Facebook has opened Horizon Worlds, its virtual reality (VR) environment accessible through the Oculus hardware, as a free to join service for all interested parties in USA and Canada. So far, the VR social environment was only accessible to a select few that would receive special invites. The company’s parent arm, now called Meta, announced the update on December 9.
With this move, while not doing so very vocally, Facebook has likely taken its first step in attempting to see how much interest lies in the metaverse. The latter is one of the hottest buzzwords of the technology world right now, and stands for a virtual universe where users can interact with one another (as if in the real world), play games, buy land, trade items and even carry out consultations with civic authorities -- something that Seoul, South Korea has already envisioned.
Horizon Worlds, to be fair, still needs users to own an Oculus VR headset -- which itself is not the most mainstream item around. VR headsets have not managed to take off in part due to their bulk, which makes them inconvenient to wear for long hours, or carry around alongside.
Now, though, Facebook (and other technology giants such as Microsoft and Nvidia) envision a future where metaverse setups will account for billions of dollars of trade. A number of startups are already offering a gamified virtual world, where users can join platforms such as Decentraland and The Sandbox, buy land, trade wares in an e-commerce format, trade in NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and so on.
Horizon Worlds, on this note, appears to be an innocuous first step. Facebook has stated that users can interact in this VR world, and play collaborative social games to get an experience of how a virtual world would feel like.
This, in turn, could be the first step towards getting people to experience the metaverse, even though adoption of such a platform would remain limited, for now, by how many individuals own the hardware to access it.