John Carmack, the consulting chief technology officer at virtual reality company Oculus, has raised his concerns over hasty pushes to create the metaverse – immersive online worlds merging VR and AR technologies.
It’s a view that may be at odds with that of Oculus’ parent company Facebook, which rebranded as “Meta” on October 28, part of a move to switch from being a social media company to “building the metaverse”. This rebrand comes amidst a whistleblower alleging the company harms children and weakens democracy.
However, on the same day, Carmack delivered a keynote speech for the online Facebook Connect event (embedded below, as posted to UploadVR’s YouTube channel), where he cast doubt on the wider industry’s rush to build the metaverse without getting the fundamentals in place first.
While carefully prefacing with “I really do care about it and I buy into the vision” Carmack said that in its current state, the metaverse is a “honeypot trap” for “architecture astronauts”.
Carmack went on to define the phrase as “a chidingly pejorative term for a class of programmers or designers that want to only look at things from the very highest levels” and who “don’t want to talk about GPU microarchitectures, or merging network streams, or dealing with any of the architecture asset packing, or any of the nuts-and-bolts details – they just want to talk in high, abstract terms”.
He added that the tendency to look at the metaverse in such broad strokes makes him “want to tear my hair out […] because that’s so not the things that are actually important when you’re building something.”
“But here we are. Mark Zuckerberg has decided that now’s the time to build the metaverse,” Carmack said, perhaps a not-so-subtle jab at the Facebook founder’s zeal for the untested metaverse concept.
While Carmack acknowledges that “enormous wheels are turning and resources are flowing” and that efforts are “definitely going to be made”, he also highlights that the “big challenge now is to try to take all of this energy and make sure it goes to something positive and we’re able to build something that has real near-term user value.
“Because my worry is that we could spend years and thousands of people possibly, and wind up with things that didn’t contribute all that much to the ways people are actually using the devices and hardware today,” Carmack offered.
Essentially, it seems Carmack – who rose to games industry prominence as the co-founder of id Software, and co-creator of games such as DOOM and Quake – is concerned that the industry, and Meta, is getting over-excited by potential end use scenarios, rather than the boring foundational work that needs to happen first.
Carmack says that “my biggest advice is that we need to concentrate on actual products, rather than technology, architecture, or initiatives. I didn’t write game engines when I was at id Software, I wrote games. Some of the technology that was in those games turned out to be reusable enough to be applied to other things, but it was always driven by the product itself, and the technology was what enabled the product, and then almost accidentally enabled some other things after it.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to really accept how rarely futureproofing and planning for broad generalisations of things turns out to really deliver value. It is really shocking how often that ends up getting in your way, making it harder to do the things you’re trying to do today in the name of things you hope to do tomorrow, and then it’s not actually there or doesn’t actually work right when you get around to wanting to do that,” Carmack added.
Elsewhere, Facebook – sorry, Meta – has confirmed that it will be phasing out the “Oculus” brand name, and removing the requirement for a Facebook login for its Quest 2 virtual reality headsets.