Microsoft's Metaverse: An Idea far from reality

    Tanya Sharma
    Tanya Sharma
    Published on February 28, 2023 05:49 PM

    Microsoft's Metaverse project hampered heavily as market giant's focus shifted from virtual reality to Artificial Intelligence.

    Microsoft's Metaverse
    Source: Unsplash

    Microsoft's Metaverse Project isn’t a very new initiative by the technology giant. The project was designed to create a more advanced and interconnected version of the internet, where users can engage with each other in 3D environments, with the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies.

    Microsoft has been working on various components that are essential for building the metaverse, including advanced graphics, natural language processing, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and many other cutting-edge technologies. The ultimate goal of the project is to create a platform that allows people from all around the world to interact, communicate, learn, and have fun in a seamless and intuitive manner.

    The metaverse has the potential to revolutionize how we interact with each other and the world around us, and Microsoft's Metaverse Project was once one of the most ambitious efforts to make this vision a reality. As soon as they jumped into more AI oriented technologies.

    What is Microsoft Metaverse?

    Defining the metaverse can be just as challenging as defining the entirety of the physical world. However, Satya Nadella has provided a robust definition of a Microsoft metaverse. According to the Microsoft CEO, the metaverse is a transformative technology that serves as a platform for individuals to unleash their creative potential. Nadella sees the metaverse as similar to the early days of the internet that Microsoft helped popularize, where people could create websites. But with the metaverse, people can build entire worlds.

    Microsoft's goal is to recreate the universal accessibility of the internet with their metaverse. This accessibility is achieved through a broad range of technologies. Microsoft's Teams system supports both 2D screens and more immersive displays via AR or VR headsets.

    In pursuit of this objective, Microsoft is dedicated to a wide range of different technologies. The company is developing advanced mixed reality display systems such as HoloLens and providing a vast array of cloud-based services via Azure Intelligent Cloud. Moreover, the company offers Unity, Modern Workplace Solutions, and Office and Dynamics 365 on top of these platforms.

    How Metaverse was a Game Changer for Satya Nadella?

    Metaverse was a game changer for Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, in 2021 because it represented a new and exciting direction for the company. Microsoft has traditionally been focused on developing software and hardware products for personal computers and other devices, but the metaverse represents a new frontier that could be even more transformative than the internet itself.

    Nadella recognized the potential of the metaverse early on and made it a priority for Microsoft, investing heavily in research and development to create the technologies needed to build a fully-realized metaverse. This strategy paid off in 2021, as the concept of the metaverse gained significant mainstream attention and interest, with major tech companies and investors looking to get in on the action.

    In addition to positioning Microsoft as a leader in this emerging field, the metaverse also offers significant business opportunities for the company. By creating a platform for virtual and augmented reality experiences, Microsoft can tap into new markets and revenue streams, including gaming, education, healthcare, and social networking.

    Microsoft’s Struggle to Maintain Metaverse Project

    As per reported by Wall Street Journals in 2022, Microsoft struggled a lot to maintain the pace of the project as the metaverse space extended into much more competency before the launch of Microsoft’s metaverse project. 

    Microsoft Corp. had an early lead in the race to the metaverse with its futuristic HoloLens headset. Seven years later, its main push into augmented reality, which combines virtual visuals with views of the actual world, has run up against technological constraints and firm management's patience.

    The device, a ring-shaped computer worn like a crown and displaying digital information on linked goggles, has not proven popular. Microsoft canceled a planned new edition and has struggled to meet the technological needs of its largest customer, the United States Army.

    According to former employees and LinkedIn profiles, more than 100 people have departed the HoloLens team in the last two years, including the company's long standing head.

    Microsoft has restructured the headset development team, which has grown to over 1,000 people, and reduced its budget as part of a companywide attempt to reduce spending and the size of its employees as earnings growth slows.

    "We had the ability to own this market," Tom Osborne, a former HoloLens team director who retired earlier in 2022, said.

    "We were way ahead on a lot of things." However, he claimed that Microsoft did not put enough employees or money behind the endeavor.

    However, even with the latest technologies, Giants like Meta (Formerly Facebook Metaverse) and many other companies in this space had faced a great challenge. Meta Platforms Inc. has so far relied mostly on virtual reality in its attempt to focus on the metaverse, offering Quest headgear integrated with VR technology that allow users to visit its virtual worlds.

    Nonetheless, Meta and other major technology companies are pouring billions of dollars into augmented reality. In the following years, Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, and Meta are all anticipated to release their own AR headsets.

    Microsoft’s New Focus: AI

    Prior to the recent surge of excitement surrounding artificial intelligence, the metaverse was touted as the Next Big Thing, with the potential to revolutionize the world, technology, and the way we work in unprecedented ways. The vision was that people would eventually coexist and collaborate in a virtual environment that was far more engaging, dynamic, and efficient than the mundane reality we are currently confined to.

    As we know, ChatGPT is now one of the most engaging platforms on the internet. From writers to researchers to school kids, everyone is surprised by the AI chat Bot. And who’s boosting this new internet sensation? Microsoft.

    Microsoft has invested heavily in the development of AI chat bot ChatGPT owned by OpenAI. Due to which Microsoft recently made the decision to reduce its workforce by 10,000 employees, and the process of downsizing has already commenced. Layoffs are often seen as a litmus test for a company's priorities and plans for the future, as they can reveal what areas of the business are most valuable and which ones are deemed expendable.

    It appears that Microsoft has made it clear that the metaverse is not a significant part of its future, as evidenced by the recent layoff of the entire Altspace VR team and the MRTK team. This move is particularly telling, given that a new version of MRTK is slated for release in the near future, indicating that Microsoft may not view the metaverse as a critical area for investment and growth.

    One of the twitter user has quoted on the same situation as for how long tech giant's will take loss for the metaverse project. Derek Strickland tweeted that "This is assuming Xbox is not profitable as it currently stands, and if it isn't, how long is Microsoft willing to take a loss?"

    Final Thoughts

    Taking into account that Microsoft has limited support for its metaverse, which means you may need to rely on your own resources to a certain extent. With this in mind, it's important to exercise caution when considering the company's promises about AI. Although Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in the technology and made high-profile statements about its integration into Bing, this does not guarantee its widespread implementation across all its operations.

    While AI is expected to have a significant impact on the company's future endeavors, it's worth remembering that just two years ago, Nadella spoke about the metaverse as a game-changing breakthrough. However, Microsoft has now largely abandoned this vision, which serves as a cautionary tale regarding the company's future plans and priorities.

    Microsoft Metaverse FAQs

    Is Microsoft working on metaverse?

    Yes, Microsoft is working on the metaverse. The company has been investing in research and development to create the technologies needed to build a fully-realized metaverse named as Microsoft Mesh.

    What does Microsoft say about the metaverse?

    "The metaverse will play a key role in providing new ways of connecting", the company says. In fact, the Work Trend Index data shows that 50% of Gen Z and millennials envision doing some of their work in the metaverse in the next two years.

    What is Microsoft's metaverse project?

    Microsoft's metaverse project is a futuristic vision for a virtual space that allows people to coexist and interact with each other through augmented and virtual reality technology. It is a fully-realized, immersive, and collaborative environment where people can work, play, and socialize in new and innovative ways.

    How is Microsoft involved in the metaverse?

    Microsoft has been investing in research and development to create the technologies needed to build a fully-realized metaverse. The company has developed tools like the Mixed Reality Toolkit (MRTK), launched AltspaceVR, a social platform for virtual reality events, and acquired Mesh, a platform for creating collaborative virtual experiences.

    What is the Mixed Reality Toolkit (MRTK)?

    The Mixed Reality Toolkit (MRTK) is a set of building blocks that enable developers to create immersive experiences for virtual and augmented reality platforms. It provides a wide range of tools, assets, and services that allow developers to build complex and sophisticated virtual environments for the metaverse.