EU antitrust chief pushes for competition scrutiny in metaverse

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition since 2014, believes that the metaverse should be the next digital market to attract regulatory attention from the block.

A woman wearing VR goggles.
Image: Bradley Hook on Pexels

The metaverse should be the next focus for EU antitrust regulators, as Meta’s rising dominance sparks concerns about the fair competition in the industry, Margrethe Vestager told Reuters during a Thursday conference organized by Keystone Strategy.

"It's already time for us to start asking what healthy competition would look like in the metaverse," the EU Commissioner said.

Read also: Meta posts US$13.7 billion loss at Reality Labs but will keep investing in metaverse

According to Vestager, there’s an ongoing debate about how to prevent large online companies like Meta from monopolizing the emerging digital frontier, with all jurisdictions moving forward with regulation at a different pace. Although some antitrust agencies managed to achieve more than others, the regulatory scrutiny of digital markets has been steadily escalating worldwide in the last three years, the Commissioner noted.

"And there's a much wider political debate that digital markets need careful attention. I think all jurisdictions are moving forward in one form or another," Vestager said, quoted by Reuters. "We are moving at different speeds. We will not get the same legal framework. And maybe that is not a bad thing. Because that will allow us to hone our toolkits in the process of mutual learning."

"Do we need to do more on something new? And obviously, we have started that work," she said when asked about whether the market shift will occur with the emergence of competing digital realities and language AI models like ChatGPT.

Read also: How to access the metaverse?

For context, Mark Zuckerberg’s foray into the metaverse encounters many obstacles. To affirm its resolve to tap into this booming market, Facebook rebranded as Meta Platforms two years ago, betting billions of dollars on the still-loosely defined future layer of reality. However, this investment doesn’t look like it’s working, at least in the short term: in 2022, Meta’s metaverse division Reality Labs posted a $13.7 loss amid less than impressive $2.16 billion revenue.

Despite investor calls to cut Meta’s lavish metaverse spending plans, Mark Zuckerberg remains stubbornly fixated on his vision and expects Reality Labs to see significant growth over the next few years. Meta chief also anticipates that its next-generation consumer virtual-reality headset, which is set to ship later this year, will “establish this technology as the baseline for all headsets going forward and eventually, of course, for AR [augmented reality] glasses as well.”

"Our community continues to grow and I'm pleased with the strong engagement across our apps. Facebook just reached the milestone of 2 billion daily actives," Zuckerberg said in the Meta Q4 2022 earnings report, touting 2023 as the “Year of Efficiency” for his company.

Although Meta’s all-in bet on the metaverse seems concerning for the fair competition in the industry, it isn't the sole player in VR and AR development. A number of gaming studios, web3 platforms, and Big Tech corporations — such as Decentraland, Roblox, Sandbox, Microsoft, Voxels, and Epic Games — have released their unique virtual worlds, where users can connect with each other and create new experiences similar to ones in the physical world.