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Meta’s VR hellscape might soon be invaded by children
Meta’s VR hellscape might soon be invaded by children

An image showing virtual avatars in a lounge in Horizon Worlds
Image: Meta

Meta’s planning to open up Horizon Worlds to users aged 13 to 17, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. In an internal memo viewed by the outlet, Meta says it wants to make the virtual reality-based social platform available to younger users as early as next month.

The company first opened Horizon Worlds to users 18 and up in 2021 but has since been struggling to keep users coming back to the platform. Last October, the WSJ reported that Meta lowered its goal of reaching 500,000 monthly active users by the end of the year to just 280,000 and that most users don’t return after one month of using it. Even the employees working on the service don’t find themselves using it very much, as reported by The Verge’s Alex Heath last year.

Now it looks like Meta’s betting on a younger user base to help revitalize its flagship VR app. Gabriel Aul, Meta’s vice president of the service, reportedly writes in this most recent memo that user retention is the team’s highest priority for the first half of 2023 and that he specifically wants to target teens and young adults. In January, only aroundone in nine users on Horizon Worlds returned to the platform the next month, the WSJ notes.

Even as Meta attempts to make Horizon Worlds just as attractive as the wildly popular Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite, the service has a long way to go when it comes to building up a complete and full-featured platform. Meta’s been slow to add new features to Horizon so far; it only just introduced a dedicated “jump” button last month and is still working on creating legs for its avatars.

“Today our competitors are doing a much better job meeting the unique needs of these cohorts,” Gabriel Aul says in the memo obtained by the WSJ. “For Horizon to succeed we need to ensure that we serve this cohort first and foremost.”

Meta has since bumped up its goals for user growth and now reportedly hopes to reach 500,000 monthly active users in the first half of 2023 — and 1 million by this year’s end. It’s also planning a “2D” version of the metaverse that’s available on desktop and mobile devices, which could arrive in the first half of this year, according to the WSJ.

The company still hasn’t confirmed any of these plans, but it just announced that it’s expanding its content ratings policy to events held in Horizon Worlds. It now requires creators to mark their worlds as “18+” or for “Everyone” to ensure that “people understand what to expect when they attend an event.”

Meta spokesperson Joe Osborne tells the WSJ that “teens are already spending time in a variety of VR experiences on Quest” and that the company wants to make sure it can offer a “great experience” in Horizon Worlds “with age-appropriate tools and protections in place.” Meta didn’t immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment.

Even as the company’s Reality Labs division continues to lose billions on the metaverse (and plans on losing even more), it hasn’t abandoned its VR ambitions just yet. Last month, Meta added new moderation features to Horizon Worlds and started testing members-only worlds, a feature that limits world access to specific communities.

While Meta indicates that these worlds could be useful for book clubs and gaming groups, it’s possible that it could market these more restricted spots to a younger user base. The company also began working on “personal space,” a private, virtual home of sorts where you can hang out with a small group of friends on an invite-only basis.

This content was originally published here.