Meta Opens Access to Social VR Platform Horizon Worlds
Meta, then Facebook, announced the social VR platform Horizon Worlds to much fanfare over two years ago. The platform, Meta’s first stab at the metaverse, has been in closed beta for more than a year now. Now it is open and free to anyone that has a Meta Quest headset.
The Horizon Worlds social VR platform has been described as a blend of Roblox and OASIS.
With the opening up of access last week, users in the US and Canada who are over 18 can now access this free Quest app without an invite.
Horizon Worlds is Meta’s first stab at some sort of a metaverse. It is a massive multiplayer platform that is a mix of both Roblox and the OASIS VR world from Ready Player One.
Horizon Worlds was originally only referred to as Horizon. The platform requires a Facebook account and will allow you to hang out with up to 20 people simultaneously within a virtual space.
Horizon Worlds was first unveiled in September 2019 and it was announced as a private beta. It started primarily as a Minecraft-like environment for creating games but it has since evolved into a social platform. It currently has thousands of beta testers and they have put it to diverse uses such as holding movie nights, regular comedy shows, and meditation sessions. Testers have also developed elaborate projects on the platform such as a replica of Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. Meta’s VP of Horizon Vivek Sharma says users will now have interesting things to do following the opening up.
A major component of the Horizon Worlds experience is the ability to write basic code that defines the rules on how objects work. It can, for instance, set the rules like a gun shooting when a user presses a trigger or a ball bouncing when it hits the surface. Meta calls the code script blocks. The code is similar to layers in Photoshop and lets players chain together rules so as to create complex interactions like a leaderboard automatically updating once a game is finished. According to Sharma, the ability to attach behaviors to objects is one of the biggest innovations on the platform.
Sharma says Meta employees have been creating the script blocks at beta testers’ request and the company is planning to eventually release a free library of these. The company will also launch an asset library of objects. At the moment, the company is doing the coding for script blocks entirely in virtual reality. However, Meta is planning to have these eventually built from a desktop computer.
There are also safety concerns in social VR environments such as Horizon Worlds as users can interact with people that they don’t know. There was a recent instance a user shared on the Horizon Facebook group of her avatar being groped by a stranger. Sexual harassment already opens online but virtual reality adds a layer of realism and immersion that makes sexual harassment appear more real, intense, and intrusive. The user reported that not only was her avatar groped but she encountered others in Horizon who supported the behavior and made her “feel isolated”.
While calling that incident “absolutely unfortunate”, Sharma stated that the company reviewed the incident and determined that the beta tester hadn’t utilized the safety features that have been built into Horizon Worlds. Such safety features include even the option of blocking someone from interacting with you in the social VR environment. When a user is in Horizon, a rolling buffer of what they are seeing is saved locally on the user’s Oculus headset. This is then transmitted to Meta for human review whenever an incident is reported. Sharma says Meta wants to make the blocking feature in Horizon Worlds both “trivially easy and findable.”
Horizon Worlds also features human guides. They are there to greet new users when they are teleporting from Plaza to different worlds. The human guides are power users that have been trained by Meta employees on the best practices on how to navigate Horizon and follow its behavior rules. Sharma describes this as one of the areas where the company is undertaking “unscalable things” in order to ensure the environment is healthy for communities.
Horizon Worlds is not yet monetized so there is no way for guides, players or creators to make money on the platform. The company wants to eventually tie this into Horizon Venues which is a standalone experience where users can throw large events in virtual reality as well as in Horizon Workrooms, the platform’s VR work collaboration software. Before the introduction of monetization, Meta is hoping that the platform’s world-building aspect will continue attracting people.
Using Horizon Worlds
In a demo of Horizon Worlds, a new user is first greeted by a few Meta employees at the Plaza which is a central gathering place from which you can enter the custom worlds and the games that users have created. You can visit the creator lounge area and try out some of the custom items that are being built by creators such as a paper plane launcher or a bow and arrow. You can then enter the building competitions where you can win prizes. You can also hop into other worlds and join teams to play a battle royale shooting game, for instance. After that, you can access Horizon’s building tools with which you can create items and a world from scratch.