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Metaverse November 29, 2022

Meta’s Metaverse Bleeds Investor Billions

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Meta's Metaverse Bleeds Investor Billions

Meta lost $9.4 billion in the first nine months of the year in its metaverse unit Reality Labs and sees significantly wider operating losses going forward. But its not just Meta that is suffering in the technology sector. A slowing economy have seen companies cutting marketing budgets. 

To make the ambitious dream of creating a metaverse a reality, just about a year ago Facebook/Meta announced it was hiring 10,000 software engineers over the next five years – the biggest ever hire in tech history – to build its metaverse, a mix of reality, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) realms.

The technology giant’s valuation at the time was close to $1 trillion, a princely market capitalisation usually reserved for the US’ premier blue chip corporates like Apple.

“Digital goods will be an important way to express yourself in the metaverse and a big driver of the creative economy. I am excited to bring more brands and bring VR soon too,” Zuckerberg said at the time.

Yet barely a year after Mark Zuckerberg’s big Meta presentation, the company’s stock has plunged by more than 70%, bleeding investors billions.

Now, Meta is worth only $300 billion, just a third of its market value a year ago.

Old Facebook Profitable While Meta's Metaverse Bleeds Investor Billions

Analysts and industry experts say Zuckerberg’s fixation with the metaverse has come at a high price for the company.

“The obsession with the (metaverse) project has done tremendous harm to the brand,” CircleIt founder and CEO Art Shaikh tells MetaNews.

In the quarter to September, revenue came down 4% from $29 billion to $27.7 billion.

Meta’s results have raised questions on whether Zuckerberg’s all-in bet on the metaverse was the smartest play and whether its gamble on the future will pay off eventually.Old Facebook Profitable While Meta's Metaverse Bleeds Investor Billions“Meta’s results …was an absolute train wreck that speaks to pervasive digital advertising doldrums ahead for Zuckerberg & Co as they make the risky and head scratching bet on the metaverse,” Wedbush analysts Dan Ives said in its report.

Concerns have also been raised on whether Meta can transform itself into a virtual reality behemoth and power the company’s next phase of growth.

Analysts say such strategic pivots take a while for big tech companies to implement and reap financial benefits from in the near term.

“Every new technology takes years to first convince the marketplace of users, workers and investors, and then to create something that captures the imagination of the marketplace,” Jeff Kagan, a technology industry analyst tells MetaNews.

Meta lost $9.4 billion in the first nine months of the year in its Reality Labs, its metaverse unit and sees significantly wider operating loss in fiscal year 2023 (FY23).

But its not just Meta that is suffering in the technology sector. A slowing economy have seen companies cutting marketing budgets. 

Even tech companies like Alphabet, the parent company of Google, have not been spared with top line earnings declining in the period to $54.5 billion from $56.3 billion.

What went wrong with the meta pivot?

“It was a matter of timing”, Kagan says.

“The metaverse was still in its early years and the marketplace of users and investors simply had no clue what to expect,” Kagan says.

“That is where Facebook or Meta was wrong. They moved too quickly. They jumped over too many important steps. That is why this company is stuck in the metaverse mud today.”

But Zuckerberg painted a picture of an entity holding a fort in the market. 

User engagement for its apps is at its peak, he says. A total of 3.7 billion people now use one of Meta’s apps monthly. The number of people using Facebook, Meta’s flagship application, is the highest it has ever been, he says.

Instagram has more than 2 billion monthly actives while Whatsapp, its messenger application service, has more than 2 billion daily actives.

Its Reels product, a video sharing service positioned to compete with Tik Tok that is integrated into the Facebook application, is also doing well, he added.

This number represents a 50% growth in the past six months, he said.

All the numbers look promising elsewhere except in Meta’s new baby, the Metaverse.

Horizon Worlds, the name of Meta’s new virtual space, slashed its target for monthly active users to only 280,000 monthly from an initial 500,000. In reality, the space is only attracting about 200,000 people at the time of writing.

Investors are getting increasingly impatient with Zuckerberg and his metaverse.

Old Facebook Profitable While Meta's Metaverse Bleeds Investor Billions

What will it be? Facebook 2.0? Or something completely different?

While it generally takes longer in Silicon Valley to build a business, Wall Street tends to value businesses based on nearer returns rather than foggier forecasts that stretch out for years.

It’s a view Kagan shares too.

“However, every new technology takes years to first convince the marketplace of users, workers and investors, and then to create something that captures the imagination of the marketplace,” Kagan says.

“Smartphones had been with us for more than a decade or two to one degree or another with Blackberry, Palm Pilot and others. The marketplace now understood the smartphone marketplace, so when the Apple iPhone and Google Android were released, they were an instant success.”

Even Zuckerberg realises this now.

“There is still a long road ahead to build the next computing platform, but we are clearly doing leading work here,” he said. “This is a massive undertaking and it will often take a few versions of each product before they become mainstream.”

If he gets it rights, he reckons it is going to be of “historic importance”, adding it will create an entirely new way humans interact with each other “as well as a foundation for the long term of our business.” 

Rumors of Zuckerberg stepping down

For the first time in years rumors that Zuckerberg could be made to walk the plank, have emerged as investor concerns rise with falling earnings.

Meta's Metaverse Bleeds Investor Billions

Infinity, or a pair of glasses?

Meta’s director of communications, Andy Stone, made the unusual decision to publicly respond to unsubstantiated market rumors that claimed Zuckerberg could step down as the group’s CEO during 2023. 

In response to the rumor, Stone wrote on Twitter, “this is false.”

For FY23, Zuckerberg is being coy about the metaverse, preferring to focus on what he described as a “small number of high priority growth areas.”

This, he says, will involve working on the “AI discovery engine powering Reels”  and other “recommendation experiences, our ads and business messaging platforms and the metaverse.”

In a way, it is a return to the basics.

Also Meta is laying off 13% of its staff, or more than 11000 employees, Zuckerberg announced last week.

“Layoffs might appease investors for a bit, but the overall move away from the metaverse project and focusing on core revenue generating products will be the only way to save things,” Kagan concluded.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney.

Business

Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within

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Meta Reportedly Defeats FTC to Receive Court Approval to Acquire Within

Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, has reportedly won court approval for the acquisition of VR fitness app Supernatural’s maker, Within, after the Federal Trade Commission attempted to block the deal.

Also read: Lawsuit Filed Against Meta, Snap, TikTok for Mental Health Crisis

A US district judge, Edward Davila in San Jose California, “denied the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the proposed transaction” in a sealed decision on Wednesday, reported Bloomberg, citing a source familiar with the ruling.

Meta’s plan was to acquire Within and Supernatural back in October 2021, but it was blocked by the FTC’s complaint file to stop the deal. The FTC’s complaint was justified by saying Meta already owns a “virtual reality empire.”

Following the news, shares of Meta were slightly positive on Wednesday afternoon.

Facebook and The FTC also declined to comment with Bloomberg’s query citing the sealed nature of Davila’s decisions.

Push for Metaverse

The reported victory in this case may boost Mark Zuckerberg’s push towards the Metaverse. Zuckerberg’s Meta Quest 2 is arguably the best VR headset, even after a massive hike in its price last year.

Meta Quest Pro for $1500 and Meta Quest 3 are also in the company’s VR line-up, which has already developed VR spaces for work and play.

The Supernatural, developed by Within, was one of the first subscription-based services on the original Meta Quest.

Supernatural, a fitness app that features video instructors and motion-tracked workout routines, carries similarities to Meta’s successful fitness VR music game Beat Saber. Beat Saber was also acquired by Meta in 2019.

 Meta’s Dominance

A trial before the FTC’s administrative judge will start on Feb. 13. The FTC will also decide if it will continue with the case. Lina Khan, the chair of the FTC, was appointed by US President Joe Biden to bolster antitrust enforcement as a key principle of his administration’s economic policy. Hence, if this order stands, this loss to Meta will be a significant setback for Khan.

The FTC sued Meta back in July, arguing this acquisition would expand its dominance in the consumer VR market, highlighting its purchase of Beat Saber three years ago. The agency even emphasized that the addition of Within would even eliminate a “beneficial rivalry” between the two companies.

At the time, “the case was) based on ideology and speculation, not evidence, the idea that this acquisition would lead to anticompetitive outcomes in a dynamic space with as much entry and growth as online and connected fitness is simply not credible,” said a Meta spokesperson in a statement.

It’s still to be decided whether this will be the end of this story or not, as the FTC has declined to comment.

“Out of respect for the court’s orders, the FTC is not in a position to comment at this time,” FTC director of public affairs Douglas Farrar told The Verge.

Within would be the third start-up acquired by social media giants over the last decade if this case ends here and Meta purchases one more VR start-up. Previously, Meta acquired Oculus in 2014 before purchasing Beat Saber in 2019.

 

 

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AI

How AI Can Accelerate Metaverse Development

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How AI Can Accelerate Metaverse Development

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to accelerate the creation and development of the metaverse, with multiple companies including Nvidia, Google, and OpenAI creating AI-powered 3D tools.

The public is already familiar with chatbots and AI-image generators, both of which can be leveraged to speed up development cycles for the metaverse. Text-to-3D generators, among other type of 3D generators, accelerate that process still further, and empower enthusiasts to channel their creative urges in new arenas. 

The filling the metaverse problem

In the earliest days of the internet most users passively consumed the world wide web as they surfed from site to site. The emergence of social media empowered users to share their own content, and the internet experienced a cambrian explosion of information. 

Filling the metaverse means learning the lessons of the early internet all over again argues Rev Lebaredian, VP for omniverse and simulation technology at Nvidia. This time, however, ordinary people will need greater levels of assistance to create the content.

“We’re able to fill the internet with interesting stuff because everybody is capable of taking a picture, recording a video, or writing words,” said Lebaredian on January 27. “If we are going to create a 3D internet, then you absolutely have to have the people who are participating in it creating content as well, and the only hope we have of making that happen is if AI can help us.”

Nvidia holds the belief that AI and the metaverse are intrinsically linked, and that both rely heavily upon each other.

“Just as AI is crucial to the expansion of the metaverse, so too is the metaverse to the expansion of AI,” explains Gavriel State, director of the system software team at NVIDIA.

“Digital twins in the metaverse are providing physically accurate virtual environments that allow developers to simulate and test AI,” says State before concluding, “Generative AI is key to scaling these digital twins and virtual environments that will usher in a new era of AI and the metaverse.”

The here and now

Sean Ellul, co-founder of the 3D development studio Metaverse Architects, is a big believer in transformative potential of AI-generated content.

In a recent interview with TIME Ellul revealed how his own firm has incorporated ChatGPT into a multitude of everyday tasks including brainstorming creative ideas, writing code and composing texts for decks and emails. 

“I can’t stress how helpful this has been to us,” says Ellul who has gone all-in on AI, using it as regularly as most internet users use Google. 

Ellul also takes the process one step further by prompting MidJourney to create floor plans for buildings which he can then use a template for 3D models. It’s a process which would undoubtedly be a little too complex for the average person, but it’s a powerful time-saving technique for Ellul and his team.

Case in point, the following floor plan was created from the Ellul prompt: “create a floor plan sketch with measurements and dimensions of a house plan built on one floor including two bedrooms three bathrooms kitchen and living and a garden. Include furnishing.” 

AI floorplan

House floorplan created using MidJourney

Ellul also uses MidJourney to help him create virtual non-player characters (NPCs). In one example Ellul used 9 different female faces to create a composite image with MidJourney. The resulting image produced a fresh-faced nordic female with blonde hair.

Ellul then returns to ChatGPT to find out who this young woman is. Ellul prompts ChatGPT to “generate a backstory for a 24-year-old woman from a tiny village in a fantasy setting who works at an inn.”

ChatGPT suggests that the woman is named Elspeth, and that she, “worked as a farmhand, a blacksmith’s apprentice, and even as a barmaid in a bustling city town. But no matter where she went, she always felt like something was missing.”

Elspeth created by AI

Meet Elspeth

Tools to make it happen

The challenge for AI is to transform a character such as Elspeth from a 2D image and chatbot-inspired biography into a fully realized character in three dimensions

The field is not short of competitors who are creating tools to make that dream reality.

In November Nvidia announced Magic3D, a high-resolution text-to-3D image generator. According to Nvidia the tool is capable of transforming a text prompt into a fully-realized 3D model in 40 minutes.

In December OpenAI released its own 3D image generator called Point-E. Google also has its own text-to-3D tool, DreamFusion.

At the moment there remain limits to what these tools can accomplish on their own with significant human intervention and expertise in the fields of 3D modeling. The question, therefore, is how long until that is no longer true.

According to Nvidia’s Lebaredian a future in which every person can create their own virtual worlds with the help of AI assistants is not too far away.

“I would say ten years from now, I’m fairly certain that most people are going to be able to create high quality 3D content just by talking to the computer,” says Lebaredian. “And I’m bullish that it’s going to happen much earlier.”

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Education

Hiroshima Adopts Metaverse in Education

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Hiroshima Adopts Metaverse in Education
Whether you like it or not, it's happening.

The use of the metaverse is continuously increasing in different sectors, and now it has become a part of university classes in the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The universities of Hiroshima are using this technology as extracurricular activities and part of the classes as well, Japan Times reported.

Also read: Jobs In The Metaverse, Now and Tomorrow

The metaverse allows its users to create avatars to represent themselves while communicating with people from all around the world. Metaverse makes the user feel as if they are talking by looking into each other’s eyes, unlike Zoom and Teams.

Solving Absence Problem

Having such unique features, it has also become the solution for students who are absent from school but still want to attend classes.

“I was feeling distressed and depressed as I only had the chance to speak with my family during my absence from school,” said Noa, a 16-year-old first-year high school student from Hiroshima.

But the time has changed, she was able to participate in a program even while being absent from school through the use of a virtual setup.

“I could spend quality time while feeling relaxed,” she said after taking part in a program held last fall in a metaverse to support absentees from school.

Three people attended that program organized by a local group to make up for absent students.

Noa entered the metaverse as a female avatar with cat ears and travelled with other attendees to hear high school students share their experiences of being absent from school.

The virtual world, also offers a solution for those who hesitate to speak up in reality. It provides a platform where individuals can communicate without psychological barriers, as they feel more comfortable with others in the virtual world.

Hiroshima Adopts Metaverse in Education

“Students who were silent at first could make a presentation on a (virtual) stage in the end,” said Kenichi Okamura, 23, head of the group that organized the program. “I really felt the potential of the metaverse.”

The Hiroshima Prefecture board of education has partnered with the non-profit organization Katariba in Tokyo to offer metaverse-related activities as a learning option for students, per Japan Times.

University Classes in Metaverse

Not, just the bridge for the school absentees, metaverse has also became the topic of university classes in Japan.

“By looking ahead with neofuturistic perspectives, I wanted to try and see how the classes can be expanded,” said Hiroaki Kanoe, a professor of science education at Hijiyama University in Hiroshima, who taught parts of some classes in the metaverse last year.

Kanoe asked third-year students about how the metaverse can be utilized in education during his virtual seminar with them.

Kanoe was intrigued when his student became deeply involved in the discussion surrounding the use of metaverse in education. They even proposed having a virtual environment open during summer holidays, which could potentially reduce absenteeism.

“Compared with online classes, you can feel the presence of others as if you are in a classroom,” said Soko Hamaen, 21, a third-year student who attended a class in metaverse.

“I hope to explore the uses of the metaverse while making clear the purpose of what to do with the technology, instead of jumping at it only because it is new,” said Kanoe.

With the value of the industry estimated to be worth $13 trillion by 2030, the metaverse is being expanded into different areas of livelihood.

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