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 last week, 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.
WHO'S BUILDING THE METAVERSE?
Facebook changed its name last week to Meta Platforms Inc to signal its focus on the metaverse, which it thinks will be the successor to the mobile internet.
The metaverse broadly refers to the idea of a shared virtual platform that people can access through different devices and where they can move through digital environments. read more
Well before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's splashy demos featuring giant robots and digital time travels to ancient Rome, dozens of companies were crafting the software and hardware that could be used for this "Ready Player One" future.
The concept, which could be more than a decade away from being fully realised, will take cooperation among tech giants.
In June, investment firm Roundhill Investments created an exchange traded fund (ETF) to track and profit from the work of the metaverse enablers. Hours before Facebook announced its rebrand, another firm launched its own metaverse ETF.
Here are a few of companies playing a role:
Video game platform Roblox, which went public this year, envisions the metaverse as a place where "people can come together within millions of 3D experiences to learn, work, play, create and socialise."
Roblox aims to give users and developers ways to create digital worlds. Its CEO has also talked about future shopping and conducting business on the platform, which has its own virtual economy powered by its Robux currency.
Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella in an earnings call this year said the company was working to build an "enterprise metaverse" as the digital and physical worlds converge in its offerings.
Microsoft, which owns Xbox and the world-building game Minecraft, is also a key player in the gaming world. Xbox boss Phil Spencer has talked about planning for "a metaverse or mixed-reality construct".
Facebook, which will start trading as Meta Platforms on December 1, has said it wants to be seen as a metaverse company rather than a social media one.
The tech giant, which has about 3 billion users, has been investing heavily in augmented and virtual reality and has been building out its VR environment Horizon, accessed through its Quest headsets.
Computer chip maker Nvidia built its Omniverse platform for connecting 3D worlds into a shared virtual universe.
It says Omniverse, which is used for projects like creating simulations of real-world buildings and factories, is the "plumbing" on which metaverses could be built.
Unity Software, which develops software used to design video games, is another company that could sell tools or technology used to build the metaverse.
Snapchat owner Snap has long been building custom avatars and augmented reality filters to overlay digital features on the real world.
This year it unveiled its first true augmented reality glasses, available for developers to experiment with creating experiences for the spectacles.
Cloud software firm Autodesk makes programs used by architects and engineers to design and create buildings and products. Its software is also used to build virtual worlds for gaming and entertainment.
Chinese tech giant Tencent is the world's largest video gaming firm by revenue and has stakes in major game studios like Epic Games and Activision Blizzard.
The South China Morning Post reported this year that Tencent has registered many metaverse-related trademarks for its social site QQ.
Epic is the company behind video game phenomenon Fortnite, which has moved beyond its core shooting game to social experiences like dance parties and virtual music concerts.
Users pay to dress their avatars in different costumes and can build their own islands and games. Epic also owns a large gaming engine, Unreal, used to develop games and other visual effects like TV show backdrops.
Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, a vocal critic of big platforms like Apple and Google, has argued the metaverse will need to be a participatory, common space.
Ecommerce giant Amazon, which is the world's largest cloud services vendor and has multiple media offerings, is also seen as a potential player in the metaverse.