In an historic day for technology, the company formerly known as Facebook has opened its Horizon Worlds metaverse to everyone over 18 in the US and Canada.
Meta may not be the first metaverse company out there, but it is currently the largest, spending billions of dollars and hiring 10,000 new employees to build founder Mark Zuckerberg’s version of the metaverse.
Called Horizon Worlds, Meta’s new product is a virtual reality (VR) space that users navigate using Oculus headsets and controllers. This early version is particularly geared toward developers, as it unveils several tools allowing users to create their own games and even their own little worlds.
“Today, we’re making Horizon Worlds available for free to everyone 18 years of age or older in the US and Canada,” Meta said in a statement. “Horizon Worlds is a social VR experience where you can create and explore together. Since launching as an invite-only beta last year, we’ve been amazed by the community that’s begun to form and inspired by the unique experiences they’ve built.
“Our vision for Horizon Worlds is to develop a VR space with best-in-class tools for creators to build words and explore together. To support creators, we announced a $10 million Creator Fund in October. Since then, we launched our first Creator Competition with cash prizes and will announce the winners later this month.”
So, what’s it like being inside Meta’s version of the metaverse? Well, first of all, you have to get used to not having legs. The Oculus controllers allow you to move your avatar through the three-dimensional space, but there’s no controls for moving legs, so in this version of Horizon Worlds the avatars are legless. On the bright side, you can control the avatar’s hands, so using various objects within the metaverse is fairly simple.
Meta is taking advantage of that by also unveiling one of their first metaverse games, a team-based laser tag game called Arena Clash.
Other creators have created their own games and apps, and Meta named a few of the favorites so far:
- Pixel Plummet: A retro, arcade-style multiplayer platform battle royale with a vapor wave theme. (Creators: Matthias and collaborators SKitter_, OcuLos410, Laex05 and Traveseo)
- Wand & Broom: Players can fly high above Townscity on a magic broom with their trusty wands at their side, Harry Potter style. (Creators: TheJohnMclay and collaborators rcdegs, Elastic_Plastic, JHeff.CS, Chrish_Topher_066, Solaris30 and burnbuns)
- Mark’s Riverboat: Grab your friends and enjoy a relaxing ride on the river aboard a triple decker riverboat. (Creators: tMARKbirman and 5andw1ch)
The most important part of Horizon Worlds right now is the ability to write basic code that sets rules for how objects work, such as the guns firing in the laser tag arena when you press the trigger. While there’s no way to monetize anything in Horizon Worlds just yet, it’s expected new apps and games will provide a wide range of profitable opportunities for licensing companies of all kinds, such as games, concerts, fitness classes, fashion stores or shows, and so on. The open architecture is designed to let other companies come into Meta’s Horizon World and build their own apps, and in future, we expect those apps will offer monetization and some sort of licensing scheme with Facebook.
Online Safety in a Virtual World
Given the year Meta has had, defending itself from allegations that Facebook and Instagram created real life hazards particularly for young, female users, safety has become a priority for all metaverse projects, but particularly for Horizon Worlds. According to the tech publication The Verge, Horizon has already had its first #MeToo moment.
“Earlier this month, a (female) beta tester posted in the official Horizon group on Facebook about how her avatar was groped by a stranger,” said Alex Heath in an article for the Verge.
The victim in question also said no one else in the virtual world stepped in to help. “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense,” she wrote. “Not only was I groped last night, but there were other people there who supported this behavior which made me feel isolated in the Plaza.”
Meta’s VP in charge of Horizon, Vivek Sharma said the incident was “absolutely unfortunate,” but pointed out that is why Meta added safety tools to the program. He says that after Meta reviewed the incident, the company determined that the beta tester didn’t utilize the safety features built into Horizon Worlds, which includes the ability to block someone from interacting with you.
As well, Horizon stores data on what happens while you’re inside the metaverse, saved locally on your Oculus headset, which is sent to Meta for human review if an incident is reported. “That’s good feedback still for us because I want to make [the blocking feature] trivially easy and findable,” said Sharma.
The company also said, in a statement, that safety from online harassment is Meta’s top priority in the app design.
“We want Horizon Worlds to be a safe and respectful environment, so everyone must follow our Conduct in VR Policy, Meta said. “You have several safety options, including access to your personal Safe Zone at any time through your wrist menu, which lets you take a break and then block, mute or report people.”
If you and your company want to try out Horizon World’s the app is available to download for free on Quest 2 here. Unfortunately, as of Jan. 13, 2022, it will no longer be supported on Quest 1.