Last week’s Meta Connect got off to a promising start on the gaming front. Viewers received release dates for Iron Man VR, an upcoming quest game previously exclusive to PS VR, as well as Among Us VR. Meta, which owns Facebook, also announced that it will acquire three major VR game studios — Armature Studio, Camouflaj Team, and Twisted Pixel — though we don’t yet know what they’re working on right now.
Unfortunately, this is where the gaming section of Meta Connect usually ended. In addition to small insights and a fitness look, video games were not the focus of the show. Instead, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wanted to focus on his company’s seemingly true vision of the future of VR, which involves lots of legs and lots of work with the Quest Pro, a mixed-reality headset that will cost a whopping $1,500.
It’s a remarkable narrative shift for the technology that may leave video game players confused as to whether VR is still something for them. When Oculus made a splash in the 2010s with its headset prototypes and eventually its Oculus Rift system, many wondered if it was finally time to make video game VR dreams come true. Things actually seemed to be progressing at a slow and flawed pace. However, since Meta bought Oculus in 2014, it has slowly integrated it into its own grand goal of not just being a mere social network, but becoming a place where people simply exist. And that apparently means underestimating video games as the core goal of technology… at least in Meta’s world, with the Quest Pro as its signifier.
What was missing from Meta Connect?
We already knew that Meta delved deep into the Metaverse (after all, it says so in the name). Horizon Worlds, the company’s Metaverse app, is technically a video game. His website touts cartoonish social hangouts, concerts with the likes of Post Malone, and the ability to build your own world. If you didn’t know better, it would look like a direct Fortnite competitor.
But according to the messages from executives, that’s not the true potential of the software. In 2021, Meta Horizon introduced workrooms – just put on your headset, create your avatar and meet with your colleagues in a virtual conference room. Sure, you can do all of this using video conferencing software like Google Meet or Zoom, but what if you can do it in virtual reality? Isn’t this the future?
The Connect focused on this idea with the new Quest Pro taking up most of the presentation. This headset features impressive technology that allows the user to interact with real-world elements in VR. However, it costs $1,500 and is due out this month. It’s an incredible move considering even Zuckerberg admitted to The Verge that the technology is still years away from being “fully mature”.
Based on Meta Connect and subsequent minor announcements, there are very few experiences that show off Quest Pro’s enhanced passthrough technology. I Expect You to Die, the cooperative VR game, is getting an expansion called Home Sweet Home. It’s described as a “mixed reality mini-mission” where players interact with real objects while using the headset. There was also a short demo playing Beat Saber in mixed reality, but it didn’t show anything new or unique to Quest Pro.
Video games, or rather video game experiences, felt like an afterthought on Meta’s grand plan. Beyond Among Us VR gets a release date and the announcement of Iron Man VR meeting Oculus for the first time, the other news emphasizing Metaverse-like features. Population: One, a VR battle royale, gets a sandbox mode that allows players to create their own maps and game modes.
Other interactive quest experiences that received airtime were related to fitness. Movement is great for VR as the headset allows for different types of movement than a user would normally exercise from home. It can also make training more visually appealing, allowing users to soar through beautiful landscapes or box against more realistic opponents. Meta also announced that its Quest Active Pack will be released later this year, offering people accessories specifically for training in VR.
Finally, there’s Microsoft. CEO Satya Nadella popped up during Connect to reveal that Xbox Cloud Gaming will be coming to the Quest soon, although we don’t have a release date yet. However, that was a footnote to the rest of Microsoft’s news, which focused on bringing Teams, Office, and other Windows apps to the Search.
The Oculus (now Meta) brand started with hardware for game developers, and the Oculus Store is filled with games and apps for regular gamers to use with their headsets. With the meta rebrand and Quest Pro’s upcoming corporate focus, it seems like gaming is becoming less of a focus, even amid some studio acquisitions.
Games vs. the Metaverse
Facebook has always been a social platform, and according to Zuckerberg, that’s why the company has put so much focus on building its metaverse. He believes this will be the future of the internet, the next step in browser windows and 2D screens.
“The defining quality of the metaverse will be a sense of presence — as if you were right there with another person or in a different place,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post shortly after Meta’s rebrand. “Feeling truly present with another person is the ultimate social technology dream.”
The main reason Facebook bought Oculus in the first place was to use VR to expand social connectivity online. But games still played a big part in it. “Oculus’ mission is to enable you to experience the impossible. Their technology opens up the possibility of completely new experiences. Immersive gaming will be first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won’t change and we hope to accelerate them,” Zuckerberg said in a statement following Meta’s purchase of Oculus.
“But this is just the beginning. After games, we will make Oculus a platform for many other experiences.”
Of course, games are still part of the meta structure. Video games and other apps from the Quest Store are still bringing in money, too — $1.5 billion so far, with a third of titles bringing in more than $1 million in revenue (via TechCrunch). However, according to company news, the future will be defined by two things: Horizon Worlds and Quest Pro. And both show that the metaverse isn’t ready for prime time.
While Meta says using Horizon Worlds to meet up with colleagues will be the future of work, a report by The Verge says the app is so buggy that Meta employees refuse to use it despite being told by supervisors were asked to do so. The Quest Pro is another bizarre move from the company. It costs $1,500 for a headset (did I mention that?) and doesn’t have many features that are separate from the much cheaper Quest 2. From first impressions, its weight is more balanced, it has an improved display and controllers, and it still works with Oculus games. Of course, the big showcase for passthrough is, and while it goes a long way in making users feel less isolated in VR – and can be used for some unique gaming experiences – it’s not worth the high price that Meta charges when you’re VR use more casually. For gamers already spending hundreds of dollars on consoles and games, the Quest Pro’s existence is not only unnecessary, it’s exclusionary.
I’m not denying that VR has applications outside of games, including in the medical and automotive fields. There are professional areas where VR and AR can be useful. But VR games have only grown. Transparency Market Research expects it to grow 32.3% through 2031, while Zippia estimates the market will grow from $7.7 billion to $26.9 billion by 2027. Meta was able to corner the consumer VR market with the wireless and affordable Quest 2 Aside from consumer-friendly video games with the Quest Pro, we’re left with the upcoming PlayStation VR2, expensive Valve Index, and other lesser-known headsets to fill the void.
The future of meta and games doesn’t look good
Responding to criticism of its long-term focus on virtual workplaces, Zuckerberg and other executives said it was just the first phase of a long-term, multi-year plan to reshape the internet. Zuckerberg himself said that the Metaverse is the “next chapter” of the internet.
But the company’s message was everywhere, particularly in regards to how video games fit into that future. Of course, much can also be said about how the metaverse is discussed in relation to work. But considering virtual reality has found a lot of use in games and will only grow with the release of the PS VR2, it seems odd – if not surprising – that Meta should give it the sheer attention at an annual showcase. For a company that wants to bring people together, Meta has a heavy focus on work, buying digital clothes, legs (which we found out aren’t as finished as the presentation made it appear), and Microsoft Office, although it’s missing out on one of the biggest ways people socialize in the 21st century. Instead of releasing $1,500 headsets with no practical uses or even great tech demos, Meta should take a look at what made the technology so great in the first place and not alienate a large chunk of its audience.
Despite the dreams of VR users who saw it as the next frontier for video games, the reality currently says otherwise.