Facebook’s rebrand to Meta is both a convenient distraction from its terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news week and reflects every tech incumbent’s fear of missing the next big thing. The metaverse is Silicon Valley’s latest buzzword to describe an immersive, persistent virtual world, and Mark Zuckerberg has shifted his company’s ambition to becoming the metaverse company—even if it’s not yet 100% clear what that means.
While Facebook’s massive scale and hordes of cash make it a formidable rival, it’s not the only company with this vision. Here are the companies that Facebook will be competing against in its quest to build the metaverse.
If this is a platform shift, big tech will certainly be interested. Most tech giants have yet to fully hop on the bandwagon, though they have invested in metaverse-related capabilities. Apple is building out an AR ecosystem, Amazon has a gaming studio and a chokehold on the e-commerce and cloud computing industries, while Samsung has strong VR capabilities.
Among tech giants, Microsoft has already openly embraced the idea of an “enterprise metaverse.”
👍 Strengths: It has an entire tech stack primed for building a virtual world, from cloud computing (Azure IoT), digital twins (Azure digital twins), mapping (Azure Maps), analytics (Azure Synapse Analytics), to mixed reality (Microsoft Mesh and Hololens). It also owns gaming properties like Minecraft and Xbox, so it’s already established roots in running immense virtual spaces.
👎 Weaknesses: Virtual corporate meetings are not fun.
Games already offer a version of what metaverses could look like. Virtual worlds with robust, if chaotic, economies have long existed in games like Second Life, Eve Online, Fortnite, and more.
Unity Technologies is the company behind the most popular game development engine (also Unity). Its software allows users to build 3D environments that can be deployed across multiple platforms.
👍 Strengths: 3D assets will be critical for building out fully fleshed out metaverses, making Unity’s breed of software indispensable. Its focus on interoperable infrastructure aligns with the vision of a seamless metaverse experience, where people can move from space to space (e.g., from Pokemon Go to Roblox) without having to worry about their assets not functioning.
👎 Weaknesses: Epic Games’ Unreal Engine has Unity beat in applications beyond gaming, such as architecture or design—mainly because Unreal offers better graphics.
Others of note: Roblox, Epic Games, VRChat
No social media company has embraced the concept of the metaverse like Facebook has—even before its name change. Some might see it as a distraction, or be skeptical that it really represents a new social platform. But if Facebook starts experimenting with new social apps in virtual reality, expect at least some other social companies to launch versions of their own.
The social platform furthest along is arguably Snap, which is still cool among the youth—something Facebook is deeply envious of.
👍 Strengths: It was early to the AR filter boom, virtual avatars (3D Bitmojis), AR hardware (Spectacles), and has steadily developed AR capabilities since. In May, it rolled out Connected Lenses, which allow users to create synchronous AR experiences with their friends.
👎 Weaknesses: Snap faces major competition in its core social media business—namely, TikTok.
Startups are capitalizing on every aspect of the metaverse, from infrastructure to VR gear to visual assets. The space is still nascent, but given the immense capital that’s required to support a large-scale virtual world, these companies will likely become tech giants’ acquisition targets.
Improbable develops cloud-based data infrastructure for games. Its products focus on scaling virtual worlds, initially for games, but it’s since broadened its scope to defense and security.
👍 Strengths: True concurrency in multiplayer games is technically difficult (that’s why games split people up into separate servers). But Improbable recently released a suite of software solutions, Project Morpheus, that allows virtual worlds to support up to 10,000 people. It garnered a $2 billion valuation and is backed by Andreessen Horowitz and SoftBank.
Others of note: Magic Leap, OpenSea
For more, check out CB Insights’ metaverse market map.