Xbox’s Phil Spencer says the metaverse is a ‘poorly built video game’

Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s CEO of gaming, is the latest tech exec to take a shot at Meta’s vision of the metaverse. When asked his definition of the metaverse, Spencer described it as “a poorly built video game” at the WSJ Tech Live conference today, as seen at about the 1:12 mark of this video (embedded above).

Meta rebranded from Facebook last year as a testament to its focus on the metaverse, which it believes will become a place where you not only socialize with friends but also do serious work with colleagues. It seems as if Spencer doesn’t necessarily agree with the work aspect of the metaverse, at least in one form. “Video game creators have an amazing ability to build compelling worlds that we want to go spend time in,” he said at the conference. “For me, building a metaverse that looks like a meeting room… I just find that’s not where I want to spend most of my time.”

Spencer wasn’t the only person to push back on the idea of the metaverse during WSJ Tech Live. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel defined the metaverse as “living inside a computer” and followed that up by saying, “The last thing I want to do when I get home from work at the end of a long day is live inside a computer.” Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing Greg Joswiak said that the metaverse is “a word I’ll never use.” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the company tends “not to use” the word metaverse “because for us, that’s a big, broad term. For us, it’s next-generation storytelling.”

Meta hasn’t made a very convincing case that its VR worlds are worth hanging out in. Even Meta’s own employees are barely using Horizon Worlds — and getting people to buy in can’t have gotten easier after the widespread ridicule over Mark Zuckerberg’s widely memed avatar selfie.

Despite Spencer’s comments, though, he does feel that the concept of the metaverse is going to change. “I tease a little bit in [saying it’s] a bad video game. I just think we’re early,” he said. But he feels that, over time, the metaverse is “going to end up looking a lot more like video games than some of the models that I see for the metaverse today.”

And it’s not surprising that he’s open to the term — whatever it actually means — given that Microsoft has already started discussing the metaverse for its own ends. The company said that its pending Activision Blizzard acquisition would provide “building blocks for the metaverse,” and CEO Satya Nadella spoke during Meta’s Connect keynote to talk about how the two companies are collaborating to bring things like Teams, Windows, and Xbox to VR.

I’m personally skeptical that everyone will wear a headset, or even AR glasses, for the vast majority of their day. But if I had to guess, Meta will likely take a few cues from video game companies like Microsoft to make its metaverse ideas more enticing.