When social media company Facebook announced it was rebranding as “Meta” in October, it seemed like it might claim the oft-discussed concept known as the “Metaverse.” That has turned out not be the case, however as a number of companies are looking to deliver their own version of the metaverse, including Roblox, a gaming platform that lets users build homes, work and play out scenarios.
The Roblox platform has become so popular that it was valued at $45 billion in November and went pubic earlier this year, USA Today reports, leaving investors to wonder if it or Facebook is the better metaverse play.
Keep reading for more analysis on Facebook and Roblox and their respective entrances into the metaverse arena.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse is a combination of multiple elements of technology, including virtual reality, augmented reality and video. It’s a digital universe where users can “live.” When Facebook first introduced its metaverse concept, the company envisioned users wearing its Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets and walk into virtual offices as avatars and sit in on meetings.
Roblox’ metaverse vision
Roblox CEO Dave Baszucki noted earlier this year that the company sees its 15-year-old platform as a hub for virtual and immersive experiences where thousands of people can attend concerts, school or staff meetings together, The Wall Street Journal reports. Baszucki also said the company has invested heavily in technology and has expanded hiring to support these virtual experiences, as well as in areas such as content moderation.
“It must be a civil and safe platform that welcomes 6-year-olds and at the same time welcomes 30-year-olds who are working together,” Baszucki told analysts on during an earnings call this summer when asked about the interest companies such as Facebook are taking in the metaverse.
Roblox’ ambition has not come without cost, however. Although it doubled its second-quarter revenue from the same time period in 2020, Roblox had bigger losses and its expenses climbed to pay development fees, for research and development and technology infrastructure.
Currently, Roblox’ business model focuses on users buying virtual currency so they can acquire in-game benefits or items for their avatars. The company hosted an immersive experience in May to celebrate Gucci’s 100th anniversary. Users were able to purchase limited-edition items for their avatars. Roblox Chief Financial Officer Michael Guthrie noted that the content on the company’s platform has expanded and developers are still working to see how they generate additional revenue from their content.
Roblox also put its metaverse on display this spring when it hosted its Metaverse Champions event that lasted from April 15 to May 20. The event, modeled after an egg hunt, was spread into four weeks with 48 games a week. Players competed to find mystery boxes with their created avatars that would open into different items.
Facebook’s plans for the metaverse
Although Facebook renamed itself, “Meta” it never envisioned itself as the only entity to own the metaverse.
“The metaverse isn’t a single product one company can build alone,” Facebook Reality Labs Vice President Andrew Bosworth and Nick Clegg Facebook VP, Global Affairs said in a release discussing Facebook’s role in building the metaverse. “Just like the Internet, the metaverse exists whether Facebook is there or not. And it won’t be built overnight. Many of these products will only be fully realized in the next 10 to 15 years. While that’s frustrating for those of us eager to dive right in, it gives us time to ask the difficult questions about how they should be built.”
Instead, Facebook views the metaverse as a set of virtual spaces were users can create and explore with other people—even if they aren’t in the same physical space. Users can spend time with friends, work, play, learn and shop.
“It’s not necessarily about spending more time online — it’s about making the time you do spend online more meaningful,” the company said.
Additionally, Facebook will look to its Horizon Workrooms app, which people can use on the company’s Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, to join meetings in VR or dial into a virtual room from a computer via video call as they would on a video conferencing platform like Zoom. If there’s enough interest, Workrooms could be a significant revenue generator for Facebook as the headsets cost about $300 for the full experience.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg believes the company’s investments in VR and AR will help support the metaverse’s evolution, according to The Wall Street Journal. Zuckerberg also said he believes the metaverse is the mobile internet’s successor, bur recognizes that development will take years and require more investments in technology protocols, devices, chips, software and more.
“I expect this investment to grow even further for each of the next several years,” he said. “If you’re in the metaverse every day, then you’ll need digital clothes and digital tools and different experiences. Our goal is to help the members reach a billion people and hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce.”
Who has the better metaverse? Facebook or Roblox?
As Zuckerberg noted, the metaverse is years away from being a full-fledged concept so time will tell who created the “best” one. However, according to fund Tao Value, Roblox is the “better play”, Seeking Alpha reports. Tao Value said in an investor letter that Roblox was the better player in the metaverse space because it was “a good social platform” that “put stakeholders’ trust and security first.” The fund also praised Roblox’ management and called out its potential to branch out from its current core business of games.
“Roblox appears to be a great business undervalued to near term profitable visibility, who also has long term optionality,” the fund said.
Meanwhile, Tao Value was critical of Facebook in October and said the company and Zuckerberg put its users and shareholders at risk by engaging in “blatant negligence” for ignoring internal data that showed some of its policies had devastating consequences.
“Based on records made public thus far, I believe Facebook proved that it did not put its stakeholders’ trust and well-being as a priority, thus (is) not a good social platform,” the firm said in a fund letter.
The Motley Fool also deemed Roblox the better metaverse play in a recent breakdown between the two companies. The private financial investing and advice company noted that Roblox’ stock is higher than Facebook’s, but it’s the better play because it has a simpler platform that comprises young customers. Additionally, Roblox offers companies an easier way to enter the metaverse by building virtual worlds.
Roblox is also likely to face less regulatory issues than Facebook, according to The Motley Fool. The company also has the chance to grow a lot faster than Facebook given its platform advantages and the opportunity to operate in a less resistant regulatory environment.
The metaverse—real estate’s next frontier?
Wherever Facebook and Roblox create their respective metaverses, they might be able to count on not only tech investors, but real estate ones as well, according to The New York Times. After seeing how popular virtual concerts have become, investors are quickly grabbing up concert venues, shopping malls and other properties in the metaverse. Real estate investing in the metaverse is still highly speculative at this point, however and it’s uncertain how long this boom will last or it’s another potential bubble.
Tokens.com, a blockchain tech company focused on non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and metaverse real estate is willing to take the risk, however. In October, it acquired 50% of Metaverse Group, one of the world’s initial metaverse real estate firms for approximately $1.7 million.
“Rather than try to create a universe like Facebook, I said, ‘Why don’t we go in and buy the parcels of land in these metaverses, and then we can become the landlords?’” Andrew Kiguel, a co-founder and the chief executive of Tokens.com told The New York Times.
Following the Metaverse acquisition, Tokens.com has broken digital ground on a tower in Decentraland. Meanwhile, Luxury retailer brands like Gucci, Burberry and Louis Vuitton have moved into the metaverse with NFTs, which makes company executives optimistic that Tokens.com’s tower will create revenue streams from leases and advertising for these brands.
Metaverse Group co-founder Michael Gord pointed to trends that began during the COVID-19 pandemic to explain why businesses would want to invest in a virtual office in the metaverse.
“As more people participate, it’s where you’re going with friends, where you’re having experiences like conferences and concerts,” Gord told The New York Times. “It’s inevitable that the metaverse will be the number one social network in the world.”
The Metaverse Group currently has a real estate investment trust that plans to build a portfolio of properties in Decentraland as well as other realms including Somnium Space, Sandbox and Upland. Despite existing in an infinite space like the internet, virtual real estate is as finite as buildings are in the real world. Decentraland occupies 90,000 parcels of land, each roughly 50 feet by 50 feet
“Imagine if you came to New York when it was farmland, and you had the option to get a block of SoHo,” Gord said. “If someone wants to buy a block of real estate in SoHo today, it’s priceless, it’s not on the market. That same experience is going to happen in the metaverse.”
Meanwhile, Kiguel believes his metaverse portfolio is valued at up to 10 times more than its purchase price for the same reason it would be if it was real world real estate.
“It’s location, location, location,” he said. “A parcel of land in the downtown core, which has a lot of visitor traffic, is worth more than a parcel of land in the suburbs. There’s a scarcity value.”