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

Chief executive officer and chairman of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger and Mickey Mouse look on before ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), November 27, 2017 in New York City. Disney is marking the company's 60th anniversary as a listed company on the NYSE.
(Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Disney is exiting the metaverse, at least for now. The Wall Street Journal 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 of Disney CEO Bob Iger's longer-term restructuring plan.

Under Iger, Disney plans to cut $5.5 billion in costs 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 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 at the beginning of this year and even metaverse-evangelist-in-chief Mark Zuckerberg chatting a bit more about AI these days, it feels like that future is temporarily on hold.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.