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Opinion

Oculus VR And Facebook: A Knee-Jerk Reaction

In your face, Sony.

With the news that Facebook were buying Oculus VR last night, it was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, taking to all manner of social media to express their thoughts on the matter. When I saw the news myself, I gave up a deep and despairing sigh at yet another fledgling company finding itself in the clutches of one of the giants of the modern tech industry.

But is our collective dismay at the purchase justified? Does it really have such a meaningful impact that developers should abandon supporting the device? Could it actually be – shock, horror – a good thing?

Taking that emotional gut reaction out of the equation, it’s certainly a very interesting move both from Facebook’s perspective and the soon to be rebranded Oculus VR’s.

It’s quite astonishing to think, but Facebook is now a decade old. It was founded on February 4th 2004 and, over the course of just a few years, quickly established itself as the dominant force in social media. However, in order to stay relevant in the ever shifting trends of the internet, they have bought up potential threats to their hegemony, most notably in the form of Instagram and WhatsApp.

Buying Oculus VR is a very different kind of acquisition, because they are still very much in their infancy. The Oculus Rift first came to the fore in 2012 as a Kickstarter project, quickly earning $2.4 million and gaining a lot of support and good will from the community and developers as they progressed. Most notably, Valve supported and helped them to evolve the Rift and John Carmack recently left id Software for Oculus VR.

But one question that needs to be asked is whether or not theirs was a sustainable project. Far beyond their Kickstarter campaign, they raised $16 million in funding in the middle of 2013 and a further $75 million at its end. Then Project Morpheus was announced.

Sony’s move into the realms of virtual reality was long anticipated, but a powerful one nonetheless. It presented Oculus VR with an interesting problem, as they would now be facing direct competition against a product which could potentially launch at the same time or before the Rift and with the backing and reach of a huge company like Sony.

Though Facebook and Oculus VR were apparently already in discussions, the grand entrance that Sony made a fortnight ago is the kind of thing that could have tipped any deal over the edge. When faced with an adversary so much bigger than you, you need allies of your own to really stand a chance.

With Facebook’s backing, the Oculus Rift has a much better chance than it did before. More resources can be thrown at the project to help it flourish and develop, and the technology can be brought further into the public domain than it would have previously.

It also gives a clearer vision of what they want to achieve. Mark Zuckerberg’s blog post shows that Facebook has a plan beyond simply buying out competitors, as he wrote of gaming as the first stepping stone on a road to truer virtual reality experiences at sports games or with remote teaching.

Though Oculus was fast becoming a darling of the tech industry, it’s only really with the backing of a major company with the financial might of Facebook that they can go toe to toe with Sony in these kinds of areas. Sony have their film and TV empire, their camera business and technology to capture a real environment, and already have burgeoning relationships with the likes of NASA. To create similar partnerships and solutions, having the Facebook name backing you gets a foot in the door.

But dropping you into a live sports stadium or letting you chat to friends in a VR world aren’t short term goals, and will rely on further improvements and huge leaps forward in technology. One thing that would block many of the potential social interactions is the fact that there’s a big headset strapped onto your face, blocking a huge amount of nuanced facial expression that can be captured by camera and conveyed to others. This is something that the first release of the Rift simply won’t be equipped to deal with, and could be impossible without moving beyond a face-mounted display.

For both these companies, it was quite possibly the right move to make for their sustainable futures, and yet I still find myself agreeing with the hordes of naysayers. I’m personally still wary about the deal and the extent to which Facebook could interfere, even with the upsides and stability that they bring. It certainly doesn’t help that, to echo the words of notch, Facebook creeps me out.

23 Comments
  1. Murdo
    In no way connected to TSA. No way.
    Since: Sep 2008

    The deal makes a lot of sense for both sides.

    Oculus VR had new found competition from Sony’s Project Morpheus (which Zuck had previewed privately at GDC) and no where near enough funding to match what Sony might inject. Everyone is debating what price Morpheus will be but Oculus’ co-founder has said this deal will help them lower the Rift’s price. To me, getting the tech into everyone’s hands is exactly what needs to happen at the start of VR’s life. Otherwise, why would the public care about some expensive toy that the tech community gushes over?

    Facebook gets some of the smartest tech minds and the ability to connected people on an even more personal level sometime in the future. Yes, people will talk about the bastardisation of the VR experience with virtual sheep being flung around but Facebook’s core use has moved on from the Zynga days and these people are simply out of touch. Facebook is almost as ubiquitous as Google and has insane users numbers. Bringing tech like this to that audience is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Facebook and Oculus.

    Keep in mind that Facebook has a fairly good record of keeping their ‘big’ purchases (Instagram, WhatsApp) running independently but with the huge benefit of Facebook’s cash and tech experience (they built their own servers and data centres because nothing else came close to what they needed).

    I wonder if Google had bought them, would this scenario be different. Both companies compete in a range of areas and Google sure as hell had to start with hardware somewhere. Facebook is diving in, rather than just checking the water with their toe.

    And who cares if Notch won’t put Minecraft on your system. $2 billion trumps that any day.

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 12:43.
  2. beeje13
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    Anyone else think it could be seen by fb as a competitor to Google glass in a way, although clearly there are differences.

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 13:12.
    • a inferior race
      I'm special
      Since: Jul 2009

      I thought that and that MS are conspicuous by their absence.

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 17:22.
  3. Nocure-fd
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    Any steps which take us further down the road towards the way the world works as depicted in the novel “ready player one” can only be seen as a good thing by me.

    Best of luck to both companies.

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 13:18.
    • TSBonyman
      Member
      Since: Dec 2009

      I haven’t read that, but i have read the Otherland series which had some awesome VR tech. The problem is that reading that has spoiled me from becoming enthusiastic about the current state and direction of VR tech, nvm coupled with Facebook integration. :)

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 13:35.
      • Nocure-fd
        Member
        Since: Mar 2010

        I never got round to the last Otherland book. It came out right as I was doing my dissertation/exams for uni. Put it on the back burner and never got back to it. so I guess one positive thing about FB buying oculus is that I’ve been reminded of something I need to get back to.

        Thanks Bonyman ^_^b

        As for Ready Player One. Every gamer should read it. Can’t recommend it enough. I went cover to cover in a few hours, and not many books have engaged me enough to do that. (Only forwards by Michael Marshall-Smith being another)

        Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 14:34.
      • TSBonyman
        Member
        Since: Dec 2009

        Well worth the 2 billion ;)
        I will look into “ready player one” as it sounds like something i would enjoy, cheers.

        Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 15:25.
  4. camdaz
    Member
    Since: May 2009

    Although I’m not a big fan of Facebook I hope Oculus does well out of the deal.

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 13:29.
  5. bunimomike
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Oculus VR has made a very shrewd move. There is absolutely no proof that it was going to become a commercial success and having the clout behind it (with Facebook) means it really could turn into something wonderful over the coming years. Games or no games.

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 13:31.
    • ron_mcphatty
      Member
      Since: Sep 2008

      Fair point, and it could be the making of it, but thousands of us cynically think it’s being ‘sold out to the man’ and that reaction had to count for something. I just think, in this age of corporate dominance, a little company working their balls off to realise their ideas retains so much more credibility than those who let big, dominating funders through the door. Oculus feels diluted and less exciting, infected by the potential of advertising saturation Facebook is starting to represent. Having said all that I’m hugely pleased for the guys behind it, to have solid financial backing is great and I wish them the best of luck in steering the Oculus where they want it to go, hopefully they can do it.

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 15:19.
      • bunimomike
        Member
        Since: Jul 2009

        Agreed, fella. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Fingers crossed Facebook doesn’t stir up too much trouble with regards to application and development.

        Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 16:37.
  6. boeboe
    Member
    Since: Feb 2013

    But its Facebook…FACEBOOK!

    I don’t like it because FB makes me feel bad. I log in, I see better looking people than me living more prosperous lives in their far better jobs socialising with more friends who drive nicer cars than me. All FB serves is as a consumption tool and motivator to chase material goods that only make you feel better in the short term. FB makes its money from selling you shite you don’t need. That’s the majority of its revenue. Ads. Fucking ADS!

    Ugh. At the end of the day whatever we say doesn’t matter. It will be hugely popular and the masses will suck it up and gobble it down regardless. Mars. Real Mars.

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 13:38.
    • Murdo
      In no way connected to TSA. No way.
      Since: Sep 2008

      I’ve never bought a product because of a Facebook ad and the only person I know who has is my Mum because she saw a Groupon ad for a local restaurant she likes. I see that as both god for her and the companies involved.

      Yes it makes most of its money through advertising but so does any news site, Twitter and a host of other companies who’s services you use and enjoy. If the ads are relevant to me, I don’t care. But no-one is forcing you to buy or even look at them.

      Google started as an advertising company and, while it also gains most of its revenue via ads, it’s branching out into hardware. I don’t like that they bought Nest but I honestly don’t see them using my Nest (if I had one) to advertise to me. Diversification is one way to stay extremely relevant.

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 14:23.
    • boeboe
      Member
      Since: Feb 2013

      Yeah but I worry about the millions of others who are affected by FB. I used to be hugely affected by it, but now I realise all that shit is nonsense. I think fear is an insanely powerful motivator to buy stuff it doesn’t force you, but you feel compelled if you believe it will improve how you feel. Well long live the status quo then! I hate that advertising has so much power today, this acquisition only straps us in for another few decades. I don’t want FB to stay relevant, fuck them.

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 14:59.
  7. The Von Braun
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    Millions of voices crying out…hang on, they’ve not built a Death star, have they? :-) Last i heard the Hubble was still blind as a bloody (space) bat….

    Someone been too near the Star Wars boxset….?

    Facebook creeping people out…ok….that’s cool, but people man, people creep me out, there’s like many of them and 1 of me…..

    Who made Facebook what it is today? People…see, method in the madness, no people, no problems… (no marketing B.S would be a start as well).

    I ‘get’ the consumer hate of ADS though, it’s ramned down your throat (still) that because you, yes YOU, live in the West, you should be in a better job/nicer house, filled with nicer things, look nicer, smell nicer, drive a nicer bloody car etc etc, because YOUR worth it, YOUR special and what’s that? you cannot afford it? why worry with our nightmare to follow/you did read the small print, right? credit terms, we’ll happily take the shirt off your back as we tell you the thing your still 10,000 years away from paying off, is obsolete as we’ve brought out the MK 3 version and it’s far…nicer!.

    Mix in a bit of blind panic/fear/OMG your not on Facebook/Twitter/ Yadda Yadda/Skunk Trumpets for you.com, wtf is the matter with you? everyones on there…etc etc and Bob is indeed your Uncle…..

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 14:33.
    • Stefan L
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      No. No Death Star, but you might’ve been fooled into thinking they had by the level of outrage, anguish and pain that was unleashed late last night.

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 14:52.
    • TSBonyman
      Member
      Since: Dec 2009

      Wonderful rant! :)

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 15:27.
  8. Severn2j
    Member
    Since: Aug 2008

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t really see how Occulus and Morpheus are competitors. They are being built for different platforms, so unless Sony announce theirs will be compatible with PCs, then where’s the competition?

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 14:52.
    • David Carlson
      Member
      Since: Mar 2012

      How many VR devices will the average consumer purchase?

      Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 16:33.
      • beeje13
        Member
        Since: Jan 2010

        If it turns out to go the way of smartphones/tablets, a lot.

        Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 18:32.
      • Severn2j
        Member
        Since: Aug 2008

        Well, PS4 owners will buy Sony’s and PC gamers will buy OR.. But, I get your point, those who are both is where the competition is.

        Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 20:10.
  9. Bilbo_bobbins
    Member
    Since: Jun 2009

    If I owned OR then I would definitely think it was benefiting the company lol.

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 15:59.
  10. The Von Braun
    Member
    Since: Oct 2012

    @Stefan L:No Death Star-No sale…..

    Mind you with Facebook on-board (the deal, not the non-existant Death Star)…….

    IT’S A TRAP!!!!!

    :-)

    Comment posted on 26/03/2014 at 17:01.

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