In June 2018, Oculus executive Jason Rubin sent Facebook board member Marc Andreessen an email titled “The Metaverse.” The document paved the way for Meta, which was formerly known as Facebook. When Facebook is facing a negative reputation relating to the addictive nature of its social media tools, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s display of Meta was designed to show a different reality than the one we live in today.
“We believe that the right way to break through consumer indifference to VR is to deliver what they expect and want from the medium: THE METAVERSE,” reads the first slide of a 50-page document outlining a strategy for building a virtual world.
According to Zuckerberg, the Metaverse is the next technological frontier that will take five to ten years to gain traction. His statement came just a few days after the company announced that the Reality Labs hardware division would be separated into its financial reporting segment in the fourth quarter.
“The Metaverse is ours to lose,” reads one of the first section heads in Rubin’s paper.
According to the document, Facebook spent $2 billion for Oculus in 2014, and the company’s VR headsets had 250,000 monthly active users as of June 2018. However, despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent on content for “early adopters and pioneers,” Rubin claimed that non-hardcore gamers hadn’t yet taken to the devices and that “the average consumer is waiting for the day VR is ‘fully baked.”
Rubin stated that his paper was widely recognized, but it was not the only one getting all this attention. “A lot of people had visions of the Metaverse at the time, and there were various documents that were floating around with various opinions; I wanted to get mine out there. That’s how we create things here at Facebook. There’s a lot of ideas, a lot of people, and they kind of boil up. I’d like to think that some of it were useful.”
Rubin predicted that the project would be completed in four years, and Facebook would accomplish it on its own. However, he now realizes that it will take longer, and rather than controlling the entire system, Meta will have to partner with a diverse range of organizations.
“That’s another way in which we’ve evolved our thinking,” said Rubin, who was previously an executive in the video game industry. “We have to work with others; we have to build it in a lot of steps because it’s going to take a long time.”
Rubin remarked that he had no idea how much time Facebook would have. He instinctively knew it had to “go for the kill” and beat its rivals. “The first metaverse that gains real traction is likely to the be the last,” Rubin wrote. “We must act first and go big, or we risk being one of those wannabes.”
Facebook might have effectively ruled out Google, Apple, Sony, HTC, and Valve from the virtual reality market. However, Facebook was putting in more money than Valve, Sony concentrated on the PlayStation 5, and HTC was dissatisfied with its possible hardware partners.
“Google and Apple don’t really exist in VR in any real way yet,” the document said. “Daydream is a joke,” Rubin wrote, referencing a VR platform that Google ended up discontinuing a year later.
Furthermore, Facebook refused to collaborate with any of these competing businesses because it saw no profit. Instead, according to the document, Facebook should be the destination for all people seeking virtual experiences.
“Let’s not build the Metaverse with the plan to help other Platforms accumulate and retain consumers,” Rubin wrote. “Let’s build the Metaverse to keep them from being in the VR business in a meaningful way at all.”
According to a Meta representative, technology has advanced since 2018, when the focus was mainly on VR. “What has always been clear: investing in and building products that consumers want is the key to success; that we cannot build the metaverse alone; and that collaboration with developers, creators, and experts will be critical,” the spokesperson said.
Rubin describes a scenario in which a fictitious user travels to a digital city that includes a bowling alley, stores, theatres, and a Facebook pavilion described as “the largest building, almost church-like in its dominance of the square.” She buys things using metaverse currency, finally meets and marries another user.
“Her entertainment time is spent more and more virtually. This is aided by Netflix, Facebook, Instagram, and other Metaverse integrations.” In addition, Rubin says that Metaverse will sell 100 million hardware units within a decade, with half of them being Oculus-branded and the remainder coming from other hardware manufacturers. So within the next two decades, time spent in the Metaverse could rival that of the physical world.
Moreover, ads would also generate revenue. Rubin envisions Coca-Cola paying for prime pavilion location, Ford paying for virtual automobiles, Procter & Gamble advertising its brands on digital billboards, and Gucci might consider opening a virtual store.
Rubin estimated that 100 million metaverse users might generate more revenue than a real universe with one billion users, based on their level of involvement.
“If the Metaverse is where people are spending time, then it is where the real economy will want to be,” Rubin wrote. “It is our goal to bring the Metaverse to this stage. Anything short doesn’t seem like it is a Facebook product.”
However, to be popular, the Metaverse must be daunting, ambitious, packed with hundreds of hours of gameplay, and so life-altering that Facebook programmers are terrified of what they’re getting themselves into.
“If delivering the Metaverse we set out to build doesn’t scare the living hell out of us, then it is not the Metaverse we should be building, it is not what customers want, and it is, therefore, meaningless,” he wrote. “Anything else is a Mini-verse.”
Rubin claims that creating all of this will necessitate more than just existing resources. For example, a gaming company with 100 people capable of building a large multiplayer online game would be required by Facebook.
“One thing is absolutely clear: There is no team inside Facebook with the cohesion and experience of shipping large, technically challenging, awe-inspiring game/interactive product that is capable of producing the City,” Rubin wrote, referring to the digital world the company was aiming to build. “For these reasons, we are going to need to make an acquisition.”
Insomniac Games and Gearbox Software were mentioned as prospective candidates. Other companies, like Blizzard and Rockstar, were too powerful and profitable to be acquired. Rubin recommended Ready at Dawn, the studio behind “Lone Echo.” Facebook closed the transaction in June 2020. According to Rubin, the product’s debut would be crucial and should “create shock and awe.” Zuckerberg should avoid stepping up on stage with a slide behind him that says, “Welcome to the Metaverse,” if the company isn’t properly equipped.
“If we telegraph every step of our roadmap because we have keynote minutes to fill, the competition will always be one step behind,” Rubin wrote. “Let’s not do that. Instead, let’s wait until we have a Metaverse worthy of the name — a Fait Accompli.”
Zuckerberg’s speech on Thursday was ambitious, but the future he envisaged is still at a fair distance. The demo showed software that the company intends to build, and he acknowledged that the technology is still a long way off, perhaps a decade away.
Some speculated that Facebook needed to change the discussion and divert public attention following six weeks of negative reports based on leaked documents from a whistleblower. Rubin, on the other hand, proposed a different perspective. He asserted that the company realizes that it must draw others along with it and let down its guard to accomplish this demanding goal.
“This is a long journey that we’re going to be on with a lot of different companies,” Rubin said in the interview. “And you just can’t keep it under wraps that long.”