The metaverse, however, won’t be built overnight. If a singular virtual hangout where people work and play is ever to exist, it will be jigsawed together by many companies over many years. Meta is playing the long game, but it hasn’t been shy about how it plans to become a dominant player —or even the dominant company — in controlling the metaverse.
Building every piece to the metaverse on its own would take far too long. So Meta’s doing what it does best: Zuckerberg is writing a fat check to VR companies left and right. Meta’s latest acquisition: ImagineOptix, a company that makes liquid crystal lenses for VR headsets, and one that was financially involved with Valve, which also makes a VR headset of its own.
The purchase could leave Valve (and any other companies) without access to a critical component that could make VR or mixed reality headsets sharper and more compact. In other words, Meta is squeezing out the competition by buying up core technologies and software.
Gotta buy ‘em all — The tactic is not a new strategy for Meta. By buying VR headset part makers, VR software companies, and VR gaming studios, Meta is forging the metaverse one purchase at a time.
ImagineOptix is only one of many VR company acquisitions in recent years. Here’s a short (but not definitive) list of some major acquisitions.
Last year, Meta acquired Singapore-based Lemnis technologies, which works to solve the vergence-accommodation conflict. Meta also last year bought London-based Scape Technologies, a company that turns images and videos into 3D maps for AR.
In 2019, Meta bought CTRL-Labs, which beams electrical signals from the brain to a device via a wristband; the company showed off a wrist-worn wearable concept for controlling input in mixed reality last year.
That’s not to mention the list of big-name VR game studios such as Beat Games (Beat Saber), Sanzaru Games (Asgard’s Wrath), Ready at Dawn (Lone Echo, Echo VR), Downpour Interactive (Onward), Big Box VR (Population: ONE), and Within (Supernatural).
This shopping spree, however, hasn’t gone unnoticed. Meta’s anti-competitiveness agenda is a fact that’s not lost on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has recently beefed up its efforts to police Big Tech acquisitions. Meta is currently being investigated by the FTC for its $400 million purchase of Within; the company makes the popular Supernatural game, which combines different types of workouts and meditation into one app. To rub salt on the wound, a report from The Information alleges that further investigation may come about due to Meta’s purchase of ImagineOptix.
Monopoly? — Considering Meta’s hard pivot to the Metaverse, the number of VR-focused companies acquired doesn’t raise an eyebrow. VR and AR are no longer just experiments within one division of the company; Zuckerberg made it clear the technologies are now Meta’s North Star for everything.
Gobbling other companies to get a head start or to pummel a competitor is how Meta operates. Think back to beloved apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp — they didn’t start out as Meta apps. And yet, once they were absorbed by Meta, the competition all but vanished. So far, the if-you-can’t-beat-buy-’em mentality has worked for Meta. The big question is: How many companies can Meta keep buying before the stink of a monopoly becomes unignorable?