Facebook now known as Meta announces that it is now opening up access to its VR social platform by the name Horizon Worlds. The virtual reality platform is a world of avatars, people in the US and Canada who are 18 and up can access the free Quest app without an invite.
Horizon Worlds was launched in beta last year targeting Oculus VR users, who were allowed to join the virtual world through invitations. The virtual world can be described as Meta’s first attempt at releasing something similar to CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse. As a result of this announcement, users will no longer need to seek invitations to participate in the virtual world. The platform has also been described as an expansive, multiplayer platform that relatively combines Roblox and the OASIS VR world from Ready Player One. Users would require a Facebook account to log in to the virtual space while having the ability to hang out with up to 20 people at a time.
After Facebook’s announcement in September 2019 as a private beta, the virtual world has evolved from more into a social platform than as a Minecraft-like environment primarily for building games. Its large amount of beta testers has held regular sessions like comedy shows, movie nights, and meditation sessions which have turned out fantastic and allowed the platform to come across as social. Elaborate objects have been built, an example is a replica of the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. “Now we can open up and say we have interesting things that people can do,” says Vivek Sharma, Meta’s VP of Horizon.
However, safety may be a big concern for a VR environment like Horizon Worlds as time goes on, as the virtual platform provides an opportunity where one can easily interact with any stranger. Earlier in the month, a post by a beta tester made its way in the official Horizon group on Facebook, in the post the beta tester relates about how her avatar was groped by a complete stranger. “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.
Sharma regarded that particular incident as “absolutely unfortunate.” He explains that after that incident was reviewed by Meta, the company found out 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. When you’re in Horizon, a rolling buffer that captures your experiences is saved locally on your Oculus headset and later sent to Meta for human review in the case of an incident being reported. “That’s good feedback still for us because I want to make [the blocking feature] trivially easy and findable,” says Sharma.
Another aspect of the Horizon Worlds is the human guides that exist to greet new users as they uniquely make their way from the Plaza to different worlds. These guides are power users that have been trained by Meta employees train to administer best practices while navigating Horizon and following its behavior rules. Sharma says “one of those areas where we’re doing unscalable things to keep the environment to be a place that’s healthy for communities.”
Currently, as at the time of writing this, there’s no way to earn money in the Horizon Worlds, either as a creator, as a guide, or even player, but who knows the tides may change in the near future. The big plan actually is to eventually tie it into Horizon Venues, a standalone experience that would allow throwing large events in VR, and Horizon Workrooms, its VR work collaboration software. Until the concept of monetization is added, Meta hopes that its focus on the building aspect of virtual space will eventually entice people. “The act of creating itself is part of the appeal of this thing,” says Sharma. “Creation is kind of the product.” According to Zuckerberg in October, he hopes that “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.”