Widening the Rift: Facebook, Oculus, and gamers

There's no reason to be upset.

There’s no reason to be upset.

I don’t think anyone could have seen this coming.

The Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset that enjoyed a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign and received the endorsement of several high-profile game developers, managed to successfully rekindle the dream of truly immersive gaming. It was a refreshing step forward that didn’t involve fiddly motion controls or the aimless pursuit of resolution and frames-per-second. The company the virtual reality dream, made it work, and—most importantly—got people excited about it. Every impression had the same message, “I am a believer”. It could be done. The hope and emotional investment was tangible.

And then Facebook bought it.

The numbers
The social media giant offered the impressive sum of $2 billion, comprising of $400 million in cash plus $1.6 billion in stock options. It is the latest in a spending spree of other acquisitions by Facebook, including Instagram for $1 billion and WhatsApp for a monumental $16 billion. Thems some spicy meatballs.

The PR

We’re going to focus on helping Oculus build out their product and develop partnerships to support more games. Oculus will continue operating independently within Facebook to achieve this.

…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.

—Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO and co-founder

When Facebook first approached us about partnering, I was skeptical. As I learned more about the company and its vision and spoke with Mark, the partnership not only made sense, but became the clear and obvious path to delivering virtual reality to everyone. Facebook was founded with the vision of making the world a more connected place. Virtual reality is a medium that allows us to share experiences with others in ways that were never before possible.

—Palmer Luckey, founder and inventor of Oculus Rift

Like many others, my reaction was knee-jerky and pretty skeptical. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook. Data and privacy concerns aside, its simply not all that relevant to me anymore, and a lot of other people feel the same way.

Seeing Facebook purchase a company that (at first glance) was purely focused on gaming seemed…mismatched. And that disconnect probably led people to jump to conclusions, leading to dystopian visions of the Oculus Rift having a mandatory Facebook single sign-on, or the release of Farmville with Friends as an Oculus Rift launch title. People who followed the device, donated money, or invested time into it lashed out. Some people took it a step too far.

Taking a breath
I read some counter points on the whole deal (including this great piece on Giant Bomb) and I immediately calmed down. I realised I was part of the problem: I was caught up in the wild speculation of the announcement, and failed to see the main thing here:

Someone saw so much value in this technology that they threw a shit-ton of money at it, and the product will benefit from it.

This can only mean that the product will grow and flourish. People were passionate enough that billions of dollars worth of assets have changed hands to ensure its success.

And sure, Facebook has been on a bit of a spending kick lately, but I think it’s good business sense. If they have the capital, it’s in their best interests to have a few fingers in pies that aren’t completely focused on Liking pages and ad revenue. Their previous purchases are certainly not paltry sums—Zuckerberg didn’t simply glance up from his paper at the breakfast table and think to himself, “I need to purchase a virtual reality company.” A lot of thought, analysis, and consideration must have gone into this decision for Facebook to see the value in VR technology.

Giving Oculus this much cash and support can only do good things for it, and while it’s easy to be cynical, it’s easy to see that the business is growing. If anything, I think it’s short-sighted to immediately write off what was considered a good thing, simply because you don’t like the company. (Hell, people hate the shit out of EA, and yet we keep buying the damn games…)

We're all still probably going to be doing this at some point. (Source: Wikipedia)

We’re all still probably going to be doing this at some point. (Source: Wikipedia)

The aftermath
There was a steady stream of angry images, memes, and gifs. Notch decided to withdraw from an established Oculus deal as a result, and Cliff B. called the action “a bratty and petty move“. Users wrote posts instructing others how to cancel preorders. It’s been a stormy couple of days. More and more people are appealing to others for calm, and it appears that other VR companies have been unearthed in the process. I guess more competition can be a good thing…

The future
I have no doubt that the Oculus Rift will be incredibly successful. The extent of Facebook’s involvement is yet to be seen, but until then all we have is a promise that gaming will always be at the forefront. The Oculus Rift made waves in the past, and now those waves are shaping coastlines.

You can’t tell the cynics to simply not feel betrayed, or to just “get over it” and set their emotions aside. All that’s left is to prove that this union will work by making a product that is in everyone’s best interests. Ball’s in their court now.

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