It may not be news anymore but it’s still creating a great deal of chatter on both sides of the Atlantic. Facebook is planning to hire 10,000 people in the European Union (EU) to build the “metaverse”, a virtual reality version of the internet that the tech giant sees as the future.
Facebook’s Metaverse Hype
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been a leading voice in Silicon Valley hype around the idea of the metaverse, which will blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds. It will also depend to a great extent on the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) environments and the skills needed to create these kinds of worlds. The technology might, for example, allow someone to don virtual reality glasses that make it feel as if they’re face-to-face with a friend — when in fact they are thousands of miles apart and connected via the internet.
“The metaverse has the potential to help unlock access to new creative, social, and economic opportunities. And Europeans will be shaping it right from the start,” Facebook said in a blog post. The European Union hires, spread over the next five years, will include “highly specialized engineers”, according to the post.
Why Facebook is Targeting the EU
Leaving aside the fact that investing in the EU has many plus sides including access to a large consumer market, top universities and high-quality talent, the announcement also comes at a time when Facebook and other US-headquartered big tech companies are under increasing scrutiny by data regulators in Europe, investigating Facebook and other big companies for possible breaches of GDPR. So is Europe a good move for Facebook’s metaverse plans?
Scott Lynch is the founder and head of Extended Reality (XR) development at Chicago-based Voyre. XR is an umbrella term that covers VR, AR, and MR. He told us that as a producer of immersive content and based in the US, is has been really challenging to find the right people with the right skills who also live in the US. The major challenge, he says is that the labor force needs to be familiar with 3D game engines, the more popular ones being Unity and Unreal. Generally, the workers that have these skills have been working in the gaming industry.
“For some reason the US does not have a lot of available workers with these skills. Silicon Valley has a lot of developers but not a lot of them have the game engine experience that this industry required,” he said. “Many of the people who do have the right skills that we’ve tried to hire are getting multiple offers so it’s a hot market for talent.
Many companies will work with outsourced labor to help solve these issues. “I don’t know the exact reasons why, but there are a lot of development partners, small, medium and large that exist in Europe, especially in eastern Europe,” he added. “This is speculation, but I think there has been more support from the governments in Europe (and Canada) to actively encourage new developers to get started in this industry,” Lynch said. On the US side he argues, there has been very little support from governments or higher education to develop the game and immersive industries. The result is that the workforce is a few steps behind.
Facebook, however, is not abandoning North America. They are still very heavily invested in promoting and developing the talent pool here, a case in question being the number of people it has working for the Facebook Reality Labs which is a part of this push into the metaverse. It also runs Oculus Launch Pad that is designed to new talent specifically from the US and Canada into this industry.
“The metaverse is going to be a major undertaking and they will need a lot more skilled labor then I think is currently available here in North America,” he concluded.
Related Article: Why Facebook’s Metaverse Is Still Only A Pipedream
Facebook’s Carrot Is Meant to Change the Narrative
There are other reasons why Zuckerberg is recruiting in the EU rather than the US, that are partly positioning and partly substantive. If you dig into the detail, one of the reasons for the hires is abundantly clear, according to Christine Alemany CEO of New York City-based TBGA. She points out that Facebook omitted the UK from its list of target countries to staff the metaverse initiative, despite the company’s significant presence in the UK. This omission signals that Zuckerberg hopes to dangle a potential hiring spree of 10,000 EU citizens in the hopes of influencing two mammoth pieces of EU tech legislation: the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act.
As these legislative proposals work their way into law, Zuckerberg could be trying to change the narrative around Facebook. The goal would be to shift the conversation away from recent scandals, major outages, and rising calls to curb what some say is its monopolistic power. Instead, the metaverse narrative focuses on the company’s expansion into a new business model and job creation in the EU.
Additionally, Facebook might feel like it understands what its up against in the EU, whereas in the the US there is still a lot of legislation to come around privacy and customer data. “The EU’s already strong data protection regulation provides clear rules of engagement as Facebook invests in the emerging metaverse, unlike the patchwork of privacy and data regulations that it is currently navigating in the US,” she said.
Gaming, Remote Work and the Metaverse
Derek Lau is game director for the Australian-based metaverse and NFT gaming company, Guild of Guardians and an expert on Web 3 and metaverse economics. He points out that that the metaverse development is part of the ongoing development of the play-to-earn gaming world on one hand, and the unstoppable trend towards remote work. This, he says, is the cornerstone of the new ‘virtual economy’ which is poised to engender the next stage of the internet — the metaverse: a persistent, shared and virtual space.
Facebook’s announcement underlines the fact that the metaverse has evolved from a niche term to an almost tangible reality, and it’s one that some companies are already embracing in the future of work and play. The most intriguing part of Web 3 is the variety of new career possibilities. The birth of the internet opened up a new spectrum of jobs previously unthinkable. “Web 3 will drive this progression in mind-blowing ways, combining our virtual and physical worlds through augmented reality and adding complex layers based on blockchain and AI technology,” he said.
Careers in the metaverse will not only be commonplace, but necessary. Smart contract lawyers and accountants will be needed to manage the new legal infrastructures of the blockchain layer, while insurers will have to be brought in to guarantee precious data and digital items are protected from theft or deletion. “In fact, All careers can be transferable, from digital fashion designers and events organizers, to web 3 tour guides, and even metaverse architects — the opportunities are literally endless,” he added.
There are clearly many more reasons to look at Europe for metaverse development, but it’s hard to get away from the feeling that at least some of Facebook’s moves in creating the 10,000 jobs is just to keep the EU regulators happy. In the statement about the jobs, Facebook’s Nick Clegg, VP of global affairs, points out that emerging tech talent, the EU also has an important role to play in shaping the new rules of the internet.
“European policymakers are leading the way in helping to embed European values like free expression, privacy, transparency and the rights of individuals into the day-to-day workings of the internet. Facebook shares these values and we have taken considerable action over the years to uphold them,” the statement reads.
Could it be that Facebook is getting cozy with Europe in order to shape future legislation that might not be framed in a way the company likes in the future? It’s hard to say.