Meta, the benevolent maker of Facebook, is solving the most important problem in the tech industry, one that every person on the internet definitely knows and cares about. At long last, the characters in Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse are getting legs. Sort of.
In a bizarre series of memes and bungled PR moments, adding legs to the avatars on Meta’s virtual worlds became part of Zuckerberg’s mission to prove that his vision isn’t costing his company billions for nothing. Right now, you run around in Meta’s metaverse as a torso with arms and a head—or rather, you float, because the characters don’t have legs. That’s one of the chief sources of ridicule levelled at the product, but it seems that’s about to change.
The company announced that its avatars will now have legs in a beta version of Quest Home in the Meta Community forum, first reported in UploadVR. Meta did not respond to a request for comment, so it’s unclear when legs are coming out of beta or into the company’s flagship metaverse game, Horizon worlds. For now, the limbed among us may have to settle with looking at the boring meat legs in our real world.
Meta changed its name from Facebook in 2021 to reflect an ambitious pivot to building a virtual world. The company has one of the most well funded research and product development operations in the world of consumer tech. But despite the billions of dollars Meta pours into this project, the avatars in its flagship metaverse project aren’t much to look at compared to the graphics you’d expect on modern video game platforms. In fairness, that’s because running all the metaverse stuff takes up a lot of the processing power that other platforms can spend on making things beautiful. That hasn’t stopped the whole internet from making fun of the company for its 2004-esque visuals.
Zuckerberg seems to take this criticism personally. Last fall, a screenshot of the CEO’s blank-eyed metaverse avatar went so viral for its sorry appearance that Zuckerberg had to go on defence. At the company’s 2022 conference, he released a video that focused specifically on how the metaverse was getting legs—but it turned out to be a fake segment created with motion capture tech, rather than the actual Horizon Worlds platform. Since then, Meta’s promised that legs are coming. It’s been almost a year since then. Apparently, legs are hard.
Here again, we must caveat with a little defence for the world’s metaversiest billionaire. There’s a technical challenge here. The point of the metaverse, if we want to take it seriously, is that it replicates your physical experience in a digital world. A VR headset can measure your facial expressions and the position of your head, hand-held controllers can determine where your arms are, but legs are tough unless you’re going to strap on a device below the waist. That’s a tough sell; it’s already a sticking point that you have to wear a bunch of heavy stuff on your body to make the metaverse go.
It seems Meta is solving this problem, for now, with rough approximation. The system won’t be measuring your actual leg movement, just guessing where your gams probably are. That will make things a little awkward when the rest of your avatar is reflecting your actual movements. To make up for it, beta testers discovered that Meta’s legs are only visible in third person, according to UploadVR. You can see other people’s shiny new legs, and you can even see your legs if you come across your reflection in a metaverse mirror, but you cannot see your own legs when you look down at your own avatar.
The whole thing sounds a little awkward, but it’s a step in a more realistic direction. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to write an article that include the word legs more times than any other post in Gizmodo’s storied history.