If you build it, they will come. But there’s an exception to every rule and every misquote from a Kevin Costner movie. The European Union would have built a nearly $400,000 digital metaverse, and only 6 people showed up to the gala to celebrate. On Tuesday evening, journalist Vincent Chadwick went to the party and found his virtual avatar almost entirely alone.
The The Global Gateway Metaverse launched in mid-October with the intention of becoming a “shared digital space” where people dressed as lanky anthropomorphic balloons can meet and “think about global issues to make a difference for our common future”, according to the international partnerships of EU Twitter Account. The European Commission’s foreign aid department spent €387,000 (about $400.000 at press time) developing the virtual world, according to Chadwick reports in Devex.
And some within the department were reportedly unhappy with the decision. ‘Depressing and embarrassing,’ a foreign aid worker in Chadwick reportedly said. The Devex reporter wrote that another described it as “digital trash”. Twitter commenters weren’t much nicer to the European Commission either. “Seriously? There’s a massive drought in East Africa, UNHCR doesn’t have enough funds to feed the refugees in the camps, etc. wrote a sustainable agriculture researcher in response to the official EU tweet.
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An EU spokesperson told Devex that the target audience for the Global Gateway metaverse project is 18-35 year olds “who identify as neutral about the EU and are not particularly engaged in issues policies”. Ultimately, the aim is to attract these young people via social media and “encourage them to engage” and “raise awareness of what the EU is doing on the world stage”.
Naturally, Gizmodo had to check for ourselves. I dyed my little balloon man wearing a teal helmet and started attending the “24H Beach Party”. First thing to note: the camera controls are incredibly clunky. You cannot change your view using the keyboard, only by pointing and clicking with your mouse. Meanwhile, the arrow keys control your avatar’s movements. You’re supposed to be able to fly by pressing “F”, but the control did nothing for me every time I tried it in different settings, with different key combinations.
Next thing: While the beach party might initially seem crowded with cylindrical members, all of the other avatars present appeared to be permanent non-human installations – just decorations for the endless loop of techno beats. In the background, a video ran through a montage of graphic text displaying the words “climate”, “education”, “public health” and “digitization”..” I also stopped in front of some of the video ‘installations’ advertising EU initiatives like the Erasmus Mundus scholarship and the Global Health Grants. They were… disappointing.
There are also perpetually jumping dolphins, a soothing soundtrack of tropical birds, and “artistic” “installations”. I kept trying to start chats with other avatars that had names beacons floating above their heads, but no one answered. I sent a message in the void. While the EU’s metaverse attempt is a less than stellar overall experience, to be fair: the graphics seem essentially equal with what Meta is going on in Horizon Worlds – and Mark Zuckerberg poured billions in this project.
Recently, the Commission organized a few events inside its metaverse: a series of conferences, then a “Global Gateway Gala” to close the continuationthis. And it was at this Tuesday night event that Chadwick went solo. Now the only program remaining event is “Club Nights” which is listed as “Weekly from now on” but actually refers to the aforementioned 24H Beach Party. If EU chooses to continue paying for server space supporting its metaverse, I guess the endless party might never end.
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