So (like many of you), have been following the news media these past seven days, and between the U.S. midterm elections, the jaw-dropping layoffs at both Meta and Twitter, and the collapse of major cryptocurrency exchange FTX, it’s been quite a week!
As I write this, I am listening to a Sept. 22nd, 2022 report written by Adam Fisher for clients of the investment firm Sequoia, titled Sam Bankman-Fried Has a Savior Complex—And Maybe You Should Too.
UPDATE 3:08 p.m.: Sequoia has just removed Adam’s report from its website but, as always, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine has you covered! WARNING: I listened to all one-and-a-half hours of the audio version of this article, and I want that time back! The level of hubris and cringe in this article is off the charts!
Given what’s happened in the past 48 hours, this report has aged like milk—badly. I had bookmarked it yesterday, and when I went to revisit the page today, I noticed that it had been updated:
UPDATE: Nov 9, 2022: Since this article was published, a liquidity crunch has created solvency risk for FTX and its future is uncertain. Many have been affected by this unexpected turn of events. For Sequoia, our fiduciary responsibility is to our LPs. To that end, we shared this letter with them today regarding our investment in FTX. For FTX, we believe its fiduciary responsibility is first to its customers, and second to its shareholders. As such, FTX is exploring all opportunities to ensure its customers are able to recover their funds as quickly as possible.
Of course, the best front-row seat to the three-ring circus that is crypto is the r/Buttcoin cryptosnark community over at Reddit, and let me tell you, there has been no shortage of things to talk about. Many there predict that (much like the unraveling of the LUNA cryptocurrency “unraveling “stablecoin” on May 7th, 2022, which in turn led to the failures of cryptofirms like Celsius and Voyager) there will be a significant impact to the sudden FTX implosion (Sequoia announced that they have written down their investment in FTX to zero). Even in the crazy world of crypto, the speed with which Sam Bankman-Fried has fallen off his pedestal and destroyed his reputation and his companies (not to mention his investors’ money) is bonkers. But that’s not the only big news these past seven days.
First: The crypto crash is looking more and more like a sustained crypto nuclear winter. Blockchain is now tainted, perhaps irredeemably so, and blockchain-based metaverses are tainted by association. What this means is that the already-established, relatively stable platforms (Decentraland, Voxels, Somnium Space, and a handful of others) are going to have a very difficult time selling NFT-based land, avatar accessories, etc., as well as encouraging new users to come and set up shop. We’re rapidly reaching the point that the general, non-tech public will run the other way when crypto, blockchain, or NFTs are mentioned, given the unending litany of bad news.
People and companies who invested in these platforms at the height of the hype cycle may have to make some hard choices between holding on (perhaps forever) in hopes of seeing a profit, or being forced by circumstances to sell at a loss, because they desperately need to get out of the market. (Perhaps they worked at Meta or Twitter or some other company downsizing during this increasingly brutal recession?). In my opinion, this will keep prices for NFT properties at or near rock-bottom for the foreseeable future, and it will impact these metaverse firms and their future development plans.
But, as bad as that is, the news is even worse for those blockchain-based metaverse projects which have not yet launched. In my opinion, many of these projects are doomed to fail, taking their investors’ money along with it. Some were designed to be rugpulls from the very beginning, hoping to cash in on the ignorant, while others were just weirdly-hatched and poorly-executed but honest proposals (e.g. Cirque de Soleil’s Hanai World project, which I am told has now folded).
Second: Meta is wounded, having lost the public’s trust and investors’ confidence, and facing increasing blowback for its decision to heavily invest in the metaverse and virtual reality. Meta’s missteps are negatively affecting the general public’s impression of the “metaverse”.
Say the word “metaverse” to your average man (or woman) on the street and you probably would get one of the following two responses:
- The “metaverse” is Meta/Facebook’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Workrooms only; or
- The “metaverse” consists of the blockchain/crypto/NFT-based platforms only, e.g. Decentraland, Voxels, Somnium Space, The Sandbox, etc.
I’ve already dealt with the blockchain-based metaverses above; now let’s turn to Meta. Mark Zuckerberg and his team at Meta have spent a fair deal of time and money to promote Meta’s visions of the “metaverse”. Mark doesn’t want you to spare a thought for the countless other metaverse platforms which have been in development for years, and in some cases like Second Life, decades. He wants you to focus on Meta. Meta, people! Pay no attention to those other people!!! (Yeah, I know; it’s going about as well as you can expect, given people’s lack of trust in Mark or his company.)
Things have not been going especially well for Meta at the moment, with numerous new media reporting on its financial turmoil, as Mark Zuckerberg invests billions of dollars into research and development to build his vision of the metaverse. Venture capitalist Nathan Benaich recently tweeted (please note that Meta Reality Labs is the R&D arm of Meta working on VR/AR/MR/XR projects.):
In fact, things have been going so badly for Meta lately that many metaverse pundits (myself included) have begun to worry that it is tainting the general public’s perception of the “metaverse”, perhaps unfairly so. Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, covers the VR/AR/MR/XR industry and the metaverse, wrote a recent editorial which I think needs to be read. He echoes what I and other metaverse pundits have noticed for quite some time now: the general public’s mood on the metaverse has soured quickly.
In an article titled Meta bad, metaverse bad, Tony writes:
After my usual Sunday tour of Twitter and LinkedIn feeds to gather news for my weekly newsletter, I feel the need of writing a rant about a trend I’m seeing online after the Meta Connect about Meta and its involvement in the “metaverse” field.
Many journalists of important tech magazines (TechCrunch, Business Insider, etc…) are all playing a common sport now: targeting Meta and Mark Zuckerberg. They are all writing posts about how Meta has failed, the metaverse has failed, the Meta Quest Pro failed, and also Zuck has failed. Everything is a huge failure. I admit that this news has caught me by surprise, because I have many projects in XR that are doing pretty well, and actually this has been one of the best moments to be in the ecosystem for me. I’m sorry that I hadn’t received the memo that everything failed: I’ll stop doing what I’m doing now and immediately go looking for a job to make fries at McDonald’s.
Look, I get it. Bad news draws eyeballs and clicks, and most people don’t like or trust Mark Zuckerberg or his Meta/Facebook empire. So the negative press pile-on in the wake of the Meta Connect 2022 event was not unexpected. Here’s an example of the recent coverage, by Paul Tassi of Forbes:
Meta shocked the financial world this Thursday by posting a 52% profit decline, its second straight quarterly decline, and a revenue decline of 4% year-over-year. This decimated their stock so badly with a 24.5% drop that it caused financial analyst Jim Cramer to break down crying and apologize on air for having faith in the company.
A main culprit of Meta’s decline is the thing it was named after, Mark Zuckerberg’s relentless pursuit of the metaverse through the company’s Reality Labs division, which has lost $9.4 billion this year so far, and there are warnings that bigger and broader losses are to come in 2023.
And, of course, the news yesterday that Meta was laying off over 11,000 employees has not helped matters in the slightest. It’s not yet known how these massive layoffs will affect Meta’s work in virtual reality, augmented reality, and the metaverse, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few projects in that area are trimmed. Many in the financial community are attacking Mark Zuckerberg and his desire to repivot Meta to be a metaverse company, and the negative blowback will also impact other companies working in this space. I’ve written more about this on my blog in this August 2022 editorial, How the Crypto Crash—and Meta’s Missteps—Are Souring the General Public on the Metaverse, so rather than repeat myself, I will direct you there if you want to learn more of my thoughts on the matter. On to the next point!
Third: Elon Musk is killing Twitter, and its death throes, plus Meta’s continued struggles, will lead to many people radically rethinking their use of social media, and leaving Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
If you haven’t got the memo yet, surveillance capitalism and algorithmically-driven echo chambers/walled gardens are about as popular as crypto nowadays. Despite daily reassurances from the Chief Twit himself, the MIT Technology Review reports that Twitter may have already lost one million users, many of whom have moved to Mastodon and other federated services, beyond the control of capricious billionaires. And, while not in dire straits like Twitter, Meta’s social media platforms are similarly bleeding users, as the younger generations abandon Facebook and Instagram for TikTok (which, of course, has its own user data privacy and surveillance capitalism issues, not to mention a parent company now marketing a standalone VR headset to compete with Meta, but that is an issue for a different editorial).
How will this affect the metaverse? Well, for starters, it’s going to be a lot harder for metaverse-building companies to get attention using traditional social media during this time of turmoil and upheaval, which is their primary form of advertising. For example, Mastodon is notoriously resistant to influencer culture and corporate shilling, even going so far as to ban entire instances/servers to avoid being tainted by the filthy lucre of capitalism. (For example, the overly-protective but proactive moderator of the well-established scholar.social Mastodon instance/server just banned the new journa.host instance, because of problems the latter has had in setting up their server, which means that journalists who set up accounts on journa.host are barred from seeing what is going on over at the scholar.social server. These people, many of whom were burned by older forms of social media, are not playing around!)
Another example of the impact: I have unfollowed all the people I used to follow on Twitter, deleted almost all of my tweets, and deactivated my account, in direct reaction to the callous, heartless way that Elon Musk handled his layoffs, gutting half the Twitter staff (I wrote about it in an update at the end of my previous blogpost). This means that I deliberately cut off one venue by which I leaned about news and events taking place in the VR/AR/MR/XR and the metaverse. However, I am still a member of almost 100 different Discord servers, including the 715-member RyanSchultz.com Discord, and my connections there keep me just as well-informed, without having to take part in Facebook or Twitter! I am also quite active on Reddit, although lately most of that time has been spent lollygagging in r/Buttcoin! 😜
Finally, we are entering a severe global recession, with both mass layoffs (see above) and staffing shortages, combined with skyrocketing inflation, which means that we are going to continue to see chaos, disorder, and upheaval all around the world. The war in Ukraine is still upending global supply chains, and China’s continuing strict COVID lockdowns are still impacting product manufacturing. Oh, and did I mention that we need to act now to put the brakes on global climate change before many parts of the world become inhospitable and even uninhabitable? If you’re not depressed, then you haven’t been paying attention!*
Fasten your seatbelts, kids; I have a feeling it’s going to be a bumpy ride, and not just one bumpy night! While chaos can be liberating for some people, it is anxiety-inducing for many others (including myself). We are also still operating under an ongoing pandemic that is absolutely NOT over (for example, my best friend’s 92-year-old mother passed away from COVID-19 in hospital a couple of weeks ago). I am, still, barely leaving my apartment, and my university still has an indoor facemask mandate in place. (Good thing my passionate hobby is virtual reality and the metaverse! Avatars can’t catch the virus. 😉 )
In summary, this global chaos (plus all the other points I made above) will impact the people and companies building the metaverse, as well as the people using it! There will be new challenges, but also new opportunities. Expect the unexpected!
* If you are struggling with your mental health, at the start of the pandemic I pulled together a list of helpful resources, which you can find here. It’s a little out-of-date, but most of the links should still work. Remember, help is out there if you need it!