Why I Don't Want to Live in a Metaverse

December 28, 2021, 8:18 PM · I don't want to live in a metaverse.

"Metaverse" became one of 2021's top buzzwords. Facebook even renamed its parent company "Meta" as a gesture toward the concept. Disney Parks managers have pushed the creation of a theme park metaverse as one of the company's goals. But many people I've talked with still have no idea what the heck a "metaverse" is supposed to be.

Many people conflate a metaverse with a multiverse, especially with the Marvel Cinematic Universe now going all in on the latter concept. While a multiverse is supposed to be the simultaneous existence of multiple parallel universes, a metaverse is a combination of technical elements that allow people to live, work and/or play in a persistent online virtual environment.

But I do not want to live in a persistent online environment. Hearing music through speakers can't beat listening to the live voices of a choir or an orchestra sharing a concert hall with you. Real life mountain views, ocean surf, and desert sunsets simply overwhelm their digital recreations. Even as an introvert with sometimes crippling social anxiety, I still want to see, talk to and maybe even hug actual people from time to time.

I love and cover theme parks, and an online virtual environment is the antithesis of what a theme park should be. Theme parks make possible stepping into fantastic and impossible environments. They make the virtual real, while the metaverse makes what is real virtual.

While some of the technology associated with the emerging metaverse offers enticing possibilities to enhance themed entertainment experiences, I hope that the people who design theme parks and other attractions never deploy them in ways which minimize the physical experience that makes these destinations unique within the entertainment industry. Look, I am all for developing new technology. But the Internet and communication technology should provide ways to discover and connect with more in real life. It should not become a replacement for that life.

Unfortunately, some of the new tech that theme parks have been deploying - in part due to the ongoing pandemic - have begun to turn guests away from the immersive experience of visiting a unique physical environment and instead bring them back into the metaverse-like digital environment that many of us visit theme parks to escape.

Virtual reality offers amazing potential for home gaming and entertainment. It helps architects and designers, and their clients, walk through the spaces they have created before the costly process of construction begins. VR can help professionals from physicians to the military practice new techniques in a no-risk environment. It can allow strangers to meet without the prejudice of physical appearances. This is amazing stuff, so I understand why theme park designers would find it enticing. But I never want to don a VR headset in a theme park again.

When fans visit theme parks, they want a different experience from what they can enjoy in front of their TVs or behind VR headsets at home. And they definitely want something different than what they go through at work. That's why so many fans have complained about the spread of media in theme park attractions. Sometimes a designer needs media to create an effect or portray a familiar face without breaking a budget. But when theme park media don't feel any different from what fans can find in a multiplex or, worse, at home, designers start losing the case for spending money to visit their parks.

Much of the newest tech in the parks extends beyond attractions, however, especially at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. With mobile ordering, virtual queuing, recommended itineraries, photo filters, and various interactive experiences, theme parks are deploying more and more ways to direct our attention from the wonders around us in the parks to the same mobile phone screens we look at so often outside the parks.

Of course using your phone while in the parks can enhance the experience. I loved mobile order when it debuted, but it hasn't scaled (in part for reasons I will go into tomorrow). I prefer getting a Lightning Lane return time via my phone rather than having to walk across the park just for that, like I did with the original Fastpass. Being able to check wait times via an app helps me make better decisions about what to do, when. An in-park interactive experience is a better way to kill time in a stalled line than using my phone for something that takes me out of the park experience, such as checking email or social media.

But let my screen time inside the parks be an enhancement and not a requirement. Someone who cannot, or chooses not to, use a park's app ought to be able to enjoy the full value of what they paid to visit, rather than having to accept a substantially diminished experience or spend extra time queuing for employee help.

Yesterday I wrote about how Disney effectively has raised prices on many of its most enthusiastic visitors through reservation limits on annual passes and new upcharges such as a Disney Genie+. While I argued that might be a smart business move for Disney, it still hurts loyal fans who had enjoyed the great value they had been getting from their Disney visits. A step forward for one forces a step back for another.

Many Disney fans also are complaining about having to spend more time on Disney Parks' apps whenever they visit. While Disney and other theme park companies are right to pursue new technology, there remains a risk that deploying it in the wrong ways could end up hurting the guest experience that the new tech was supposed to help.

And that risk ain't virtual - it's as real as an Orlando afternoon thunderstorm.

Update: Here is that promised article on the mobile order problem, among other things: Walt Disney World's Biggest Problem? An Attack of the Clones

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Replies (12)

December 28, 2021 at 10:33 PM

Robert, you are making the most of the holiday with another great article, thank you.

I've noticed that whenever there is an article about going to the cinema vs. watching movies at home, the comment sections are inevitably filled with people insisting that home viewing is superior, "my big screen is good as any cinema and there's no obnoxious kids looking at their phones," that sort of thing. It always seems to me like those people are just trying to justify the fact they're not getting off the couch, that they're making excuses for being a homebody.

Proponents of VR often hit the same note, insisting it's an absolutely great time to hang out alone in your basement with a phone strapped over your face.

In reality, VR hasn't caught on, and isn't going to catch on, because it's just too anti-social (and for many, too nausea-inducing). Watching a concert on TV, or on a magical phone strapped to your face, is fundamentally wack as compared to going to an actual, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs concert. Watching ride-throughs on youtube is fun, but it's nothing compared to the experience of the ride. VR isn't going to change that.

I know Zuckerberg and the billionaire class would love to profit more from keeping us on our couches, but most of us are like you, Robert. We wanna live life with other people, experience the world, and not be stuck in a screen all day. Indeed, I think Zuck's attempt to push people further into screens may even cause a backlash with younger generations who realize they're being played into being passive zombies.

December 28, 2021 at 10:57 PM

As someone who prefers actual books and yes, physical media of CDs and DVDs, I have to agree, hate the idea of folks immersing themselves in tech and screens rather than experience more of the real thing.

Also, I only just upgraded the phone I had since 2013 and realizing perfectly okay not being dominated by apps and such so not thrilled with them becoming more necessary to things in life. I do worry about us losing something becoming so reliant on technology as my brother's kids never knowing a world without the Internet and such. Hopefully we don't lose sight of what life is just for a little convenience off the touch of a keypad.

December 29, 2021 at 12:33 AM

Zuckerberg is desperately trying to push the Metaverse since Apple has put Facebook in a serious bind with the opt out features in the latest IOS. As the Metaverse is probably only thing left for him to try and dominate since Musk and Bezos are duking it out for space supremacy

December 29, 2021 at 7:03 AM

I would not say VR hasn’t caught on. Facebook’s (Meta’s) Oculus Quest was a huge seller in 2020 and 2021 (although you could finally find them on shelves this Christmas). It is not the best VR tech available, but does the best in combining technology, affordability, and fun.

I don’t know if VR will replace real life like it did in the book and movie “Ready Player One”, the possibility does exist given time and focusing on younger generations. I am a child of the 80s and grew up as an arcade rat. I would love to have all those quarters that I dropped in those slots back, and I’m sure others in those crowded arcades would, too. Today, arcades like those are dead. There are a few niche establishments that either are for us 80s kids or are filled with redemption games, but certainly nothing like the arcades found in every mall and nearly every street corner in the past (and malls are dying, too, due to the proliferation of online shopping). Teens prefer to stay at home and play on their home consoles and PCs on the internet. The market changed, and kids changed. It could happen again with VR.

December 29, 2021 at 5:32 PM

I think TheColonel has got this right, "Metaverse" is just like VR, or 3D movies - Things marketers think we want, is a trend for a time, and is soon left only as a relic in theme parks.

December 30, 2021 at 12:55 AM

Why wouldn't you want to live in the Metaverse? I like living there because I have friends who share the same playing games with me. Friday Night Funkin is a great game. It helps me to have more quality friends.

December 30, 2021 at 3:44 AM

I've warned "on the IAAPA conference floor" (and in the dedicated Linkedin professional discussion groups) numerous times against the fake hype of VR in theme parks, actually since 2012...
There is only one reason for patrons to go to (= travel and enter...) a "location based entertainment venue", and that is : to experience exclusively location based things = RR (Real Reality).
VR already moved to the living room, and is always fake... but 'cheep'.
Theme parks still wanting to invest in it, are actually brainwashed by the sales peoples / developers of those systems. Whether those guys are third party marketeers bombarding decision makers of a park with their "fantastic proposals", or tech-staff from within the company itself (like with Disney) makes no difference: they perform the same kind of CEO-brainwashing.
It's about MONEY ! Sell systems (as expensive as possible), let them fail just few years after, and launch a new 'branded' hype to repeat the high tech scam... Near to all VR of the first period, in theme parks, already has been abandoned.

January 2, 2022 at 11:51 AM

>>> By the way, a Marketeer from FNF is trying to make a "sales hit" on this platform ?
(Developers: FNF was developed by Ninjamuffin99, PhantomArcade, evilsk8r, and KawaiSprite. Is an open-source game with plenty of fan-made mods that expand the gameplay. The game becomes very popular after trending on social platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch.)
The profile promoting it, is an instant-bubble, pop-up intruder, in exactly the same way as romance scammers do on meeting sites ..
(>> Member Since: December 30, 2021
Last Visit: December 30, 2021 <<)
Now, anyone will know what comment I'm referring too, isn't it ?

December 30, 2021 at 4:56 AM

Hello Robert !
Just one special remark for you on the 'fantastic' possibilities of VR.
Quote : ....It helps architects and designers, and their clients, walk through the spaces they have created before the costly process of construction begins. ....
My base profession is architect. A VR walkthough is a marketing instrument, which is actually faking the reality to a very high extent. On the VR, everything looks... bigger, brighter, swifter and 'unrealistic'. The built reality afterwards always is both :
not as bright (reality, not a cartoon representation), looking smaller (!!! the VR is fooling our brains !) ;
and then opposite as well : offering all of the RR amazement the VR can never show.
Deciding based on a VR walktrough of a building, is the most biased invention in architectural design ever.

December 30, 2021 at 10:14 AM

I wouldn't mind living in a theme park "metaverse" if the transition was seamless. Unfortunately, that transition and heavy reliance on cell phones makes it very difficult to get immersed in these foreign worlds. For every step park designers have taken to try to make their imagined worlds more immersive, they have erected more and more barriers to feel truly immersed in them. Guests need more and more imagination to bridge those gaps as designers increase the use of tech in these lands.

Frankly, that's why I think Pandora World of Avatar ended up abandoning so many of the touted features that were announced during the development of the land. Magic Bands, phones, and other technology would be needed to make the land truly immersive, and designers realized that forcing guests to integrate those tools into their experience would actually make the land less immersive. Instead, the land has relied on its awe-inspiring beauty, forced perspectives, and old-school touch points to make guests feel immersed in the land. When compared with what Imagineers promised, the result is not even close to what was advertised, but I think is ultimately better than what Disney achieved in Galaxy's Edge where Datapad is thrust upon guests to make the connection that should be made with real and live (i.e. CM) interactions. It will be interesting if Disney will be able to refine CM interaction on the Halcyon to actually deliver what was advertised for Galaxy's Edge, or if even that uber-pricy experience will similarly underwhelm because of an overreliance on technology.

In the end, a "metaverse" still needs people to deliver that personal interaction, because guests live in a touch, taste, and feel world, not a virtual world. If guests are forced to make too big of a leap into the virtual world, they will eventually ask why they bothered to travel thousands of miles and spend hundreds of dollars for a day where they are immersed in a screen that could just as easily be done at home.

December 30, 2021 at 12:00 PM

Great points, Russell.

January 2, 2022 at 12:01 PM

The ONLY big revolution in 'storytelling theme park land', would be :

"Entering the park is forbidden with whatever electronic communication systems on you. All E-com's carried, must be left in lockers at the entrance. E-com device trespassers will be burned ceremonially at the stake, in view of a huge crowded audience without fast pass tickets."
THAT would be the REAL emersive adventure, anno 2022 ......... lol lol

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