Gamers desperate for VR have been checking their calendars in disbelief with the news that Facebook has bought VR headset maker Oculus Rift for 2 billion dollars, in what has already been decried as “the greatest sellout in gaming history.”
Facebook CEO Zuckerberg’s spin on the acquisition appears to be a vision of herding all Facebook’s users into a virtual reality social media environment:
This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures
Zuckerberg has already addressed shareholders about his plans for the company, mentioning advertising once and gaming not at all:
Building the knowledge economy, that’s really about building future technology platforms. And we now have Oculus joining us, which long term can be one of the next important computing platforms.
And of course we will continue to focus on our extremely important work on building out our advertising platform as well as part of this.
Most speculation as to the real motive behind the otherwise inexplicable purchase of a specialist PC VR headset maker by the world’s largest social network has centered on their ongoing efforts to shore up their user numbers by buying up lesser social services – although the “optimists” see Facebook leveraging the acquisition to develop a VR nightmare network where they can ever more intimately track users as they engage in virtual tillage and sharecropping.
Oculus Rift themselves maintain their “joining forces” with Facebook will be great for gamers and everyone else (not least stock holders), as various comments from the now very rich development team make clear:
Almost everyone at Oculus is a gamer, and virtual reality will certainly be led by the games industry, largely because it is the only industry that already has the talent and tools required to build awesome interactive 3D environments.
In the long run, though, there are going to be a lot of other industries that use VR in huge ways, ways that are not exclusive to gamers; the current focus on gaming is a reflection of the current state of VR, not the long term potential.
Education, communication, training, rehabilitation, gaming and film are all going to be major drivers for VR, and they will reach a very wide audience. We are not targeting social media users, we are targeting everyone who has a reason to use VR.
The appeal of Oculus (as compared to Sony, for example) is because it is on a PC platform, and thus allows us, the developers, freedom over what we want to do with it.
This acquisition/partnership gives us more control of our destiny, not less!
We don’t have to compromise on anything, and can afford to make decisions that are right for the future of virtual reality, not our current revenue.
Keep in mind that we already have great partners who invested heavily in Oculus and got us to where we are, so we have not had full control of our destiny for some time.
Facebook believes in our long term vision, and they want us to continue executing on our own roadmap, not control what we do.
I would never have done this deal if it meant changing our direction, and Facebook has a good track record of letting companies work independently post-acquisition.
The acquisition has already proved massively unpopular with gamers and developers alike – and particularly with Kickstarter backers, who found their earnest financial support for the fledgling company translated into them selling out to Facebook for 2 billion dollars before they even shipped a final product.
Minecraft creator Notch wasted no time at all in excoriating them and then announcing the cancellation of Minecraft for the OR because “Facebook creeps me out”:
From his lengthy post on the topic:
Don’t get me wrong, VR is not bad for social. In fact, I think social could become one of the biggest applications of VR.
Being able to sit in a virtual living room and see your friend’s avatar? Business meetings? Virtual cinemas where you feel like you’re actually watching the movie with your friend who is seven time zones away?
But I don’t want to work with social, I want to work with games.
Fortunately, the rise of Oculus coincided with competitors emerging. None of them are perfect, but competition is a very good thing. If this means there will be more competition, and VR keeps getting better, I am going to be a very happy boy.
I definitely want to be a part of VR, but I will not work with Facebook. Their motives are too unclear and shifting, and they haven’t historically been a stable platform.
There’s nothing about their history that makes me trust them, and that makes them seem creepy to me.
Meanwhile few announcements could have been better for Sony and Microsoft, both of whom have what are sure to be gaming-centric HMDs in the works already, suggesting Oculus Rift may soon be relegated to the dustbin of social gaming history in any case.
The decidedly fictional comment from the Twitter account Sony’s CEO must again wish he could put his name to: