Why Facebook Acquiring Oculus Rift Is A Good Thing

Today a million people will hear the words ‘Oculus Rift’ for the first time.

They will hear the words ‘Virtual Reality’ probably for the first time since the 90s, and they’ll say to themselves, “oh I remember Virtual Reality. I remember playing Virtuality Boxing at Intencity Parramatta.

“I wondered what happened to virtual reality.”

They’ll make the same jokes we did, back when we first started discovering the Oculus Rift, the jokes we’re still making now. Shit jokes. But all part of that communication, the sound of word spreading about this new technology that could potentially change the way we play games, the way we do a lot of things.

Then mainstream media will want to hop on board. You’ll hear about the Oculus Rift on the The Project. The panelists will crack the same jokes the public are making today; the same jokes you made a couple of years ago. But it doesn’t matter, it’s not important. Here’s what is important: virtual reality is about to become a thing.

Virtual Reality is about to become a mainstream thing.

Here are a lot of numbers with the word ‘billion’ in them. Facebook has 1.2 billion active users. In 2013 Facebook made $7.872 billion in revenue. Facebook could afford to pay $2 billion to acquire a technology that could have potentially been doomed to a niche market, squandering all its incredible potential, squandering a genuine chance to change the world through interactivity. This is now a potential that has an exponentially stronger chance of become a hard reality.

If we want to do more than just play a modded version of Skyrim using a virtual reality headset, then Oculus Rift needs a company like Facebook. It needs a company that can provide the exposure and funding this new technology needs to succeed.

It needs customers. It needs potentially millions of customers. The more people exposed to this technology, the more people who decide it’s important to their lives the better.

The Oculus Rift needs a userbase. It needs that number. If we want the best games, the best interactive experiences, big talented development studios need to look at the Oculus Rift and think, ‘we need to be releasing games on this platform’.

Proper, from the ground up games developed specifically for the Oculus Rift.

I don’t know if we ever had that guarantee, a guarantee that Oculus Rift could leap from our world -- from blogs, from gaming sites, from tumblr – and capture the imagination of the broader audience. Now there is a far greater chance of that happening. That audience is there. They will hear the words ‘Oculus Rift’ for the first time and they will be curious.

There are easy criticisms of Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift and by God have people been quick to leap straight to those assumptions.

Ladies, Gentlemen, children. To the panic stations!

-- All games will have Facebook ads -- Facebook will intrude in ALL of your interactive experiences -- There will now only be free-to-play games on the Oculus Rift -- Facebook is ‘the man’ and by extension, this is terrible

Etcetera, etcetera.

It’s a massive unfair overreaction that bears little resemblance to what this deal actually means for the future of virtual reality.

Sure there are legitimate concerns, and it would be dishonest to ignore those concerns. Privacy issues, I think, would be one of my main issues, but let’s take a look at these two sentences, taken from the Oculus Rift team’s statement on its official site.

“This partnership is one of the most important moments for virtual reality: it gives us the best shot at truly changing the world.”

Now read this:

“Over the next 10 years, virtual reality will become ubiquitous, affordable, and transformative, and it begins with a truly next-generation gaming experience. This partnership ensures that the Oculus platform is coming, and that it’s going to change gaming forever.”

This should tell you two things.

First: gaming is going to remain the absolute focus of the Oculus Rift, at least to begin with.

Second: this is a partnership that gives the Oculus Rift the best possible chance of literally, actually changing the world.

This is what I’ve been waiting for: a statement of intent. Virtual Reality is, and should be, about something bigger than gaming.

Consider what Mark Zuckerberg said in his own statement.

“Oculus's mission is to enable you to experience the impossible. Their technology opens up the possibility of completely new kinds of experiences.

“Immersive gaming will be the first, and Oculus already has big plans here that won't be changing and we hope to accelerate. The Rift is highly anticipated by the gaming community, and there's a lot of interest from developers in building for this platform. 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.”

And then later…

“But this is just the start. After games, we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home.”

Again this should tell you two things.

Gaming first; then the world.

I love video games. But I also love the potential experiences virtual reality could bring to my life outside of video games. I think that potential is equally as important as new interactive experiences. This deal gives the Oculus Rift the best possible chance of working as a gaming platform and as a platform that changes how we communicate with one another and that is extremely powerful.

Facebook has changed my life. Facebook is not perfect but I can honestly say that it has enriched my relationships with my friends and family. On the whole, it has been a positive force in my life, personally. We need to think bigger than, ‘ugh Farmville will suck in virtual reality’.

We need to think, ‘my life is going to be better with virtual reality’.


    I like goggles.

      The goggles - they do nothing!

      I like Kotaku articles where they pick up on the sentiments of the internet and write a deliberately contrary article to get clicks.

    This partnership is one of the most important moments for virtual reality: it gives us the best shot at truly changing the world.

    This scares me a little. What exactly does that change mean? It's already bad enough how much time people spend in front of a screen posting selfies and pics of their food whilst worrying what someone they don't even know or care about thinks of them. Now imagine what this will do to people when they're engrossed in a virtual reality version of it.

    Not saying it will happen because of Facebook. This would have been inevitable regardless of who bought/backed up this technology.

    It's a brave new world Mark... One which will be mostly experienced from the comfort of our own living rooms.

    Thus, I wish I could agree with the following statement, but I have my reservations because I know how much 'better' my life has been since mobile phones entered it.

    We need to think, my life is going to be better with virtual reality.

      I'd almost agree, but for the last part about how life is 'better' with mobile phones in it...

      I had a car trip with my uncle on the way to Christmas dinner with the rest of the extended family, last year. On the trip, we discussed some of the adventures he had on the road. We're talking road-trips from the 80s and even 90s. Before car-phones were ubiquitous, before mobiles had coverage almost everywhere, when roadside-assist was impossible for major stretches of the country, where you had to flag down other motorists and the supplies you had to carry. When if you planned to meet someone somewhere and didn't show, they had NO WAY of knowing where you were, if you were OK or not. Where a wheel from a 16-wheeler could total a car and no-one would know about it or shift it from the road until the next motorist came along, then drove to the nearest town or petrol-station that had a phone.

      Simply the merest idea that we might not know where our loved ones are before and after journeys is pretty scary, now. That you might not be able to reach out when you're in trouble.

      I kinda think that's worth putting up with all the people taking photos of their food and updating facebook while you're ostensibly meant to be having a conversation with them - in the 80s those same people found other ways to be annoying jerks, anyway.

        Yeah, there's pros and cons to every piece of technology and any 'progress' humanity makes. Mobile phones have a lot of advantages - but they did indeed also bring some 'disadvantages' and made changes to society that are not always arguably for the better.

        All in all they're great though and if you feel like you're in control of them, as opposed to them controlling your life, they're super valuable and fucking amazing things.

    I think Facebook actually undermines relationships, very little one-to-one any more.
    Try going off Facebook and see how many 'friends' can remember to take the 30 seconds to bounce you a personal invitiation or keep you in the loop on things.
    Plus Facebook is just mining everyone for information, their privacy is an abomination, and they are all about total control.
    I agree that much of the bile being spewed online is somewhat groundless and premature, but if my favourite company was bought by, say, Monsanto, I would be similarly up-in-arms.

    I agree that suddenly this will propel the concept of VR into the mainstream, but I don't agree that this is what Oculus VR needs, or VR in general.
    Steam, Microsoft, Sony someone from the gaming/entertainment world that would be invested in its success would have been a great fit for them. Facebook has a real potential to just let this drop if it doesn't build shareholder value quickly.

    Oculus are calling it a partnership, Mark Z is calling it an aquisition, I think right there we have the problem.

    I also recall the quick interview with Peter Molyneux, and his explaination of the way Bullfrog died as a result of being absorbed by EA, the way the culture just withered and the game studio lost its edge. I worry about that outcome for the Oculus devs as well.

      my favourite company was bought by, say, Monsanto, I would be similarly up-in-arms.

      This is the main reason I believe most people are raging about this. It's not because a big company bought out Oculus per se, it's because people's perception of this particular company, their disdain for it and their fear of what they will do to the technology.

      A technology that's grown from a 'humble' Kickstarter campaign, backed by people with a passion for this to a technology that's now in the hands of a company that 'feeds and profits from the brainless masses.'

      I agree with Mark that it will hasten the process of bringing this technology to the masses. This is arguably a good thing. I for one am happy that I can potentially see this technology in my living room sooner. How that will affect my life is a different question as it's not all going to be positive...

      Haha, actually this sums it all up. I got the following email from Facebook a minute ago.

      Interesting Pages on Facebook.
      Like these Pages to get updates in your News Feed:
      Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Beyonc

      When Facebook knows nothing about you, they assume the lowest common denominator of intelligence and aim for that.

        Facebook isn't a living entity, it didn't say "Lol, only dumb people listen to pop music, this guy seems like a dick, let's send him adds for keisha next." if you haven't given any information about yourself, then it will basically second guess it's advertisement.

          That's exactly what I said. And that second guessing is the lowest common denominator of intelligence based on the recommendations.

      Try going off Facebook and see how many 'friends' can remember to take the 30 seconds to bounce you a personal invitiation or keep you in the loop on things.Haha, very true.

      The Bullfrog example's a decent one. You'd have to be incredibly naive to believe the Oculus guys are going to be able to operate as they have been or how they'd prefer.

      Money of that size has baggage. You can bet your ass there is a parasitic crop of 'person' who comes attached to it as surely as flies to a cow-pat. They'll be buzzing around making nuisances of themselves. At least flies on a turd don't try to convince everyone that they're of vital importance - they're more honest that way.

    All lies

    Even if facebook fuck it up and fill it with the crap we're worried about, if there's mainstream VR support, other companies may well fill the potential OR had.

    There's also a chance they'll sell a hardware only version with no need for facebok accounts, adware shite or any of that other crap akin to the way there's a more expensive kindle with no ads. If the hardware keeps improving and I can get it with no more account tethering than I'd have if buying a mouse or monitor from a shop, I'd still potentially get it but if it ever needs a facebook account, I'm out.

      Pretty much this.
      I'm glad for the extra exposure for VR but I'm going to wait and see just how much influence FB has on the the final product before putting money down.

      This is why we have hackers out there, and why it's good we have them. If Facebook force an ad-system when the OR drivers are installed, which is highly unlikely, you can be sure that there will be a legion of hackers that will strip it out.

      Even if facebook fuck it up and fill it with the crap we're worried about, if there's mainstream VR support, other companies may well fill the potential OR had.

      Well. Could do... Unless Facebook patents everything and tries to monopolize it.

      They wouldn't try that, would they?

        Well NVidia and ATI live in the same market, there might be more than one way to strap motion tracking screens onto your face. Sure it might require some different code but based on nothing more than the reactions to this buyout there's going to a big market for the anything-but-fucking-facebook VR device and ultimately if the support for VR as a concept is strong enough, smart devs will support more than one type of device.

        That's the potentially good outcome, of course they could ruin it, turn VR into a joke again and we'll be waiting another 20 years for someone to try again. In the meantime we'll probably get McDonalds buying ATI and releasing a new extra greasy McRadeon...

    I still don't know what to make of this. My intense dislike and distrust of all things Facebook is at odds with my trust of Palmer and Carmack. Plenty of time before CV1 to see how things pan out I guess.

    Great article.

    Sony gave a statement of intent last week.
    Sony wants their VR to be more than games.
    Sony wants curial tourism, virtual classes, virtual Home,virtual movies.
    Sony can produce all these experiences in house to seed the landscape.
    Sony can get this popular with the mainstream.
    Sony wants one on every coffee table.

    The mainstream primarily interacts with Facebook via mobile. Rift won't plug in there.
    The mainstream will say "Oh, cool. Wait, it's 300 plus a 1500 computer to run it? " and disengage.

    Compared to 300 + media console, that won't work.

    This is exciting, yes. But wet should be equally as excited by the Morpheus. That's the one that will finally get critical mass traction.

      The mainstream primarily interacts with Facebook via mobile. Rift won't plug in there.

      Yet. One day you can take VR with you everywhere. A Bluetooth model will come out and people will sit on trains with their VR headset on.

      I predict it's going to be almost as massive as the mobile phone is today when it comes to penetration.

        Oh man that is a terrifying thought, a whole train car of people with digital blinkers on their heads, plugged in to the matrix haha.

        It's guaranteed to one day be a reality, perhaps not with pure VR tech, but with a dual Virtual/Augmented Reality system where you can switch it off and still see through the glasses to the outside world. That is definitely going to be happening.

          For sure it will happen. It's just a matter of time sadly.

          What, we aren't halfway there already? Go ride some public transport during rush hour and check how many are plugged in to their headphones. Bonus points for how many are eye-locked staring down at their smart-phone.

          That said...
          I'm pretty confident that if you did your research you'd find hundred-year-old writing bemoaning the social/emotional distance and compartmentalization of the salaryman shutting off contact with his fellow man in order to read his paper on the steam train commute.


            Sir Roger L'Estrange (1616-1704) was a writer of some repute in his day, and one of the first persons to publish a newspaper. He began with "The Public Intelligencer" (1663), stating in his first editorial that he disapproved of newspapers. "I think it makes the multitude too familiar with the actions and counsels of their superiors, too pragmatical and censorious, and gives them a kind of colorable right and license to be meddling with the government." Still he is willing to do what he can "to redeem the vulgar from their mistakes and illusions." In 1666 he established the "London Gazette," which still exists.
            From The History of English Literature, p.154.

          why do we need to go on the train.
          i have a virtual world on my head, i dont need to travel anymore

        It'll be a good 25 minutes. Then the battery will run out.

          I only need about 5 - 10 seconds, give or take. ;)

      Morpheus has only been announced to work with PS4, I believe? I really don't think that PS4 owners are the mainstream - even if a PS4 is cheaper than a high-end desktop.

      Sony also wants the device to only work on Ps4. Key difference in whether the tech will change the world, or be something for people who can only afford multiple hardware devices.

      I'm sorry, but you're wrong (on basically everything you said). If only one of them can gain mass traction, it's this, not the Sony one.

      How are ps4 owners the mainstream? How can it possibly reach a wider audience than everybody who owns a computer? Why can't Facebook, a social platform, bring more useful features to the device?

      I think you've kind of lost sight of how the world engages with and perceives technology.

    I wish I could high five this article. Really well put, refreshing to see someone cut through the cries of the world ending to see the positive.

    I think that the exposure, in sheer numbers, for OR is great, its quite possibly the greatest thing that could have happened for them

    On the other hand

    I think that the exposure, based off the FB audience who are traditionally attention span challenged, may be a very, very big mistake. Once OR is no longer "flavor of the month" in the FB crowd, it will be dust binned and all their dreams of "changing the world" will be looking for a new job to change "their" world

    If I appear instantly negative, it is due to FBs reputation
    Much like when EA announced an on-line only Sim CIty
    If people are instantly negative on some things, it is usually anchored in perception of past performance and reputation, and is usually well deserved

      I think that the exposure, based off the FB audience who are traditionally attention span challenged, may be a very, very big mistake. Once OR is no longer "flavor of the month" in the FB crowd, it will be dust binned and all their dreams of "changing the world" will be looking for a new job to change "their" worldThat whole "Oh yeah, I DO own a wii, I'd forgotten that" kind of customer?

      the FB audience

      Which is 1.2 billion people. Generalising them as one audience is a poor read.

        This entire article and thread is based off generalizations
        And when talking to a number of that size, generalizing them based off personal experience is quite an acceptable practice

        Much like the spell checker here on Kotaku generali(s)es us all into a US audience

    Even if Facebook butcher it, I don't care. The technology is mainstream now. Whatever you want from VR you will probably get it eventually.

    What concerns me most about this article is the implication that people watch The Project.

      I don't mind The Project. As far as current affair type shows go, it's much better than ACA/TT. That said, I like The Feed more.

        What is The Project?

          Current Affairs show on Channel 10. They have some comedy bits, lots of fluff and an occasional serious topic. I think at times they try to do a more personal story like This American Life.
          As far as I can tell a lot of people don't like it because it's a bit judgemental and opinionated for some and too casual for others.

    The movie "Surragates" correctly predicted this.

    Having the ability to watch a stream of a game courtside via VR goggles would be something I'll happily pay for so long as the pricing is good. Hell - if they manage to make it for free if I'm subjected to a couple of ads in a virtual billboard then f*ck yeah, I'm going to Wimbledon!!

    I happily agree that Facebook are definitely a good backer to this project, I'm worried that they'll screw up the pure intention of it or ruin it, though - we'll see.

    The purchase by FB may be great for raising awareness of the product but the foremost goal should be making uses for the product that will compel people to want to use it.

    Reading over Palmer's comments on Reddit, I'm slowly becoming more reassured. Particularly from this one:

    "is that 75-100 million dollars of VC not enough to bring the CV1 to market?"

    It it enough to bring a consumer product to market, but not the consumer product we really wish we could ship. This deal is going to immediately accelerate a lot of plans that were languishing on our wishlist, and the resulting hardware will be better AND cheaper. We have the resources to create custom hardware now, not just rely on the scraps of the mobile phone industry. There is a lot of good news on the way that is not yet public, so believe me, things will become a lot more clear over time.
    This has me excited.

    facebook = no

    How about this, Mark? The Oculus Rift has overnight gone from being open to being owned by the largest believer in walled gardens on the internet. Devs have already voiced concerns about Facebook's track record in changing their API overnight making existing apps inoperable.
    This might be good for VR (?) but the jury is definitely out about whether this is good for gaming.

      And this is the real point, isn't it? For those of us looking to maintain control of the information that is gathered about us, history has shown repeatedly that Facebook has no interest in allowing that to happen.

      Profits before privacy.

    At any time now, Kotaku will finally stop posting its pointless opinions (which are mostly made with cursory reading and reflection).

    I liken it to the purchase of Marvel/Star Wars by Disney. The main difference is that FB has a really shit track record, I mean FB itself is an ad covered shell of its former self, a lot of the useful functionality is now trapped behind pay-for-promotion style structures. Time sensitive and actually useful information is being shifted out of your newsfeed in favour of advertising for stuff you don't even want/need all in the name of making money for the shareholders.

    At least Disney is doing it right with Marvel and Star Wars, leaving it up to the creatives to handle themselves and backing the projects financially so that they can come to light, bringing in newer actors and directors to keep the talent pool fresh and innovative.

    I hate Facebook so much I'm not even gonna share this article on my Facebook page!

    Nintendo, MS and Sony need to start worrying - but particularly Nintendo.

    Why are Facebook and Amazon getting into the gaming industry in a big way? Because it a growth medium and they have captured the minds of millions of users - which might convert into casual gamers.

    That's the market Nintendo chased after - and secured, albeit for a short period of time.

    Good luck getting that porridge back from those 2 wolves, Ninty.

      Casual gaming doesn't really work with having to take the time to strap a device to your head.

        I can only guess that Facebook, Sony and others are playing with VR because they think it will become mainstream - as the article suggests.

    Or, Virtual Reality could suddenly end up being forgotten by people again in a couple of year's time if Facebook finds that it can't monetise it effectively and puts it in cold storage. I have my reservations and think that Facebook was a bad choice, especially given their antics on their own platform but I'm not going to join the "What were you thinking?" bandwagon just yet.

    My biggest question right now is "What is Facebook going to do with it?" A social media platform with no other particularly interesting verticals other than games that are in no way potential VR material isn't really my first choice for a partner to push the boundaries of Virtual Reality. I would have gone with one of the tech giants, or entertainment conglomerates first because at least then you know there's a market already before you think about expanding into other areas. It's going to be an interesting year.

    Did Oculus need to be bought out to ensure success?
    It depends on how you measure success. Plenty of "niche" hardware companies have done well in the PC gaming "niche" market (Razer anyone?)

    Were Facebook the right company to buy them out? Nope. You need someone with a proven history of product development in new and emerging sectors. Intel, Nokia, Logitech, etc. Of course other than Google, Apple and MS, not many tech companies could afford to buy Oculus.

    Yeah. Oculus acquired by Facebook is a good thing...
    You ever see that Simpsons episode, "The Old Man and the Lisa?"

    Facebook is Mr. Burns, buying Oculus Rift/inventing Lil' Lisa Slurry and wondering why gamers/environmentalists are upset.

    Palmer is giving some interesting answers on Reddit right now.

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