It sounds so mysterious, so exciting, so… actually, it sorta sounds a heck of a lot like an alternate comic book reality where Superman is a bunny rabbit or something. But, ever since the company formerly known as Facebook decided to change its name to Meta and began talking about this “Metaverse,” people have been wondering just what the heck is it anyway?
At its core, the Metaverse concept is basically a network of 3D virtual worlds where users can connect and interact socially. I know. If they just said “virtual chat rooms” it would be so much simpler. However, Meta’s ambitious plans for its own Metaverse go far beyond just chatting. They envision their Metaverse as a virtual version of the internet, where users can physically inhabit the online landscape through digital avatars.
In December, Meta opened up Horizon Worlds to the US and Canadian market. The ambitious social VR app lets you visit different “worlds” and even create your own for other users to explore. The app itself is free, however you will need a VR headset that’ll set you back somewhere between $300-$500.
What can you do in Horizon Worlds?
The first thing you’ll get to do once you enter Horizon Worlds is create your unique avatar. If you’ve ever created a character in a video game, then you know the drill. You get to choose things like your body shape, hair, facial features, and clothing. Unfortunately, you can only look like a human being right now. I tried to make a Superman bunny rabbit avatar, but alas, no dice. Once you’re satisfied with how your avatar looks, you’re given some options of where to begin, but I’d suggest The Plaza, a general gathering spot.
Now, it’s worth noting you do need to be at least 18 years old and have an active Facebook account to join Horizon Worlds. Although, while in The Plaza I did overhear one pre-pubescent boy saying his mum said he had to go because he hadn’t done his homework yet, so I’m guessing the age verification process on Facebook is pretty laxed.
Along with the potential for a generation of minors to miss out on pivotal educational moments, another thing I found a little disconcerting was that every avatar in Horizon Worlds is totally devoid of a lower half. They’ve got heads, arms, and a torso, however in the leg department… nada. Zilch. Zero. Everyone just sort of floats there, looking kind of like the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin. It’s odd, given that other virtual chat rooms exist currently that allow your avatar to have legs, and Meta has literally spent billions on VR technology. Maybe Zuckerberg spent too heavily on the Meta logo and had to make cuts somewhere. Who knows?
Horizon Worlds is all about being social in VR
Once you get over the whole “nobody has legs” thing, you can start exploring the various worlds in Horizon Worlds. As VR is still an emerging niche, there aren’t a whole lot of worlds to explore just yet. At The Plaza, I wandered around, and threw a few things at targets to get used to the controls and movement. Afterwards, I queued up to compete with three strangers in a series of games, including one where you had to bounce digital fish into the mouths of whales in the ocean. It was a lot of fun, and we all chatted, laughed, and enjoyed competing for best scores. Later, I saved the Metaverse from zombies and explored a couple of user-made worlds. In truth, though, it all reminded me a lot of the 2003 virtual world Second Life, except without all the adult content. Don’t get me wrong, Horizon Worlds is indeed a lot of fun but like the Internet in its infancy it hasn’t yet been discovered by the masses and is mostly a place for early tech adopters.
OK so what I really mean is, it’s all nerds and geeks. But remember who the nerds and geeks of the 90’s and early 00’s became?
Undoubtably, once more people discover Horizon Worlds and begin to populate it with their own crazy ideas and landscapes it will start to evolve, shape, and take on a more robust form. But it will definitely need a lot more volume and variety of content if Meta is going to convince the general masses (and not just early adopters) to shell out the cash for a VR headset to be able to strap in and explore the nascent Metaverse. Plus… maybe some legs.