the many faces of mark zuckerberg
As Meta’s vision of the metaverse slowly and continually expands, Mark Zuckerberg draws in more criticism online. Last week he announced that the virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds has launched in France and Spain — Horizon Worlds is a free game which the company has so far spent nearly $10 billion developing. The announcement came with a virtual selfie which spotlighted the CEO’s avatar — expressionless and flat — before a pair of unimpressive, scale-less models of the Eiffel Tower and the Sagrada Familia dropped onto a green groundplane. Twitter bursted with comments. ‘Come work for Meta, where the most brilliant technologists of the day have achieved 1995 level graphics,’ one user said.
The negative reaction which followed was not a first for Mark. When Horizon Worlds was first launched in the US and Canada in December 2021, the internet was similarly less-than-impressed. Users’ avatars were rendered as rudimentary, floating torsos, recalling an early 2000s-era video game, especially the Wii with its ‘mii’ avatars which at least had legs. It was not the aesthetic nor the standard one might expect from a billionaire who claims to be ushering in the digital future.
This barrage of mocking disapproval across social media led to a hasty follow-up just four days later, with a carefully updated version of Mark’s metaverse visage with smiling eyes and rosy cheeks. The CEO adds: ‘Major updates to Horizon and avatar graphics coming soon. I’ll share more at Connect. Also, I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic — it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch.’ The dramatic difference in style and quality leaves one to question what the metaverse is actually intended to look like, and what we should realistically expect.
images via Meta
a metaverse: precedents and expectations
By 2022, we have high expectations when it comes to CGI. In cinema, computer-generated graphics are so sophisticated that they can be indistinguishable from reality. Video games can likewise show stunning, ultra-high fidelity visuals. Of course, hi-fi graphics become buggier and harder to render when it comes to open-world and roleplayer games, especially virtual realities like in Horizon Worlds (see here).
Early on in 2003, the game Second Life introduced a virtual world in which users could create unique identities and interact with each other live. Players’ avatars appeared clunky and uncomfortable (see here). In 2017, the multiplayer game Fortnite was released with its vibrant, stylized graphics and customizable skins. In 2021, the updated NoPixel GTA V roleplaying server swept the internet with its seemingly endless range of possibilities and highly customizable characters. To see the depth of options, watch Twitch streamer xQc create one of his GTA 5 RP characters.
what’s going on with the graphics?
When determining the success of these multi-player ‘metaverse’ worlds, it’s important to consider the number of users playing at once, not just the graphic fidelity. As player count increases, graphics are generally lower quality and more prone to glitches. Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode requires 100 players, while its sandbox Creative mode can only host 16 players per server. Meanwhile, the latest NoPixel server accommodates 250 users at once — a massive improvement since 2019 when only 32 users could join.
What leaves onlookers lost is that Meta doesn’t appear to be sacrificing graphic fidelity for player count. When promoting its metaverse, Mark boasts that it will be occupied by hundreds of millions or even billions users, though since its December 2021 launch in the US and Canada, Horizon Worlds can only host up to 20 people in one space. In February 2022 Meta claimed that Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues had a total monthly userbase of 300,000 people, that users had built 10,000 worlds within the game.
Horizon Worlds launched in the US and Canada in 2021
As a Forbes contributor noted, the vision of the ‘metaverse’ already exists and is being enjoyed in the form of video games that have been wildly popular for years. Minecraft, GTA, and even Roblox let a community of players socialize within a virtual world that can be endlessly sculpted and customized. Perhaps there is an untapped community of people seeking to attend virtual business meetings as a floating torso. Until then, we eagerly await the next round of updates as Horizon World presses onward.