By Elizabeth Howcroft
LONDON (Reuters) – Early adopters of the virtual worlds known as the metaverse criticised Facebook’s rebranding as an attempt to capitalise on growing buzz over a concept that it did not create.
The term metaverse has become a tech buzzword this year, with companies and investors keen to be a part of the next big thing. But users have for years been spending time in these fast-growing but obscure virtual worlds.
“They are essentially trying to build what many of us have been building for years but rebrand it as their own,” said Ryan Kappel, an American who for more than two years has hosted meet-ups in different metaverses.
Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Facebook’s name change to Meta Platforms and details on its plan to build its own immersive digital world, announced on Thursday, comes as the company battles criticism from lawmakers and regulators over its market power, algorithmic decisions and policing of abuses on its services.
In virtual worlds, users can walk around as an avatar, meet friends and play games. Some that are based around blockchain also allow users to speculate on virtual real estate.
“I think Facebook has made this early name change to essentially secure the new trademark legally as soon as possible as more brands become interested,” said a UK-based crypto investor known as Pranksy, who said he first bought virtual world real estate around early 2020.
Artur Sychov, who founded metaverse Somnium Space in 2017, said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of the rebrand felt “rushed… kind of like trying to insert themselves into the metaverse narrative which is happening right now.”
Sychov spends up to five hours a day in Somnium Space along with 1,000 to 2,000 other daily users.
Dave Carr, communications lead at the organisation that runs the virtual world Decentraland, said Facebook’s move might meet resistance from metaverse users who are wary of its control over content.
“People who want to determine the future of the virtual worlds they inhabit, maintain ownership of their creative output and move freely between them will choose the decentralised version,” he said, describing Decentraland’s metaverse environment as decentralised and Facebook’s plan as likely centralised.
Decentraland, founded in 2017 with about 7,000 daily users now, sees itself as an alternative to traditional social media platforms that sell user data and control the content that users see.
Many existing metaverse platforms are based on blockchain technology that makes central control impossible. Blockchain is the distributed-ledger architecture that underlies cryptocurrencies. In these virtual worlds, people use cryptocurrencies to buy land and other digital objects in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
However, the reaction from early metaverse adopters was not all negative. Some said Facebook’s entry could raise interest in the concept of virtual worlds generally, attract more users and support development of multiple virtual worlds.
Tristan Littlefield, co-founder of NFT company nft42 and metaverse user since 2018, said his first reaction to Facebook’s announcement was negative because he dislikes its sale of user data.
But “having a behemoth like Facebook come in and just dump billions of dollars … could be a positive” because of the new people it would bring to the space, he said.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)