The Virtual Reality sky is falling. In one of the most shocking moves in tech in recent years, the much loved VR company Oculus has just been acquired by Facebook by $2 Billion. You know this. Its inescapable. People are practically setting fire to cars. Angry links are all over Facebook, video games sites are buzzing, and Reddit threads are filled with backlash unseen since the Xbox One DRM fiasco. The beehive has been kicked.
As an owner of the Oculus Development Kit 1, and a kickstarter of Oculus since its first few weeks, you can say I had much invested in Oculus and its tech. While I had monetary investment, the hope I had invested in the company and its product is harder to lose. I don’t count myself among those who refuse to buy the headset now, but I am definitely considering my options.
But is it really all on the line? Will Facebook truly “ruin” it as so many doomsayers are decreeing? Will the abyssal maw of Zuckerberg’s company disintegrate the decency and passion of Oculus? While it is unfortunate that an indie company bursting with personality and passion has been swallowed by a company largely regarded to be soulless, it is also undeniable that Oculus now has virtually limitless resources compared to where it was a week ago. A Devil’s deal indeed. Some claim that Facebook will find a way to turn the Oculus into another tool for data-mining, and many joke bitterly that we may be watching ads during loading screens.
While this all may be true, it is also undeniable that Oculus now has virtually limitless resources compared to where it was a week ago. Oculus fans wanted a great VR experience, but they also wanted it to be mass adopted. Unfortunately, to have both from an indie company is damn near impossible. If any company could have done it, it would have been Oculus, but clearly they were doubtful of their own resources. Facebook may be considered an “evil” company, but they know better than anyone how to mass market and make something social; whether that is a blessing or a curse is yet to be seen.
Many are saying that they would rather “ANYONE but Facebook” had acquired it, but I think this is short sighted. Facebook has virtually (see what I did there?) no idea about VR, so the chances that they mess with the Oculus roster and workers is pretty low. I honestly think that Facebook might be doing what its actually saying; buying them for probabilities sake, but otherwise letting them do their thing. On the other side of that coin is that Facebook has virtually no idea about VR. For Facebook sake, its definitely their best interest to just let Oculus do their thing.
On Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg stated that “Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together. I can’t wait to start working with the whole team at Oculus to bring this future to the world, and to unlock new worlds for all of us.” This is somewhat heartening and honest-sounding, but then again it very well could be complete PR jargon. If anything makes me worry, its when he says “By working with developers and partners across the industry, together we can build many more. One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.” Thats said in typical Facebook cult style.
Other sources are calling Zuckerberg crazy. Roger Kay at Forbes believes that Mark has made a huge mistake, arguing that the $2 billion acquisition of a company with no profitability as of yet is mad. He makes a good case; if the Oculus were to sell a million headsets at $300, they would only have made back 20% of the acquisition cost, which Kay says is highly unlikely. This is where I disagree with Roger. I have donned the mask, and I have seen the contagious excitement that VR generates. Everyone that has put on my Dev Kit 1 is enamored, and they almost always conclude their sessions with “I really gotta get one of these.”
Now to complicate the whole mess, Sony has just revealed their own VR headset, Project Morpheus. While initially dismissing it because I had my faith in Oculus, it has now come to my forefront. After watching the press release again, you can really see how excited and passionate the Sony team is. It doesn’t seem like they are just trying to cash in to a game they showed up late to. In fact, some of their ideas are really clever. Their “social screen split” idea means that people on the couch not wearing the headset will still be able to watch and interact with those with the headset on. They are also very focused on ease of use, and understand that for something to take off, it has to be accessible to all. On top of this, Sony’s Move controller and Playstation Eye already make a seemingly awesome Razor Hydra, only for about $200 cheaper. This lets you move your hands, swords, and guns realistically within the VR space.
If the Facebook acquisition has done anything, its leveled the playing field for Sony, and given VR game developers some new options. As this saddening news comes for fans of Oculus, it seems that Sony has perfectly timed their arrival. Like a gallant knight jumping his steed over a barricade and scooping up the desperate princess who is being accosted by the soul-sucking Fassbuk monster, Sony only needs to capitalize on this negative PR storm and they could be golden.
Only time will tell, and I’m sure our fears will be set to rest or will come to fruition. Either way, at least we have options and competition; when the tech giants play their game of thrones, we all win.