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  /  Latest News   /  Zuck Throws Back at Trolls by Launching Dead-Eyed Metaverse Avatars
Meta

Zuck Throws Back at Trolls by Launching Dead-Eyed Metaverse Avatars

Mark Zuckerberg has launched a creepy dead-eyed metaverse avatar and the trolls are having a field day!

Last week, Meta showed yet another cringeworthy product of its US$10.2 billion investment in the metaverse: a demonic VR porcelain doll of Mark Zuckerberg that looked worse than a Second Life avatar from 2003. Hastily released in response to yet another round of universal mockery from all over the internet, it was still only marginally more expressive, and slightly more alive, than a Ken doll. The worst part is not how bad it looks, but the fact that it is a symbol of how badly Meta is managing expectations for the metaverse. Anybody expecting that this metaverse thing will end up being a real-life version of the book and film Ready Player One is in for a huge disappointment. And so is Zuckerberg, when he finally realizes that only an insignificant fraction of enthusiasts are going to buy into this awkward dimension.

Here’s what happened. On August 16, Meta showed the Mark Chuckyberg 3D figurine against a rather sad 3D rendition of the Eiffel Tower and La Sagrada Familia to announce Horizon Worlds, the metaverse world Zuck’s company is building is now available in France and Spain.

The backlash was so intense that Zuckerberg was forced to release another version on Instagram just four days after the original. “Major updates to Horizon and avatar graphics coming soon. I’ll share more at [our conference] Connect,” Zuckerberg posted like a kid who hasn’t done his homework and is making up a bad excuse. “Also, I know the photo I posted earlier this week was pretty basic—it was taken very quickly to celebrate a launch.” It was an embarrassing correction and yet another fumble in Meta’s path to a metaverse that is nothing like we imagined.

When the first Zuckerberg avatar came out, Kevin Roose of the New York Times pointed out: “It’s genuinely puzzling that Meta spent more than US$10 billion on VR last year and the graphics in its flagship app still look worse than a 2008 Wii game.” This is one of the main problems with the metaverse. We have a complete mismatch of expectations between what each of us imagines in our heads and the reality of what’s possible to support hundreds of millions or even billions of players online. I have a hard time believing that with any near technology we can get the metaverse ideal that science fiction sold to us and that Zuckerberg is failing to deliver.

Metaverse-lite games like Fortnite and Roblox trade the high-fidelity textures and grit you might see in Call of Duty so that more people can play these ever-changing worlds on more platforms, ranging from powerful PCs to cheap Android phones. That’s because their metric for success is the number of people playing at once—the metaverse of people, so to speak—and not simply the world’s graphic fidelity.

This principle only gets more complicated as you venture from a 2D screen into virtual reality. VR goggles require more intensive graphic processing to ensure the wearer doesn’t get sick. And their form is simply still too much of a physical barrier for the majority of the population. They are also so awkward that I have a very hard time believing that most people—even tech-native TikTok teens—wouldn’t feel stupid wearing them, moving in their offices or homes like drunk French mimes.

Meta overestimates the power of VR in its current form, as does anyone criticizing Meta for not being immersive enough. Right now, a chat on Tinder using a smartphone can feel a lot more engaging than using VR goggles to communicate, simply because our brains fill in so many of the blanks in that conversation. We imagine the face of the other person, rather than seeing a representation that can’t possibly convey the full spectrum of human emotion. This same phenomenon happens when you play a good game with an immersive story and gameplay: Even if the graphics are 8-bit sprites, game designers know that our imaginations compensate, providing a more powerful experience.

Regarding the first hurdle, Zuckerberg promised in his Instagram post that “the graphics in Horizon are capable of much more—even on headsets—and Horizon is improving very quickly.” I believe him. But better graphics alone—even 100% realistic—won’t do everything needed to make the metaverse any more appealing to the majority of the population. Like media scholar, Ethan Zuckerman wrote in The Atlantic when the Facebook CEO first announced Meta, “The metaverse was terrible 27 years ago and it is still terrible today.”