Disney CEO axes metaverse unit and almost everyone in it, with another 6,950 cuts to go

Disney is exiting the metaverse, at least for now. The Wall Street Journal (opens in new tab) reports that the House of Mouse has completely axed its “next-generation storytelling and customer experiences unit,” the blandly-titled division of its business responsible for its metaverse strategies.

The unit’s head, Mike White, gets to stay at Disney, but the 50-or-so staff members under him haven’t been so lucky. All of them will have to find new jobs. Those are some heavy cuts, but they’re just the first wave Disney CEO Bob Iger’s longer-term restructuring plan.

Under Iger, Disney plans to cut $5.5 billion in costs (opens in new tab) in a move that will see it pivot to emphasise sports media and hand more power to its executives. The next wave will come in April, and once all’s said and done, thousands of employees will be out of a job.

It seems Iger isn’t quite as enamoured with the metaverse as his predecessor, Bob Chapek. It was Chapek who hired White, back in 2022, and who told investors in a November 2021 earnings call that Disney’s “efforts to date are merely a prologue to a time when we’ll be able to connect the physical and digital worlds even more closely,” at which point the company would achieve “storytelling without boundaries in our own Disney metaverse”. 

Iger doesn’t seem to share his enthusiasm, despite investments he made in a metaverse startup (opens in new tab) before returning to Disney’s CEO chair. Back then, Iger spoke of the metaverse as something that enabled “new forms of creativity, expression and communication,” and talked about the “democratisation” of the internet under Web 3.0, an experience that would “definitely be more compelling in experience, certainly more immersive, more dimensional”.

But he must have had A Very Goofy Damascene Conversion since then, because Disney’s metaverse has been punted hard to the backburner if it’s even still on the stove at all. Although Mike White gets to stay with Disney, no one yet knows what his role is going to be going forward, and I strongly doubt it’ll have much intersection with the work his team did at the next-gen storytelling unit.

The metaverse has been strangely and mercifully quiet lately, and it seems like multiple companies are backpedalling a little from the so-called future of the internet. Oh, worry not, it’s not going away for good, but with Microsoft shuttering its “social virtual reality platform” AltspaceVR (opens in new tab) at the beginning of this year and even metaverse-evangelist-in-chief Mark Zuckerberg chatting a bit more about AI these days (opens in new tab), it feels like that future is temporarily on hold.

Source: PC Gamer

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