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Metaverse Reality

Virtual Reality is certainly here to stay, if only because there's porn available.

Meta this, Meta that! Everywhere these days the internet is aflame with Metaverse news. And even though I have been developing VR software since the Oculus Rift Dev Kit 1 came out in 2013, I still had to Google "What is the Metaverse?" today to figure out why everyone is suddenly so excited.

And from what I understand, the Metaverse is really just a dedicated marketing push by Facebook to get more people to adopt VR. And I'm good with that, but if you're going to jump into VR, you should know that technology is still probably 10 years away from being the type of thing that you must have. Here's the state of the industry.

The Only Hardware that Matters is the Meta (formerly Oculus) Quest 2

Forget whatever you have heard about any VR hardware that isn't the Quest 2. None of those matter because they all have wires, and the Quest 2 doesn't.

Before the Quest 2, VR required the user to be tethered to a powerful PC by at least two wires--one for power, and one for HDMI input. This sucked for doing anything remotely active and it was easy to get tangled up trying to swing a sword or shoot a gun.

But the Quest 2 freed users from their computers. All of the computation happens on-board the headset and the user has complete freedom to move around their play space. Two external cameras allow the user to see into the real world as necessary to avoid obstacles. The whole interface on the Quest 2 is very intuitive and the Quest 2 is therefore clearly and unquestionably the main-line path forward for VR.

A few things hold the Quest 2 back. First and foremost is that you can't pack that much processing horsepower into a headset (at least not at a $299 price point). Graphical fidelity is therefore significantly behind the console and PC gaming market. It's not that we don't know how to make games that would look fucking amazingly realistic in VR, it's just that we can't possibly expect those games to run on the Quest 2 headset.

Second, the display technology is also difficult and expensive. The Quest 2 essentially has two iPhone-like screens inside of it (one for each eye). These aren't cheap to make and they require all kinds of custom work to adapt to VR. Once again, it's not that the hardware engineers don't know how to do it really well, it's just that they don't know how to do it very cheaply.

Every other headset on the market is dogshit. That is the state of the industry. Sony is promising a wireless Sony VR 2 headset with significantly improved stats, but part of understanding the VR industry is understanding that 99% of the news you hear is probably a lie, and the only hardware you can trust to exist is what you can buy off the shelf.

Porn and Beat Saber are carrying a lot of weight

You have to imagine that the lowest common denominator use case for Virtual Reality is porn. It is every man's scientific duty to strap a Quest to his face "just to see what it's like" at least once. He may never do it again, once he peers into the abyss that peers back, but I simply cannot imagine that there is a human male Quest owner alive who has not viewed pornography on the device.

For everyone else, the top use case is Beat Saber. It's a good game. You've got lightsabers and you've got some sick beats, and you have to slice those sick beats in half using your lightsabers. To be clear, it's fucking awesome, and you should try it. I have never met someone who did not enjoy playing Beat Saber.

But once you work through these two use-cases, it gets a little bit harder to justify the existence of Virtual Reality. It gets a little more nichey after this. There are some really cool experiences available out there, but they all feel so experimental and one-dimensional. For example, there's a great Ghost in the Shell VR experience that you can watch on your Oculus, and there are all sorts of other short films and tiny little experiences you can download.

And then there is the Metaverse. The real Metaverse (it exists!) And it's called VR Chat. If I had to use one word to describe VR Chat, the word would be "insane." It is the weirdest, most insane place I have ever been. It feels a lot like the Internet did in 1998--a little Wild Westy--except that it's full of modern internet culture stuff.

For example, one evening about a year ago, I sat around a campfire on the beach along with Rick Sanchez, Peter Griffin, some Ninja Turtles, and a bunch of furries. We shot guns at each other and then went inside the nearby Inn to gamble. That's the type of shit you get up to in the Metaverse. It sucks.

It isn't to say that it couldn't not suck. There may well be a reason that I would want to do something like that again some day--I just can't find any compelling reason (beyond curiosity) to visit the Metaverse again.

So what's next?

That's the multi-billion dollar question. Anyone can dream about VR experiences that would be cool if executed properly. But for now, dreams keep running into those pesky realities about computational and hardware limits. It would be hella-fucking-cool to sit courtside at the Blazers and watch the game in VR, but we are still ages away from being able to create a truly high-fidelity experience that doesn't make you want to puke or just turn on the big screen instead. The tech just isn't there. Yet.

I think it's coming. Two things will drive it. First, the natural miniaturization of components will occur. Graphcis processors that once weighed 5 pounds will soon weigh 5 ounces, and will be stuffed into headsets with increasing graphical capabilities. Second, companies like Meta are just going to build really expensive headsets anyway, and more than likely they will subsidize the products to increase adoption--in essence, they will sell the headsets to consumers at a loss. The business model will be to make up the loss with high-margin digital products.

And so if you want to make a fucking killing in software, the place to be is in VR. No doubt about it. Facebook/Meta is about to pour billions into content development starting in January. I just need to figure out some shitty little app to throw on the Quest store. Gotta get that internet money.