into Horizon Worlds, you must have an Oculus VR headset and a Facebook account. Using Oculus controllers, users can navigate through virtual spaces, interact with each other, take part in a variety of experiences offered by the platform, and create their own objects and worlds using an integrated game creation system.

When a person first enters Horizon Worlds, they are encouraged to create and customise their own avatar - their virtual identity. You can customize your body, face, hair and clothing. You can return to changing your avatar at any time.

For now, Horizon allows you to communicate in a virtual space with a maximum of 20 people at a time. The centre of the virtual space is the Plaza, which features portals to user-created worlds. Guides to the virtual space, helping new participants, are the so-called guides - participants who have mastered the rules of behaviour in the "meta universe" and were certified by Meta. They appear at the moment when users get from the Square to the individual worlds.

To create their own objects and worlds, participants have special tools - "building blocks"; the rules and algorithms of interaction in the created worlds are established by means of code fragments - "scripts".

What's next? What about security for users?

In mid-February 2022, Meta announced that Horizon Worlds has now built 10,000 user worlds and its monthly user base has reached 300,000 users. According to Mark Zuckerberg, Meta will launch a mobile version of Horizon this year that will allow more users to experience the "metaworld" - for now, outside of virtual reality.

Shortly after Horizon's launch, it became clear that human interaction in virtual reality would require special regulation and control. Some users had already complained about cases of sexual harassment in the virtual world. Responding to the complaints, Meta launched a "personal boundaries" feature in early 2022 that prohibits VR avatars from getting closer than 1.2 virtual metres to each other. It's logical to assume that moderation and control will expand - much like Facebook and Instagram's social networks. There are no plans to introduce monetisation opportunities for user experiences on Horizon in the foreseeable future.

What does the new Facebook name mean?

Mark Zuckerberg announced the renaming Oct. 28 at the Facebook Connect 2021 event. According to him, the idea for the name came from the novel "Snow Crash" by American science fiction writer Neal Stephenson. In that book, the world of the future is presented as a society controlled by large corporations and united by a common virtual three-dimensional space. The novel has had a great influence on digital culture: for example, the term "avatar" became popular primarily because of this book; "Snow Crash" predetermined the concepts of many experimental models of virtual reality.  

The preparations for the rebranding were kept secret for six months. Zuckerberg said that the need to change the company's name was long overdue: "I think that there was just a lot of confusion and awkwardness about having the company brand be also the brand of one of the social media apps."

What do critics say about Meta?

Facebook has been repeatedly criticized in recent years for possible misuse of account holders' personal information and leaks of their data. According to Zuckerberg, the renaming has nothing to do with the negative information that has accumulated around the Facebook brand.

"Mark Zuckerberg envisioned a Metaverse as a shared, trusted virtual world (...) where people can play virtual games, attend virtual concerts, store online, collect virtual art, communicate through virtual avatars and work together in virtual workspaces", summary of Meta by The New York Times columnist and asks will it all come true?

"It's impossible to say for sure, of course, but I'm personally skeptical that Facebook - that unwieldy bureaucratic machine whose biggest achievements over the past decade have mostly involved buying competing apps or copying their features rather than developing its own ideas within the company - will create an exciting digital universe in which people actually want to spend their time". The Guardian notes: "The Wikipedia page "Criticism of Facebook" has a forbiddingly long contents list, including entries on tax avoidance and copyright violation, right through to traumatising its employees and allowing the publication of content that denies various genocides. Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his company have been busy trying to revamp its image, particularly in the wake of the platform's Cambridge Analytica scandal".

A public survey of Americans conducted by Morning Consult shows that 68% of adult participants in the survey said they were not interested in using Zuckerberg's Metaverse - based on what they know so far about the project. At the same time, 25% of the adult participants in the survey said they had a positive view of Meta, while 40% expressed a negative opinion (about a third, 34%, said they had no opinion). 56% of so-called Generation Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) said they were not interested in the project, while the remaining 44% expressed interest in the Metaverse. It is logical to assume that the corporation under Zuckerberg's leadership is primarily aimed at arousing the sympathy and interest of young people, who are increasingly entering the world of digital technology at a very early age.