Oculus was the future of gaming. Now it’s the future of Facebook.

Photo Illustration: Jason Foral

Facebook is buying VR headset company Oculus for $2 billion. The paycheck gets the founders a massive payday, but leaves a bitter taste for its Kickstarter backers, not least the indie game developers who thought they could be a bigger part of that future.

For decades, the idea of living inside a virtual reality has captivated developers' imaginations. People inspired by the dream have literally devoted their lives to making virtual reality a reality. It's a simple pursuit with a glorious promise: escape from this world, and into another designed just for you. But there's always been a dark cloud over that endeavor: The possibility that these virtual worlds might become tainted or be misused. It's a major concern, a warning regularly beaten into the minds of those who believed.

At long last, a hero emerged. Oculus made it possible to dip your head into the simplest of these worlds, to really feel like you had escaped our shared reality into another. The poetry written about its promise flowed deep and strong. Rabid fans clamored to throw their support and money at the project. They crowded around booths at trade shows to catch a glimpse, and built complicated software programs for the new platform-- sometimes without even being able to try it out themselves. Suddenly, users were booting up and creating any virtual world they wanted, and that power made them think they might be able to influence the real world a bit. Hopes were high! Oculus seemed untouchable; the white knight of VR.

Well, fuck it. Facebook just bought the thing.

The problem with the acquisition isn't that it's surprising Facebook would want to buy a computer strapped to your face.

The problem isn't that the Oculus guys got rich--most fans were hoping to make them rich anyway.

The problem isn't that Facebook is going ruin Oculus, by plastering it with ads and making it a pain in the ass like everything else they've shat all over. Although that wouldn't be a surprise.

The problem is that this was an opportunity for something different. And it just died.

I am shocked and hurt that when people stood up as fast and hard as they could, screaming for something, throwing their money in the air and hoping that this mattered enough that they could ignore the jaded past where everyone else sold out by now, all it did was raise their acquisition payout to exactly the guys we were hoping to avoid.

The problem with this deal is that Oculus' crowdfunded background and public support made it feel like the next big thing in tech could maybe, possibly be a movement powered by enthusiasts and hobbyists instead of venture capitalists and giant corporations. It would have been DEEPLY satisfying for a beloved Kickstarter to IPO and the best chance we've seen at that just vanished.

Personally, I wasn't even heavily into Oculus, like some of my peers. I managed to borrow a friend's Oculus for a week. My experience was limited, but holy shit, it was awesome, and it made me feel like everyone should see this. I can't imagine the kick in the teeth today's news must be for the people who bought development units, spent weeks programming, and genuinely thought they could be a driving influence in making new worlds.

Case in point: Notch, the developer of Minecraft, who donated $10k to the Kickstarter, was planning on building an Oculus version of his game. Notch just cancelled the deal.

Oculus held out the opportunity to fully experience a new world in a virtual sense. They never promised to change the business world, but it seemed that their independence and radical approach might give us that chance too.

Now we're back where we started, no matter how desperately we try not to wake up.

Notable Replies

  1. I hear the Facebook copyright people already have a brand name in mind and a new concept with more rounded curves, there's already an info site up showing the newly minted Facebook employees trying it out at their first employee orientation:

    http://facehugger.info/

  2. Yes, they were bought out. No, that's not terrible. It may not even be a crass money grab. It may have been their only path to survival.

    The truth is that without a big money buyer like Facebook, many of us felt Occulus had almost no chance of relevance or survival, even in the medium term.

    Like many small technical innovators, their product had become a prime target for the established manufacturers. Occulus was about to be under-priced and overwhelmed by entrenched, experienced, low-cost, quality hardware builders like Sony, Samsung, and Microsoft.

    Oculus didn't build most of their own hardware, they built the shell, but purchased all the sensors and screens from companies who will soon be their competitors. Oculus would never have received the best component prices and wouldn't have any presence in the channel. Oculus didn't have any world beating patents, as most of the patents in this field are over twenty years old and no longer enforceable.

    Sony has already shown a VR device that is superior in almost every way to Oculus's latest development. Sony has the funds, manufacturing expertise, retail channel, and gaming platform to immediately support their device. Sony could sell their VR headset for less than Oculus' manufacturing cost and still manage a profit.

    Facebook brings enough money to give Oculus a chance. They will now have leverage, they will now have a massive marketing force.

    Hate Facebook all you like, but Oculus wasn't the scrappy small-town team about to beat the reigning world champions. They were a grade school team playing against all six world champions at the same time, probably about to get their asses kicked all the way back home.

    Without Facebook or a company like them, Oculus were destined to be a soon forgotten speed bump.

  3. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a book strapped on a human face - forever

  4. But! Oculus Rift's problems are now Facebook's problems.

    On the flipside, the core Oculus strength was from the community that supported it. The same community that they threw under the bus and is none too pleased at this point. I hope the community rejects this move and shifts to a new VR project that blows Facebook Oculus out of the water in terms of functionality, openness, community, ethics, security and privacy in mind.

  5. All I have heard from "the community" is typical FUD based on a knee-jerk hate of Facebook

    You obviously hear only what you want to hear.

    And you have failed to provide any credible evidence. An example, good sir, is all that I ask.

    You have hypocritically failed to provide any credible evidence that "all you have heard" is nothing but FUD based solely on an blind, knee-jerk hatred of Facebook. I'd like to see you support that crock of shit with sources.

    You are making wild claims that no one has any valid complaints and concerns. Back it up.

    provide any credible evidence. An example, good sir, is all that I ask.

    Ever heard of Minecraft?

    "Facebook is not a company of grass-roots tech enthusiasts. Facebook is not a game tech company. Facebook has a history of caring about building user numbers, and nothing but building user numbers," he wrote on his website. "People have made games for Facebook platforms before, and while it worked great for a while, they were stuck in a very unfortunate position when Facebook eventually changed the platform to better fit the social experience they were trying to build."

    more:

    Who hates the Facebook/Oculus deal? Kickstarter backers

    (You know, those knee-jerk FUD merchants you mentioned?)

    more:

    https://developer.oculusvr.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=7216

    more:

    http://www.theverge.com/2014/3/26/5549108/will-facebook-ruin-oculus-kickstarter-backers-voice-concerns

    more:

    There quite a bit more, you know, if you bother to actually listen to a community of people instead of focusing on being an apologist for corporate greed.

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