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.