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Facebook Rebrands As ‘Meta’ And Unveils Its Strategy For the Metaverse

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled today his new vision for the social media giant, introducing a major branding change of the parent company under the name Meta.

More importantly, Zuckerberg outlined wholesale changes to the company that transformed the world of social media, in ways that will have major implications for the entire licensing industry.

There’s a lot to digest from the comprehensive announcement, which also underlined just how serious Facebook is about completely transforming its business model. To sum up, rather than being primarily a social media company, Zuckerberg envisions Meta as a company dominated by its work in what is now called the Metaverse, a name that came from the novel Snow Crash.

At Facebook’s Connect 2021 conference, Zuckerberg unveiled the new brand, saying Meta brings together all of the company’s apps and technologies under a single brand, similar to the way Google rebranded its parent company as Alphabet. However, it is not the rebranding that is of primary importance for Facebook, but rather the radical change to the company’s business model, which the company described in a single phrase: “Meta’s focus will be to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.”

Zuckerberg says the metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world. “We’re a company that focuses on connecting people. While most other tech companies focus on how people interact with technology, we focus on building technology so people can interact with each other.”

So, what is the Metaverse? Essentially, it refers to a virtual world that is entered into by humans in the form of digital avatars, but where real commerce happens just as in the real world. If you’ve ever seen the film Ready Player One, played the game Second Life, or read the novel Snow Crash, you already have some idea what the Metaverse is and how it works.

An image from the beta version of the Horizon Metaverse, designed by Facebook.

What’s different today is that the Metaverse is being rapidly developed to replace what we think of as the mobile internet. As opposed to viewing the digital world through a glowing rectangle on your computer, your phone or your tablet, you’ll soon be entering the internet—or Metaverse—in a three-dimensional sense. You’ll be able to go to fashion outlets to try on clothes; attend meetings and conferences; visit digital art galleries; take part in fitness classes; go to a version of  the office; or even enjoy concerts and sporting events.

Facebook’s version of the Metaverse is intended to let you share immersive experiences with other people even when you can’t be together, and do things together you couldn’t do in the physical world. It’s the next evolution in a long line of social technologies, and it’s ushering in a new chapter for Facebook, or as we’ll call it from now on, for Meta. (For a deep dive, Zuckerberg shared more about this vision in a founder’s letter.)

To sum up Meta’s version of the Metaverse, it’s a digital world where people can come together in an almost physical way, moving around in a three-dimensional world and interacting with that world through Virtual Reality headsets and hand-held remote controls. People will be represented by their avatars, essentially animated characters that are like updated versions of your profile picture. Eventually, residents of the Metaverse who need more control, such as performers, will use motion capture technology so their avatar precisely mirrors their movements in the real world.

“Avatars will be as common as profile pictures today, but instead of a static image, they’re going to be living 3D representations of you – your expressions, your gestures — that are going to make interactions much richer than anything that’s possible online today,” Zuckerberg says.  “Instead of typing or tapping, you’re going to be able to gesture with your hands, say a few words, or even just make things happen by thinking about them. Your devices won’t be the focal point of your attention. Instead of getting in the way, they’ll give you a sense of presence in the new experiences you’re having and the people who you’re with.”

Zuckerberg is also reiterating his view that the Metaverse is not going to be a product that is produced or owned by a single company. Rather, the Metaverse is more similar to an upgraded version of the Internet. As it develops, Zuckerberg believes many companies will produce their own parts of the Metaverse. For example, companies like Decentraland have already created virtual cities with virtual real estate, and that real estate is being purchased by individuals and companies as places to do business. The game Fortnite is another good example, as the immersive game also hosts massive events where people attend as Avatars for high profile concerts and other events.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg talks about his vision of the Metaverse, from a virtual ‘home’ that is part of his vision for a physical internet.

Zuckerberg said Meta will be just one of the companies creating space in the new Metaverse, and also argues that the same kind of universal rules that let the internet work effectively will be essential for a successful Metaverse. “Teleporting around the metaverse is going to be like clicking a link on the internet,” Zuckerberg predicts. “It’s an open standard. In order to unlock the potential of the metaverse, there needs to be interoperability.”

By shifting its focus from social media to the Metaverse, Meta is signaling that it intends to be one of the leaders in this nascent technology, and not just as a 3D version of Facebook.  Zuckerberg believes the Metaverse will be even more diverse than the current internet; a place where people work, shop and play as part of their daily lives.

“We’ve gone from desktop to web to phones, from text to photos to video, but this isn’t the end of the line,” Zuckerberg explained. “The next platform and medium will be even more immersive; an embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it. We call this the metaverse. And you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine — get together with friends and family, work, learn, play, shop, create — as well as entirely new categories that don’t really fit how we think about computers or phones today.”

How The Metaverse Relates to Licensing

The licensing industry is already functioning within the Metaverse in many ways, including licensing deals for video games and events within the Roblox platform, selling NFT artworks in galleries in Decentraland, and high profile concerts in the Fortnite game, but it’s worth remembering that the Metaverse is at a nascent stage. The true value of the Metaverse won’t be realized until it becomes common for people to use it regularly for work, shopping and for entertainment.

A good example of that type of activity includes building digital, three-dimensional stores where shoppers can buy both digital and real life items. In these early days, that primarily has been limited to NFT-related items like clothing and accessories for avatars, or artwork that can be installed on a Metaverse user’s digital walls. Those things are already happening, but the Metaverse in the future will provide a means through which people can buy physical products as well, but with a much more rewarding experience than simply buying items from a list on an internet page. As the technology improves, people will even be able to try on various items of clothing, using highly detailed avatars as the models, before buying an outfit.

For a deep dive into this topic, check out TLL’s August Special Report: Licensing in the Metaverse that goes into detail on how the Metaverse is being developed, who the leading players are right now, and how the Metaverse is becoming the largest new opportunity for licensing since the development of the internet itself.

Meta is initially more focused on providing tools for people to connect for work, education, and social interaction, but the company is already creating other types of services, such as fitness centers that drop you (or at least your avatar) into a class filled with other participants and a fitness coach, all of whom can interact with each other. That interactivity, says Zuckerberg, will soon create an entirely new layer of commerce.

“Our hope is that, if we all work at it, then within the next decade the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers,” he said. “Think about how many people make a living on the internet today, and how many of those jobs just didn’t even exist a few years ago. I expect the metaverse is going to open up lots of opportunities for people in the exact same way.”

Facebook itself already created one of these new licensing opportunities for the Metaverse, working with sunglasses company Ray-Ban to release enhanced Artificial Reality (AR) glasses that look like the company’s classic Wayfarers, but that’s just the first of many new licensing opportunities as Meta releases its new Metaverse products.

In addition to rebranding the company, Meta also unveiled several of those initiatives, including:

  • Horizon Home, which is essentially a portal that acts as your home base within the Metaverse;
  • Horizon Workrooms, a digital workspace within the Metaverse that acts as a place for workers to meet and collaborate, rather than going to a physical office;
  • Venues, which allows users to virtually attend concerts, sports and other live events;
  • Horizon Worlds, a tech framework allowing developers to create their own virtual spaces within the Metaverse;
  • Various VR games that allow players to drop themselves into the action, using Meta’s Oculus headsets and remote controls.
  • A number of immersive VR fitness applications, such as the boxing fitness app Supernatural; the VR workout app Fitness XR; and Player 22, a VR sports training app.

Addressing Issues With Privacy and False Information on Facebook

The unveiling of Meta came at an awkward time for the company, as Facebook has been under fire for its social media practices. Those include allegations of invasion of privacy; allegations that the company allowed harm to young people and particularly young women and girls through abusive posts; and allegations that Facebook allowed deceptive posts that undermined American democracy and the COVID-19 vaccination effort.

Zuckerberg acknowledged that criticism, and said the company is determined to avoid similar mistakes as it builds out its vision of the Metaverse, which could potentially raise even more serious privacy issues.

“Privacy and safety need to be built into the metaverse from day one,” Zuckerberg acknowledged. “We’re spending a lot of time talking with experts and getting perspectives from outside the company on what we’re building, even before we build it (and) one of the advantages of starting right now is that we can collaborate with people at the very early stages of development.”

To learn more about Meta and its plans for a universal Metaverse, go to meta.com.

 

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