UPDATED! Facebook Horizon Rebrands, Drops Support for Unity-Based Worlds

Today Facebook announced that it was rebranding its still-in-closed-beta social VR platform, from Facebook Horizon to Horizon Worlds. This move makes sense to me; attaching the name “Facebook” to anything the behemoth company wants to promote is probably a smart PR move, given the recent level of notoriety of their brand and the battering of their public image.

And it would appear that Facebook (which earned a staggering US$86 billion in 2020) is willing to put a microscopic fraction of that income towards encouraging content creators on the newly-renamed platform. According to an official announcement:

When we launched Horizon’s invite-only beta last year, we started to build a creator-friendly space in VR with best-in-class social world-building tools. We’ve spent the past year developing those tools and improving them based on creator feedback. These early creators have grown the social experiences on the Horizon platform, and we’ve been amazed by their imagination and creativity on display. We’re excited to do more to support them, so starting today, we’re launching new initiatives to recognize the efforts of Horizon creators and continue to grow the creator and developer community. 

We’re announcing a $10 million Creator Fund to encourage more people to come build with us as we continue rolling out Horizon in beta. And as we grow the social experiences that are part of Horizon, we’re rolling out a new name for this experience: Horizon Worlds. 

The US$10 million will be distributed through community competitions, via its Creator Accelerator Program, and funding for developers, studios or creators who wish to partner with Facebook. Ian Hamilton of UploadVR reports:

Overall, then, two years after its initial launch Facebook is honing Horizon Worlds around its VR-based creative community with the $10 million creator fund to be doled out through community competitions, an accelerator program, and funding for developers who agree to build for Horizon according to Facebook’s suggested theme.

Facebook said it would add more people to the testing release of Horizon Worlds throughout the rest of 2021.

“We fully expect ticketed events, we fully expect people to be asking for gifting of goods, trading of goods, buying digital goods and items, as well as of course experiences themselves, so subscriptions inside of these experiences themselves,” said Sharma. “I having nothing to announce today in terms of exact features that we’re working on, but if you take a look at what the family of apps at Facebook already support, it’s a pretty good line that we already have the capabilities other places that we can tie all of these things together into a nice bow for our creators.”

There’s a couple of interesting things in Ian’s report that I wish to highlight.

First, that Facebook would continue its “testing release of Horizon Worlds throughout the rest of 2021”. In other words, don’t expect the platform to open up to the general public before 2022. You may speculate for the reasons for that delay. My sources who have visited the social VR platform in person tell me the same two things, over and over again:

  • Horizon Worlds has fantastic in-world building tools (similar in many ways to the prim-building tools in Second Life, where many metaverse content creators got their start); and
  • Horizon Worlds is having difficulty building, maintaining, and moderating its community. Many tell me the platform is deserted, which might be an indication of how few people they have let into the closed beta-testing phase. However, it might also be because people visit, wander around, get bored, and leave (call it “Sansar syndrome”).

Second, please note carefully that the funding is for developers “who agree to build for Horizon according to Facebook’s suggested theme”. Hear that? It’s the sound of potential developers running for the exits. Facebook wants firm control over what kind of worlds you build, and they are willing to dictate themes. From the official announcement:

If you’re a developer, studio or creator and you’re interested in partnering with us for funded opportunities to create experiences for Horizon in a particular theme, you can sign up to learn more about the next set of themes.

Yes, that’s right…Facebook won’t even tell you about the themes unless you sign up. As someone who, on moral principles, refuses to have anything to do with Facebook products and services from now on, I’m not even going to bother. Those of you who have chosen to have their personal data strip-mined for profit by signing off on Facebook’s data and privacy policies can inform me as to what the corporate-approved themes are, mmmkay? Thanks 😉

So, while Facebook might slap a fresh coat of paint on its flagship social VR platform, and throw some of the spare change from Mark Zuckerberg’s couch cushions at content creators, there is, as Vivek Sharma (Vice President of Horizon at Facebook Reality Labs) states in the UploadVR article, “nothing to announce today in terms of exact features that we’re working on”.

Ian Hamilton also reported on Facebook dropping support for Unity:

When the social service was first showcased for Oculus Quest in late 2019 it supported worlds made in Unity which were noticeably more complex and engaging than those made in VR using Facebook’s tools. Unity is the most popular game engine among developers and, alongside Roblox, Rec Room and Epic Games, the companies are on a short list of efforts to build powerful yet easy-to-use tools for interactive 3D virtual world creation. Facebook tried to acquire Unity in the past and the acquisition would’ve given the advertising giant a key toolset that would push many creators to work with the social media company. Instead of selling, though, Unity went public on the stock market in late 2020.

“We don’t have any plans [for] direct Unity-level development on top of Worlds, but absolutely as a VR developer you can build on top of Unity and bring that experience, whether its a game or something else, over to Oculus through the Oculus app store,” said Vivek Sharma, VP of Horizon at Facebook Reality Labs.

As always, I will continue to monitor the situation over at Facebook, and report on developments. You can find all my blogposts about Facebook Horizon, now called Horizon Worlds, here. (I will update the tag later today.)

UPDATE 2:33 p.m.: Right after I published this post, DreamDance, a member of the RyanSchultz.com Discord community, told me:

Ok, so I contacted many friends just now; according to them there was never Unity world-building in Horizon…I don’t like Horizon, but I think he [Ian Hamilton] got stuff mixed up.

(I did obtain DreamDance’s permission to attribute the quote to him/her.)

UPDATE 3:17 p.m.: Ian Hamilton has responded to my inquiry, saying:

Here’s Tested reporting the same thing I did in 2019 — that we were shown by Facebook a world in Horizon made in Unity.

Also, I apologize for saying that Ian Hamilton worked for VRScout in my original blogpost…this error has been corrected. (Sorry, Ian!)

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