In an article published today in The Wall Street Journal, titled Company Documents Show Meta’s Flagship Metaverse Falling Short (archived version here), Jeff Horwitz, Salvador Rodriguez, and Meghan Bobrowsky report that Meta’s flagship social VR platform, Horizon Worlds, is falling short of the company’s own internal performance expectations. They write:
Meta initially set a goal of reaching 500,000 monthly active users for Horizon Worlds by the end of this year, but in recent weeks revised that figure to 280,000. The current tally is less than 200,000, the documents show.
Most visitors to Horizon generally don’t return to the app after the first month, and the user base has steadily declined since the spring, according to the documents, which include internal memos from employees.
By comparison, Meta’s social-media products, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, together attract more than 3.5 billion average monthly users—a figure equivalent to almost half the world’s population. Horizon is currently reaching less than the population of Sioux Falls, S.D.
In a survey of Horizon users, Meta researchers said users reported that they couldn’t find metaverse worlds they liked and couldn’t find other people to hang out with. Other complaints included that “people do not look real” and that the avatars don’t have legs.
The researchers noted that the survey included only 514 people because the available pool of users to survey is “small and precious.”
The number of Horizon users online at the same time, known as concurrency, trails far behind both the socially-focused upstart VRChat and Second Life, the pioneering cyberworld that was launched in 2003, said people familiar with the matter.
While the article doesn’t give user concurrency figures for Horizon Worlds, it does state that they “trail far behind” both VRChat and Second Life, for which we do have figures. Second Life user concurrency figures range from 27,000 to 51,000, depending on the time of day and the day of the week, with a recent peak of 55,737 on Feb. 5th, 2022. And according to Steam statistics, VRChat reached a peak user concurrency of 42,564 (blogger Wagner James Au has reported that VRchat hit an all-time high of 89,300 concurrent users during New Year’s Eve 2021 celebrations).
The WSJ report also states that only 9% of the worlds built by creators are ever visited by at least 50 people, and most created worlds are never visited at all. Also, men outnumber women in Horizon Worlds by two to one, a gender imbalance that can lead to women being harassed and feeling unsafe.
Among the persistent complaints from early adopters and testers, according to the documents, are that users have trouble adjusting to the technology, and that other users behave badly.
On a recent night, a female Journal reporter visited one of Horizon’s most popular virtual worlds, the Soapstone Comedy Club. It had about 20 users in it, all appearing as avatars. When the reporter introduced herself and tried to conduct an interview with a small group, one user replied: “You can report on me, baby.” The same user then asked her to expose herself.
One user who was flirting with a woman in the crowd was interrupted by what appeared to be his real-life girlfriend yelling obscenities at him in the background.
According to the documents, men outnumber women in Horizon by two to one. One safety feature Horizon has introduced is an option for users to create the equivalent of a 4-foot personal boundary for their avatars to deter unwanted physical contact.
Even worse, the WSJ article reports that “more than half of Quest headsets—the entry model costs about $400—aren’t in use six months after they are purchased, according to people familiar with the data.” This news greatly surprises me, because I would have assumed that, even if Horizon Worlds is not attracting and retaining users, at least consumers who bought the wireless virtual reality headset would be using it for games.
Coming on the heels of the mixed reaction to the Meta Connect 2022 keynotes by Mark Zuckerberg and his executives, it seems clear that Meta is struggling with numerous internal and external challenges as it attempts to build Mark’s vision of the metaverse.