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Disney reportedly scraps its metaverse unit
Disney appears to be the latest company to pull back the metaverse, as CEO Bob Iger reverses more decisions from his predecessor.
Disney has a long history of creating fantastical worlds, but even the Mouse House now seems to be pulling back from the metaverse.
The entertainment giant’s metaverse team has reportedly been eliminated as part of the ongoing round of job cuts at Disney. The Wall Street Journal reports all 50 team members who were developing the company’s metaverse strategies have been let go.
The metaverse was a pet project of former CEO Bob Chapek, who called it “the next great storytelling frontier.”
Last February, he told employees the goal of the metaverse unit was to “create an entirely new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with our stories.” Among his ideas were a virtual Haunted Mansion ride where people could get off the ride and explore some of the special effects. He also envisioned a world where people who went to the physical parks, if they gave permission, could have their Disney+ experience programmed, not according to what they watched last or the habits of other views, but on what they experienced while at the park in an Amazon Prime-like program.
That specific idea, the Journal reports, has been abandoned.
And as early as 2021, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of parks, experiences, and products at Disney, had mentioned bringing a metaverse to Disney World’s Main Street, which would combine the park’s entryway with digital assets, ideally creating a deeper storytelling experience.
“We’re proud of our legacy,” he said at the time. “But at the same time, we have an obligation to defy that—and push our theme park experience into the future. What we’ve shown ourselves in the past year [is] we can flex. We can be pretty quick and pretty bold in our decision-making.”
Last November, however, Chapek was unceremoniously dismissed from Disney. And Bob Iger returned to the CEO role, quickly reversing several of Chapek’s decisions.
The metaverse ambitions appear to be the latest to be targeted by Iger. Despite the many ideas that were publicly floated, the metaverse unit had apparently not made much progress on the new technology and did not have many clear plans in place.
Mike White, a former Disney consumer-products executive who headed the metaverse team, is reportedly still with the company.
Disney’s hardly the only company taking a step back from the metaverse. Even Meta is shifting some of its focus to AI as part of its most recent restructuring.
While the dismissal of the Disney team might appear to be a death knell for the Magic Kingdom’s foray into the metaverse, there is some small semblance of hope for evangelists within the company and die-hard Disney fans who believe in its promise.
Iger, as it turns out, is a metaverse bull himself. He’s both a board member and investor in Genies, a startup that sells tools that let people create detailed online avatars.
“I’ve always been drawn to the intersection between technology and art, and Genies provides unique and compelling opportunities to harness the power of that combination to enable new forms of creativity, expression, and communication,” Iger said in a statement last year when announcing his investment.
And in his brief period between occupying the Disney top office, Iger spoke enthusiastically about the metaverse on a podcast with Kira Swisher of the New York Times, saying, “I think that Internet 3.0 . . . will definitely be a more compelling experience, certainly more immersive and dimensional. . . . I don’t think there will be one metaverse; it will be dispersed. You may have an avatar, but you can go all over the place, and I think that it is likely to develop into something real as an experience.”
As Disney feels pressure from investors to cut costs, however, Iger has sidelined that enthusiasm, along with the team that was tasked to turn it into (virtual) reality.