The Metaverse, a technology that promised to allow users to engage with each other in virtual worlds, has died after being abandoned by the business world. The capital-M Metaverse was born in 2021 when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg changed the name of his company to Meta. The Metaverse became the obsession of the tech world and a quick hack to win over Wall Street investors. However, the hype could not save the Metaverse, and a lack of coherent vision for the product ultimately led to its decline. Once the tech industry turned to a new, more promising trend — generative AI — the fate of the Metaverse was sealed.
From the moment of its delivery, Zuckerberg claimed that the Metaverse would be the future of the internet. The glitzy promotional video that accompanied Zuckerberg’s name-change announcement described a future where users would be able to interact seamlessly in virtual worlds. The Metaverse offered people the chance to engage in an “immersive” experience, he claimed.
These grandiose promises heaped sky-high expectations on the Metaverse. The media swooned over the newborn concept, with glowing profiles that seemed to set it on a laudatory path, but the actual technology failed to deliver on this promise throughout its short life. Despite the Metaverse’s arrested conceptual development, a pliant press published statements about the future of the technology that were somewhere between unrealistic and outright irresponsible.
The Metaverse also suffered from an acute identity crisis. Zuckerberg waxed poetic about the Metaverse as “a vision that spans many companies” and “the successor to the mobile internet,” but he failed to articulate the basic business problems that the Metaverse would address. The concept of virtual worlds where users interact with each other using digital avatars is an old one, going back as far as the late 1990s. And while the Metaverse supposedly built on these ideas with new technology, Zuckerberg’s one actual product, the VR platform Horizon Worlds, which required the use of an incredibly clunky Oculus headset, failed to suggest anything approaching a road map or a genuine vision.
In the months following the Meta announcement, it seemed that every company had a Metaverse product on offer, despite it not being obvious what it was or why they should. Companies’ rush to get into the game led Wall Street investors, consultants, and analysts to try to one up each other’s projections for the Metaverse’s growth.
In spite of all this hype, the Metaverse did not lead a healthy life. Every single business idea or rosy market projection was built on the vague promises of a single CEO. And when people were actually offered the opportunity to try it out, nobody actually used the Metaverse.
The Metaverse fell seriously ill as the economy slowed and the hype around generative AI grew. Microsoft shuttered its virtual-workspace platform AltSpaceVR in January 2023, laid off the 100 members of its “industrial metaverse team,” and made a series of cuts to its HoloLens team. Disney shuttered its Metaverse division in March, and Walmart followed suit by ending its Roblox-based Metaverse projects.
The fact that Mark Zuckerberg has clearly stepped away from the Metaverse is a damning indictment of everyone who followed him, and anyone who still considers him a visionary tech leader. It should also be the cause for some serious reflection among the venture-capital community, which recklessly followed Zuckerberg into blowing billions of dollars on a hype cycle founded on the flimsiest possible press-release language. In a just world, Mark Zuckerberg should be fired as CEO of Meta. Zuckerberg misled everyone, burned tens of billions of dollars, convinced an industry of followers to submit to his quixotic obsession, and then killed it the second that another idea started to interest Wall Street. There is no reason that a man who