February 28, 2024

Times have changed for the Quest headset, as building a VR-based version of the Metaverse is critical to Meta’s future. The company’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has been moving his social networking business to the Metaverse for the past two years. Last year, he spent nearly $14 billion to expand Reality Labs, the company’s offshoot of building hardware and developing virtual universes.

The high cost of trying to turn the metaverse into a mainstream business spooked Wall Street, sending Meta’s stock tumbling last year. Enthusiasm for the Metaverse has also waned over the past year as more technologists flock to the rise of artificial intelligence, with the release of chatbots like ChatGPT. Mr. Zuckerberg has also pushed for the integration of artificial intelligence into Meta’s products.

But he also said he remains focused on the Metaverse. At a company-wide meeting last week, Mr. Zuckerberg assured employees that he was committed to his virtual and augmented reality plans and that realizing his vision would be a long process.

Lowering the minimum age requirement for the company’s Quest headset could help younger audiences become familiar with the Metaverse, similar to how Facebook initially launched it on college campuses in 2004, making them more likely to continue using the technology as they grow up.

Meta is likely looking to engage with young people, following a strategy used by other gaming companies, including Epic Games, maker of Roblox and Microsoft’s Minecraft games and Fortnite. These games have user bases in the hundreds of millions, many of whom are under the age of 35.

“What we’re seeing is Meta, based purely on commercial necessity, keep lowering the age of their VR products and doing so without any evidence that these things are safe for young people,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay. Non-profit children’s advocacy organization. “It’s gone too far, obviously because they’re trying to compete for the market, not because of the needs of the kids.”

Meta is working to reassure regulators that it will offer parental controls to keep young users safe while using the device, two of the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Some of these include time limits, parent-managed content or app controls, and privacy settings that will not allow others using Horizon Worlds to follow preteens without their or their parents’ approval.

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