A year ago on Friday, Mark Zuckerberg made a huge bet on Metaverse and announced the name change of his company from Facebook to Meta.
The move resulted in billions of dollars in losses for his company, and the “metaverse entrepreneurs” who flocked to the virtual world of business to make real money could easily be forgiven for panicking.
But some remain phaseless.
“It was an incredibly positive experience and one of the best of my life,” says Aaron Sorrels, a 47-year-old professional comedian who opened a virtual comedy club on Meta’s flagship metaverse platform last year. , Horizon Worlds.
Meta’s latest quarterly report revealed that the company’s metaverse division had already lost $9.4 billion this year. Zuckerberg said he expects those losses to continue to pile up as he continues the work of building the metaverse, even as investor concerns grow over the lack of progress.
Horizon Worlds has reportedly struggled to attract and retain users: It currently has fewer than 200,000 monthly active users, less than half of its goal of 500,000, according to The Wall Street Journal.
On Thursday, CNBC described Meta’s “stunning slump” — one that saw the company drop from the 20 largest U.S. companies by valuation amid a three-quarter streak of declining revenue. (Meta did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.)
These grim numbers have not dampened the enthusiasm of creators like Sorrels.
“Good engagement” and faith in Zuckerberg
Horizon Worlds may not have millions of users, but Sorrels says a relatively steady stream of people visit their Soapstone Comedy Club, where amateurs and professionals perform daily.
In the club’s last full week, Sorrels says it hosted a total of 15,000 users who stayed an average of 20 minutes.
“It’s a very good engagement and commitment to the club,” he said. “And then, more importantly than that, the people I’m talking to are really deeply engaged in what we’re doing.”
Audience members use Meta’s newly added monetization tools to make in-app purchases, including what Sorrels calls “Applause Credits” — a sort of pat on the back for artists. People can also pay $9.99 to have their username permanently added to Soapstone’s virtual “supporter wall.”
Sorrels shares the proceeds of all in-app purchases with Meta, which can represent a cut of nearly 50% of those sales. The performers don’t get a cut, not even by applause.
The Soapstone isn’t Sorrels’ main source of income: The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based comedian still does live-action comedy shows under the moniker “The Unemployed Alcoholic.”
But he makes money with the metaverse. Sorrels declined to disclose exact numbers, but notes that its minimum spend primarily included paying a developer to help create the virtual experience.
“There was … an incredible amount of personal investment in terms of time,” he says.
He got involved because of one man: Zuckerberg. The billionaire’s vision for virtual worlds, along with the $10 billion he’s spent developing metaverses over the past year, “really struck a chord with me,” Sorrels said.
“A company like this doesn’t just do it because it thinks it’s going to be something,” he adds. “They do this because they know it’s going to be something.”
Live full time in the metaverse
Some people already live full time in the metaverse.
Alexis Dimas, a 37-year-old metaverse creator based in Santa Ana, California, said he joined Horizon Worlds in beta nearly two years ago. He taught himself how to create “worlds” in the virtual game using the platform’s developer tools, he says.
Dimas, who is not a computer software developer by trade, says he has released more than 25 different worlds on Meta’s platform, from a karaoke-style singing competition venue to one called “Skybridge,” where your virtual avatar crosses a bridge high in the Himalayan mountain range.
Each world includes in-app purchases that go to both Dimas and Meta. Dimas also presents himself as a paid consultant for other Horizon World creators.
That money is enough to be her “main source of income,” Dimas says, declining to share exact numbers but noting that it covers her rent and typical monthly bills.
He also says that he has not personally witnessed any of the user retention issues reported by Meta.
“Regarding the loss of Horizon Worlds users, I have not witnessed this or seen this. I mean, I can hardly walk into the lobby without a bunch of people coming up to me and asking me questions,” says he. “It’s always crowded everywhere I go.”
Dimas says he understands some of the other Horizon World’s reviews, especially those centered on the cartoonish graphics that are considered inferior to other virtual platforms.
“The fact that [the avatars] doesn’t have legs or anything, it sort of ruins the experience,” he says.
Still, Dimas says he’s optimistic that Meta will continue to improve the experience and that the tech giant’s future offerings will attract more users in the future.
His livelihood depends on it.
Zuckerberg: ‘I appreciate patience’
On Wednesday’s Meta Earnings Call, Zuckerberg told investors that Meta could overcome its problems and that its investments in the metaverse will eventually pay off.
“We take on expenses because we believe they will give better returns over time,” he said, adding: “I appreciate patience and I think those who are patient and invest with we will be rewarded.”