Facebook wants you to “explore,” “play,” and “create” in its new virtual reality social platform — but whatever you do there, don’t call it Facebook.
The perpetually scandal-engulfed company made that preference clear this week when it rebranded its still-in-beta VR social platform, Facebook Horizon, to Horizon Worlds. It’s almost like the Facebook name carries some unwanted baggage, and the company is conspicuously releasing products that lack it.
Facebook officially announced the switch in a Thursday blog post, writing that the new name is meant to “better reflect the diverse spaces Horizon creators have developed over the last year[.]”
For the unaware, the invite-only Horizon Worlds (née Facebook Horizon) is a virtual reality platform where users can hang out with friends (and presumably strangers) in digital versions of ramen shops, magical fields, and old-timey town squares. The product was first announced in 2019, and is accessible via Facebook-made VR headset like the Oculus Quest 2.
Ari Grant, a product management director at Facebook Reality Labs, said in 2020 that the company hoped users would eventually use the virtual reality platform for things like “tutoring” or “worship.”
Meaghan Fitzgerald, at the time head of product marketing at Facebook Reality Labs (now the product marketing director at Oculus, according to her LinkedIn), further explained the company’s understanding of Facebook Horizon at the time.
Facebook’s relationship with the virtual reality community has been, up until this point, a rocky one. After Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014, Oculus founder (and vocal Donald Trump supporter) Palmer Lucky promised that use of the virtual reality headset would never require a Facebook account. In August of 2020, Facebook announced that in the near future that would no longer be the case.
Whether by design or not, the move from Facebook Horizon to Horizon Worlds could help obfuscate the virtual reality platform’s connection to the Mark Zuckerberg-helmed behemoth the world just can’t seem to quit.
In 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that most Americans didn’t realize Facebook owned WhatsApp and Instagram (it does). Perhaps with enough name changes, Facebook can pull off the same trick in the world of social virtual reality.
In which case, people might actually be excited to use its products.