Early adopters of the metaverse have condemned Facebook’s rebranding as a cynical attempt to profit from growing interest in a concept it didn’t originate.
The phrase “metaverse” has become a digital buzzword this year, with businesses and investors keen to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Users, on the other hand, have spent years immersed in these quickly expanding but mysterious virtual worlds.
They’re effectively trying to rebrand what many of us have been building for years, said Ryan Kappel, an American who has been organizing meet-ups in various metaverses for over two years.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment right away.
On Thursday, Facebook revealed its new moniker, Meta Platforms, as well as details about its plans to build its own immersive digital world, as the corporation faces heightened scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators over its market power, algorithmic judgments, and policing of abuses on its platforms.
In virtual environments, users can roam around as an avatar, meet friends, and play games. Users can even speculate on virtual real estate on some blockchain-based sites.
“I believe Facebook made this early name change to essentially obtain the new trademark as soon as possible as more businesses become interested,” said Pranksy, a UK-based crypto investor who bought virtual world real estate in early 2020.
According to Artur Sychov, who founded metaverse Somnium Space in 2017, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of the makeover felt “rushed… kind of like seeking to push themselves into the metaverse story that is occurring right now.”
Sychov spends up to five hours a day in Somnium Space, together with 1,000 to 2,000 other everyday users.
According to Dave Carr, communications director at the nonprofit that runs the virtual world Decentraland, Facebook’s approach may be criticized by metaverse users who are leery of the company’s control over the content.
“People who want to have control over the future of the virtual worlds they inhabit, keep ownership of their creative work, and move freely between them would choose the decentralized version,” he continued, referring to Decentraland’s metaverse as decentralized and Facebook’s plan as likely centralized.
Decentraland, which began in 2017 and already has over 7,000 daily users, sees itself as a rival to established social media platforms that sell user data and have complete control over what users see.
Many existing metaverse platforms are based on blockchain technology, removing the possibility of central control. Blockchain is the distributed-ledger system that underpins cryptocurrencies. People in these virtual worlds use cryptocurrencies to acquire land and other digital assets in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
On the other hand, not all early metaverse adopters had a bad reaction. Some believed that Facebook’s entry will boost interest in virtual worlds in general, attracting more users and making it easier to create new ones.
Tristan Littlefield, the co-founder of NFT company nft42 and a metaverse member since 2018, said his first reaction to Facebook’s announcement was negative since he dislikes the company’s data-selling methods.
He does feel, though, that “having a monster like Facebook come in and just dump billions of dollars” could be beneficial since it would bring new individuals to the sector.