Photo: Tim Boyle (Getty Images)
On Wednesday, a Twitter user named Homo Digitalis posted a two-and-a-half minute clip with the caption, “This is how Walmart is shopping in the #Metaverse.” And that view, I must say, looks rather bleak.
The clip shows you, a disembodied shopper, walking through a virtual reality recreation of what’s on your shopping list that week. There’s virtual reality pasta sauce, virtual reality wine, virtual reality gallons of milk, all conveniently indicated by the aggressive, shredded Walmart employee projected onto the screen. It’s kind of like shopping non-metaverse, but something just isn’t right. There is the sound of bustling shoppers around you, but the store is completely empty. The groceries are so low-poly that they hardly resemble food from a distance. At the end of the video – after you’ve paid – your shopping cart will seemingly fly into the parking lot by itself.
In short, it’s terrifying AF. Some Twitter users who watched the clip compared the concept to some sort of retail store purgatory; others called it “disturbing” or “disturbed.” others just early how exactly this kind of haunted experience was in any way superior to the kind of online shopping we have now.
If you ask that question to most people, the answer is “it’s not,” but if you ask Walmart, the answer is very different; the company has called VR commerce is more “immersive” and “social” than simply browsing products on your phone, and has been honking that horn for years. In fact, that video is in the original tweet from five years ago.
Walmart first debuted these shorts at the 2017 SXSW festival with the help of a digital marketing and product development company, Mutual Mobile, which claims that the retail giant’s goal was to “impress” influencers who attended. Whether Walmart succeeded then is an open question, but from Twitter’s knee-jerk reaction, it’s safe to say it’s not quite succeeding now. For all poorly explained hype around The Metaverse™, the examples we’ve seen so far of our approaching VR future, such as empty VR offices and empty VR malls-don’t feel particularly new or very exciting.
The fact that a random Twitter account promoted Walmart’s outdated video as something fresh and innovative, and the fact that so many people in the comments took that as fact, really shows how old some of these ideas are.
None of this will stop Meta/Facebook from continuing with all things Metaverse, anyway, albeit with a few hiccups; as Walmart’s past explosion circulated on Twitter, the information spawned a new report claim the company had scrapped plans to roll out a new software operating system planned to power its Oculus devices. That operating system, internally dubbed “XROS”, had been in development since 2017 and reportedly more than 300 people within the company have been working on it.
Those on the Facebook Reality Labs team, which covers everything with augmented and virtual reality, are showing no signs of slowing down, though. Shortly after the Information published his piece, Gabriel Aul, Reality Labs’ VP of Engineering, tweeted that the company is “still working on a highly specialized operating system for” [its] devices.
“We remain deeply invested in this work and continue to commit the resources needed to build it,” he continued, adding a link to Facebook’s job portal with the joke: “We’re growing this team, not shrinking it. Come join us =).”
Regardless of what the team is working on, if Oculus’s recent ad blitz is an indication, things in the metaverse are going to be just as creepy now as they were in 2017.
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