For most people, accessing the company’s metaverse, which is called Horizon, is as simple as buying a Meta Quest 2 VR headset. 

Although the headset costs $399, Horizon itself is available for free. There are no additional fees now, however in-app purchases are being tested. 

Horizon first began as the company’s social virtual reality app, which it started trialling in 2020 with a closed alpha test version. Today, Horizon Worlds is Meta’s main app into the social metaverse and Horizon Workrooms is the workplace metaverse.

The company is currently testing Horizon Worlds on beta for smartphones, indicating that the future of the metaverse will not be headset-only. 

At the time of the rebrand to Meta, the company was concerned the change would go unnoticed by most people, Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth said. Instead, it became divisive.

By May 2023, Ed Zitron declared the metaverse dead in an obituary for Insider, saying the “once-buzzy technology” had been “abandoned by the business world.” And Zitron has not been alone in his thoughts on the metaverse.

Phil Libin, the former CEO of Evernote, told Insider in February 2022 that Horizon was “only tolerable for a few minutes” and considered it an “old idea” that has “never worked.” That same month, Meta’s stock price tumbled more than 20% after the company lost $10 billion.

The company also lost roughly a million active daily users.  More than 11,000 employees lost their jobs in the first wave of Meta layoffs in November 2022. Ten-thousand more were slashed in March 2023, and an additional 5,000 were cut in May.

The layoffs tanked employee morale and while Meta’s stock price has improved since its all-time low, it has yet to recover.

Sexual harassment claims and user retention woes

As a response to reports of virtual groping, Meta implemented a 4-foot safety bubble around avatars in February 2022. The company calls the feature “Personal Boundary,” and it cannot be disabled.

Internal documents viwed by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Horizon was struggling to retain users in 2022.

Those willing to spend hundreds on the VR headset found themselves in virtual worlds without many other users and filled with glitches. Some were also disturbed by the lack of legs on avatars. 

As a response to negative feedback and bugs, Meta put Horizon in a “quality lockdown” for the remainder of 2022, pledging to focus on squashing bugs. By October 2022, Meta had spent $36 billion on the metaverse and planned to spend billions more, making some investors wary.

For context, the original iPhone, a revolutionary product that skyrocketed Apple’s fortunes, cost somewhere between $150 million and $3.4 billion to get from research and development to hitting store shelves.

An ‘undeniably cool’ — and heavy — long-term bet

When Insider’s Sawdah Bhaimiya tried out the Meta Quest Pro, the higher-end and more expensive of Meta’s headsets, she found it “undeniably cool.” Still, she was “relieved to take it off” after just 20 minutes, citing the weight of the headset.

In 2023, following “underwhelming” sales and mixed reviews, Meta slashed the prices of its Quest 2 and Quest Pro VR headsets. Losses then surpassed $40 billion in July, but Wall Street suddenly adopted a more forgiving attitude.

On a Meta earnings call with analysts, Zuckerberg characterized the metaverse as “a very long-term bet.”

“I can’t guarantee you that I’m gonna be right about this bet,” he said. “I do think that this is the direction that the world is going in.”

Meta’s stock rose 7% following Zuckerberg’s comments on the call.

Apple’s Vision Pro, its mixed-reality headset, was announced in June 2023. The company notably opted to use the phrase “spatial computing” instead of  “metaverse,” which it didn’t mention once. This could indicate that Apple is leery of the metaverse due to the term’s lack of consumer recognition.

In his Q&A on Instagram, Bosworth compared the confusion over the term to the early days of the internet.

“The internet actually is still, to this day, kind of hard to define,” he said. “Except that we all know what it is because we use it.”